Friday, January 30, 2009

Tokyo Part Two




The Food Frenzy Continues...this is a long one. Thank you Jen for your copious notes.

The next morning, after coffee at Starbucks (don’t try to order decaf here) we headed to the food courts in Ginza. Trust me when I say you have never seen anything like this. Matsuya Ginza and Mitsukoshi are large high end department stores with food courts in their basements. Imagine the finest French bakery, chocolate shop, produce vendor, fish monger, butcher, and candy maker in one space times 10. There was every thing you could imagine for sale here. The fish monger was selling incredible tuna loins, the produce vendor had fruit at prices you’ve never seen (tangerines for $3 and strawberries $9/dozen), and the bakeries were obscene-breads and pastries everywhere. We bought teas, cookies, chilies, and several Japanese sweets. We sampled kim chi (yes, a little bit of Korea), fish cakes, and chocolate covered black olives. The packaging was gorgeous. Even the fruit was packed like precious cargo. There was a lot of love and care for each product and we’d buy something each vendor would wrap it like it was a valuable jewel.

From the food courts we went upstairs at the Matsuya Ginza and ate home made ramen at Tanakaya. We ordered the noodles cold with dipping sauce, warm in a steamy broth, and warm with a fragrant duck broth. Then came a huge plate of tender tempura-the crispy coating encasing oyster, broccoli, eggplant, and white fish. It was the perfect cold weather lunch.

We got back on the subway (which, like the bus, is totally silent-you could hear a pin drop) and headed for the alleys of the Harajuku girls (you’ve seen them in the Gwen Stefani video). What a total trip! The teens dress in what we’d wear only to a serious Halloween party. Everything from pink Catholic school girl outfits to Little House on the Prairie dresses, cut well above the knee and full of ruffles. They paint their faces with tons of make up and finish the outfit with black combat boots. The stores sell mini top hats, frilly purses, and ripped and chained black t-shirts to accessorize. Truly a Tokyo original and one trend I don’t think we’ll be seeing state-side.

A short nap back at the hotel and we were off again. It was 6pm and we grabbed a beer at Joe Bar before dinner. Oh, the dinner! We ate at Waketokuyama, a small and gorgeous space that is owned by the chef. His name is Chef Nozaki (on the left above) and he is one of Tokyo’s four top chefs. Even Mika didn’t order here. The chef makes one tasting menu each night and you get what shows up at the table. The service was thoughtful to perfection and the food was made with an incredible amount of love. We learned from Mika how important the season is to the Japanese. Everything from the ingredients, dishes, and chopstick holder reflect the current season. Occasionally the Japanese cook a season ahead, a sign of looking forward to what is to come but they never cook from the season prior. The ingredients were impeccable, albeit not for the faint of heart. Here is a brief description of our 9 courses. Are you sitting down?
1) A hollowed out yuzu, filled with cod sperm, sea cucumbers, and broccoli. This had the texture of very soft tofu with the fragrance from the tart yuzu. It smelled and tasted amazing but, like much of the food we’d had prior and would have this night, had a texture that takes some getting used to.
2) A small rice cake was topped with a piece of cuttlefish bathed in a thick sauce of it’s own ‘guts’ (Mika’s description). I had to choke this one down-the chewy cuttlefish was tasty but the guts…not my thing. On the side was a rare scallop wrapped in yuba and deep fried with a crispy rice crust, a fresh bamboo shoot coated in bonito flakes, deep friend lotus root and a plum blossom to garnish.
3) As if eating sperm once in a night was enough, we had another course of it. This time it was from the blowfish and was swimming in a rich broth with a small Kyoto-style gluten cake
4) The sashimi course had two very big pieces of kampachi, two translucent fresh pieces of halibut, smoked mountain potato, red clam, and fresh wasabi
5) An abalone shell contained a the shellfish, steamed and sliced and covered in a sauce of, once again, ‘guts’ all topped with a spiky coating of fresh briny nori
6) This course with two bamboo boxes, each containing several little bites. On the left was a small cake of miso and chicken, a scallop cake with scallion sauce, and daikon cut like a flower with a piece of (ready for this?) cured whale fat-yes, I ate blubber! It tasted like the fat on the top of your bacon with a hint of sea water. I felt guilty eating it and had to ask why. Apparently there was no beef in Japan during WWII so to fill the protein gap the locals ate whale. It has since become a delicacy but, one I don’t need to try again. On the right side there were two tiny freshwater fish deep fried whole in fresh herbs and panko along with a clam that looked gratineed with a sweet seaweed on top.
7) Already full, we kept going. The next course was a green pottery box with a lid. We lifted the lids to find a huge pile of Matsuba (sp?) crabmeat. It was topped with crab butter and served with crab vinegar for dipping. Much like blue crab, the delicate meat was light and delicious
8) For the finale, we were each given a plate of pickled vegetables, a bowl of miso soup and a cup of green tea. The waiter then came to the table with a huge pottery vessel. He removed the lid to reveal a bowl of seasoned rice topped with cod and nori. He mixed the ingredients carefully and served it to each of us in a beautiful bowl. It is traditional to end a Japanese meal with rice and miso but I am fairly sure this version took the two staples to an entirely new level
9) Dessert, which is tends to be very savory in Japan, was two small bites, One was a sweet potato cake with black bean and the other looked like mochi but was actually made from soy instead of the traditional rice. I love sweets but, was craving a little bite of ice cream or a piece of chocolate

We rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and were greeted by the entire staff. The chef was adorable and gracious (he even let us take a photo with him). The service was some of the best I’ve ever had. It was a dining experience I will never forget. Something to do once in a lifetime and a very special night.

I’d return to Tokyo and stay longer than 36 hours. The city is huge with alleys, doorways, and stairways leading to food experiences an American rarely encounters. The people are sweet and reserved, gracious in every way. Two days of eating around town was not enough for me to get used to the soft textures and new tastes I experienced. Did I love the food? Honestly, I’m not sure. I respected it immensely and loved the dedication to the best product of the season. Mostly, I’m thankful for my dear friend Mika and her time and patience taking the four of us (nicknamed ‘the food paparazzi’) on an adventure of a lifetime.

Thailand-Part One


After leaving Tokyo in the frigid early morning, we flew the seven hours to Bangkok. It was clear from the moment we hit the jet way that Thailand was going to be hot! It’s humid and very warm here but it was actually welcome weather change after the cold days in Japan.

It was 5pm when we arrived at our beautiful hotel. The (Mandarin) Oriental is a small (ok. maybe not so small) paradise in the middle of the city’s chaos. Mary Risley (a.k.a. Tante Marie), who had organized the trip, made the plan for all of us to meet here and WOW was it incredible. Night number one was dinner with a friend of a friend. Dave, an Italian American from the Bronx is now an ex-pat married to a wonderful Thai woman named Teh. They took us to a local pub and restaurant that is owned by a friend of their family. Called “That’s It" the restaurant was part bar, bar night club, and part restaurant. We told them to order the food, which kept on coming. We tried a green curry loaded with two kinds of local eggplant-a small round one about the size of a pea and very bitter and another little orb that was tender and more familiar. There was crab with curry, herb roasted chicken, green papaya salad, sautéed Morning Glory (a green a bit like Chinese broccoli), and a delicious Thai Grilled Beef with chili sauce. It was a great introduction to local food accompanied by two locals singing in the club. Imaging eating your green curry to a live version of a Thai woman seeing “Top of the World” by the Carpenters. Yep, it was funny in a strange kind of way.

Friday morning we met Tante M. for breakfast at the hotel then had a workout to sweat off some of the gluttony. Penny hit the pool, Margaret took a cab to tour Jim Thompson’s famous house, and Jen and I hit the streets in our neighborhood. After walking a few blocks north noticed a side street filled with vendors. We were first attracted to a man selling giant white pomegranates-a variety of the fruit we’d never seen. Further down the street we saw all kinds of local produce (mangosteens, whole lychees, Thai basil, cilantro, and garlic chives). There were local men and woman with small food stands making curries, noodles, shrimp balls, fish cakes, and even ice cream (which the locals were topping with corn kernels). Many of the smells were amazing until we got reached the butcher’s stall. Imagine a sweaty 90 degree day filled with people in every direction. Now add a table with a red-checkered table cloth and top it with fresh raw meat (I think it was all pork): ground, ribs, belly, etc. just sitting on the hot table. The Thais must have stomachs of steel because as Jen and I walked around we saw many more people with meat and fish baking in the sun with no refrigeration. This is what people mean when they tell you to be careful about what street food you eat. That said, these are people full of pride and joy in what they are doing. They are each making one thing and probably doing it incredibly well. Until our walked down one sketchy alley full of viscous looking stray cats and suspicious men in dark door ways, we were loving everything we saw.

The hotel offered us a lunch in their restaurant across the river. We took their boat over and were greeted with more smiles and a huge, but elegant, buffet of Thai specialties. We loved the made-to-order green curry, the Massaman curry of beef and potatoes, the chicken stir fry with young ginger and onions, the crunchy condiments made with dried fish and herbs, and the shrimp salad with cellophane noodles. It’s nice to see a hotel meal, a buffet none the less, be made with so much care and love.

Late afternoon we boarded a long tail boat with an English speaking guide to explore the rtiver and it’s canals. This 235 mile river runs not only through Bangkok but 16 other cities as well. It is the best way to see how many of the locals live. Houses built on stilts over the river where the poorest of the poor live next to luxurious teak homes built in the traditional Thai style. We stayed on the boat for two hours with the exception of a stop at Wat Arun (the temple of the dawn). It is a STUNNING Buddhist temple covered in mosaics made from Chinese porcelain and made with so much detail it would take forever to see it all. We climbed about half way up the steep main tower of the temple and went shutter crazy taking pictures of everything in site.

The day ended with drinks where we met Sue, our guide (a former San Franciscan now living in Bangkok) for the following day. She recommended we have dinner around the corner at Harmonique. Sadly the place was full of tourists and the food was just okay. There was another good green curry with chicken and I loved that it was served in a clay pot shaped like a chicken. Margaret and I sat by the river after dinner taking in the magnificent boats glimmering like Christmas trees.

Saturday morning it’s off with Sue to explore food markets, local restaurants, and more food markets. I think it’s time to head to the gym again….

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tokyo Part One




So much to say I don't know where to begin. I've been gone for several days and while I'm in Thailand now and have Tokyo behind me, I'm going to post about Japan first. I'll do it several entries as there is so much to say. The trip has been amazing. Enjoy!

A Tokyo Food Frenzy

It was 5pm when we caught the orange "Friendly Limousine Bus" at Narita airport in Tokyo. A two hour ride after a day of travel was not that appealing. The bus was hot, but it was there I got my first taste of the true Tokyo vibe. Wow. The people here are incredible polite. This is a city where chivalry is not dead and honestly, I liked it. The bus driver not only bowed when we got on and off the bus but, he would take no tip for loading our busting-at-the-seams oversized luggage. The long ride was totally silent and, we loved it when the recoded English voice announced that cell phones were not allowed because ‘they will annoy your neighbors’. Tell it like it is!

We arrived in Shibuya late at night. Crossing the bridge into Toyko we saw the illuminated Tokyo tower, their version of the Eiffel Tower, and the lights of the expansive city spreading for miles in every direction. Four of us connected at the hotel-all teachers at Tante Marie’s. We were meeting Mika, a fellow student in culinary school with me 11 years ago. She’s been in San Francisco for years and recently returned to Japan to work in Tokyo. There truly is nothing like visiting a new city with a local.

Our first meal was at Akaoni (Red Devil). It is an izakaya restaurant, small plates Japanese style. The tiny restaurant had 8 seats at the bar and another 20, at most, crammed into the shoebox sized spot. There sake collection was unbelievable with the name of each bottle written on gorgeous paper and hanging above the bar (see above-a little blurry but, that's the sake talking). As would be the case for the next 36 hours, Mika took the reigns and ordered plate after plate of food. We started with ice cold beer and followed it up with a sake tasting-five cold sakes in wooden boxes. They ranged from clean and melon tasting to totally opaque and fresh. Apparently these sakes are so fresh they can’t be exported to the United States without spoiling. Some of the highlights of the meal (where to begin, really)….soft yuba (tofu skin) in a crab broth with enoki mushrooms, the most gorgeous plate of sashimi you’ve ever seen (with fresh wasabi, of course), wasabi greens lightly braised and served cold in a light broth, sea cucumber, myoga (a blossom that tastes like a cross between ginger/garlic/onion) with fried tofu and bonito, and a octopus suction cups served cooked and cold with a light soy sauce. It was a night of new tastes and varying textures. The spot was hidden off a tiny alley and full of neighborhood locals. It really was the perfect first meal in Tokyo.

More later….happy reading.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Planning Ahead

Monday I am leaving for Asia. I'm lucky enough to be going on a culinary adventure in Thailand after stopping in Tokyo to visit a friend from cooking school. I've never been to Asia and, while I really have no idea what to expect, I've been assured by my savvy traveler friends that it will be amazing.

Before I leave I want to make sure my boys are well fed. I promised to put a few things in the freezer and tackled that job this morning. While cooking, I realized how much I got done in one short hour and wondered why I didn't plan ahead like this more often. Occasionally I get into a good run of making things in advance but I am definitely more the cook who buys what looks fresh today and figures out what to do with it when I get home.

This morning I made a batch of meatballs (pork/veal/beef) in a thick tomato sauce. This whole recipe took about 15 minutes to prep and then it simmered on the stove while I made chicken pot pie. Homemade chicken pot pie is a snap. I sauteed carrots, celery, and onion then gave them a sprinkle of fresh garlic and thyme. After coating the veggies with some flour, I deglazed with a little Vermouth then whisked in chicken stock and some milk. Once the sauce thickened I added chicken pieces and let them simmer slowly in the sauce. I've got the mixture cooling in a pan and, once it's cool, will top it with an all-butter pastry crust
(store bought this time, I must admit-a rarity for me but hey, a girls got to pack today too!).

Both of these things will do great in the freezer. I recommend taking them out the night before you want to cook them and letting them defrost in the fridge. At that point, just heat the meatballs until they are warmed through or bake the chicken pot pie until the crust is nicely brown and the filling is bubbling.

Even if you're not headed across the globe, doesn't it make sense to cook like this once in a while?

I hope to post some pictures and notes while on my trip....stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

The start of a new era! Things may be changing politically but, Mmm...that's good will remain the same. Here's what I'm reading today...

Maybe I'm just itching to get to Asia but, in today's SF Chronicle there is a delicious looking recipe for Vietnamese Beef with Lettuce Wraps. This is a great dinner-healthy, fun to put together, and something for everyone. Works great with chicken or shrimp too.

Slow and low is the trick to cooking perfect caramelized onions. Today's LA Times dissects the perfect meltingly sweet onions. Read the article and then try a recipe or two. They all look good-Potato Gratin with Caramelized Onions and Rib Eye with Caramelized Onion Marmalade. Heck, I like the things on my eggs so you can do anything you like with 'em.

This Cajun recipe in today's NY Times looks rich and almost over the top but, the combination of eggplant, Merguez sausages, and a bechamel might just make the splurge well worth it. Eggplant and Merguez Casserole-yum!

Of course I could not leave you with out one sweet treat today so, today's Washinton Post, amongst the glittering photos of Barack and Michelle, has a recipe for Soft Centered Chocolate Pudding with Espresso. It calls for injecting hot espresso into the pudding with a turkey syringe (who has one of these?) or a turkey baster-sounds very Alinea-like but, doable too.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Fish isn't Fishy

I grew up in Seattle with grandparents who owned a fish market. I used to go there as a kid for handfuls of fresh crab meat and it was my favorite treat in the world (still is, as a matter of fact). The shop is where I learned to count back change (my poor Noni tried so hard to teach me-at 9 years old I just didn't get it) and where my brother trained for his many years working at Pike Place Fish. Needless to say, fish was on our family table all the time and I have always been a fan.

I am always surprised at how many people don't cook fish at home or don't eat it at all. The biggest complaint-'it's too fishy', which cracks me up. Good fish should taste like the water it came from-a fresh, clean river or a briny, salty ocean. If it smells 'fishy', even before you cook it, it's probably not fresh.

I always buy my fish from a market with a fish monger-a person who picks and packs the fish as I order it. This way I can judge if it is fresh or not and I can look the monger in the eye and ask him (or her) what is the freshest catch of the day. The fish should be firm and not at all mushy. It should have clear, translucent skin with no rainbow glisten on top (you know the kind you see in an oil slick on the road-not a good thing on fish). Whole fish should have clear clean eyes and, the best is when the skin on the outside still has a thin layer of slime-this actually means the fish is incredibly fresh, despite what you might think. When you buy fish shrink wrapped in a package, all of these things are very hard to judge.

Fish is also something that should be eaten as fresh, local, and sustainable as possible. An outstanding resource to find out which fish are best to eat is the Seafood Watch List published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It categorizes fish into Best, Good Alternatives, and Avoid sections, giving you great alternatives if the fish you wanted was on the 'avoid' list. Good fish mongers should be able to help with this too. If you get to the market on the hunt for Chilean Sea Bass, a good fish monger might suggest Pacific Halibut instead. You can even download a copy of this list for your phone-handy to have if your fish monger isn't in the know.

Fish is so healthy for all of us. Take a chance and try one of your favorite recipes for it at home. I have had a few suggestions in my blog posts if you need some ideas:
***Fish in Parchment
***Sole Meuniere
**Halibut all'Acqua Pazza

Enjoy your fish-make my grandparents proud!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

Here's what I'm reading today...

I continue to love everything Marion Nestle writes. In today's SF Chronicle she answers a reader's question about a picky eater. Where do picky eaters come from? 99% of the time it is from their parents' examples. Don't tell me your kid will eat only white food. If that's the case, it is not his fault. Sit down and eat with your kids, set a good example by eating the right foods, and try new things again and again. It will work, I promise.

Clearly I'm not passing on a recipe called Ooey-Gooey-Double-Chocolate-Cookies in today's LA Times. From a place in LA called "Milk" these soft chocolate cookies with unsweetened chocolate, cocoa, and bittersweet chocolate look amazing.

I've never loved bread pudding but, my husband is a huge fan. I've tried to make it at home but I can't get it quite right-too much custard or too much bread. Today's NY Times has a recipe from Mark Bittman for Vanilla Bread Pudding that just might get me to try it again. Couldn't be easier.

That's all the tasty news for today...happy cooking!



Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pasta Pasta!

This past fall I turned in the manuscript for a cookbook on pasta. Kind of funny for a girl who grew up eating only 'noodles', never pasta. I guess that week I spent in Italy turned this noodle girl into a real pasta girl.

In my Basics class I teach at Tante Marie's we spend one entire week on cooking pasta. This is an intro class so we don't make it homemade. We cook a lot of recipes with quick sauces, meat ragus, and baked pastas. Someone once asked me how I could spend an entire four-hour class talking about and cooking pasta but you'd be amazed at what most people don't know about the simple ingredient.

First, no matter what your mom told you, do NOT put oil in the water when you cook your pasta. Oil in the water is a lame way to prevent your pasta from sticking together. Pasta should be cooked in a big pot of rapidly boiling water. For a pound of pasta I use my huge stock pot and fill it about 80% of the way with water. If you have enough water and a big enough pot, your pasta will cook evenly because the entire surface will be exposed to the hot water. When you cram your pasta in a small pot, no amount of oil will keep it from sticking together-there just isn't enough room to cook it. If it has that extra room, the oil is totally unnecessary. The problem with adding the oil is that it sticks to the exterior of the pasta. When you drain your pasta, that oil clings to it making it impossible for the sauce to be absorbed. Any sauce you put on will simply slide off the pasta, losing flavor and consistency along the way.

Second, when you drain your pasta, don't rinse it. You not only cool your pasta down but you rinse off the starchy exterior, which is the part that clings to the sauce. Cold water, like oil, is an enemy when it comes to saucing your pasta. The only time you will ever rinse your pasta is if you need it to be cold immediately. If you're serving it warm, which I hope you are, just drain it and get it in the sauce.

Third, save some pasta water. The secret of great sauce on restaurant pastas is a little bit of pasta water. If you think about the fact that pasta is starchy, that starch leaches into the water as it cooks. This makes the water a great tool for 'lengthening' sauces. So, if your sauce is too thick to really cling to the pasta, a little pasta water will thin it out but, because of the starch in it, you wont end up with a watery mess. I always ladle out a cup of pasta water before I drain my pasta.

Fourth, salt your water! In Italy, the core of any pasta dish is the noodle itself, not the sauce. Because of this you need to season the pasta just like you would your sauce. The only way to do this is to generously salt the water in which it cooks. This ensure that the salted water penetrates the pasta while it is cooking and seasons it all the way through. If you try to salt it after it cooks, the salt sits on the surface but does not season it very thoroughly. My rule, and the rule of many others, is to salt your water until it tastes like sea water. For a pound of pasta in my big pot this means 1-2 tablespoons (that's right, tablespoons) of salt.

Fifth, keep your pasta from getting cold when you serve it. It makes a huge difference to heat the bowls or plates in which you serve your pasta. If you're serving family style, heat the serving bowl and if you're plating your pasta heat the individual dishes. I do this by warming them in a 200 degree oven for 10 minutes or so. Better yet, if your oven was on and you just turned it off, pop the dishes in for a minute or two. Finally, I saw someone drain their pasta over the serving dish then pour the water out. This heated the dish up quickly-great idea.

I could go on and on. Don't over sauce, finish cooking your pasta in the sauce, cook your pasta al dente ('to the tooth') so it has a bit of a bite and doesn't get soft, etc., etc.,....

Now do you see how we spend those four hours?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Family Dinner

I roasted and peeled four Poblanos today and for the first time ever, they left my hands on fire! Excuse my typing...

Is there really anything more important than family dinner? When you were a kid, didn't you sit down at night and eat a meal with your family? I did all the time and really didn't know any different. I had no idea how important it was then.

I know, a lot of you live on your own and may not actually see your family as often as you'd like but, I mean family in a very liberal sense-you, your kids, your parents, your friends, or your neighbors. Make your "family" with who ever is around and break bread with them.

I think it is so incredibly important to sit down at the table and eat home cooked food. I've posted about this before but, it's Sunday evening and this is always the night when I think about a family meal. I have good friends who own a restaurant and their schedules are nuts. But, what ever might be happening gets put aside on Sunday night so they can have family dinner.

So much happens when you share a meal with others. If you have kids, you hear about their day, their worries, and their friends. If you are with your spouse, you might actually have a minute to tell a story or have a conversation. If it's friends or neighbors, you can learn something new about each other or just have a good laugh. It's not quite the same in a restaurant. It's nice and special but, eating at home should be even more special. When you spend time cooking and share that with others, it tells them you care about them. You've probably heard the term 'food is love'. Never is it more true when you have a meal with your family.


If tonight is not the night, how about tomorrow?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Fish in Parchment...It's what's for dinner.

The French call it 'en papillote'. I call it an easy dinner.

Years ago I was asked to teach a cooking class to a group of women in Marin. I showed up thinking it was a hands on class but, when they all gave me that 'no touchy' look, I realized I was going to be doing all the cooking. I pulled it off because I'd developed this simple recipe that anyone can make, especially on a weeknight if you have a bit of prep time early in the day.

The method of cooking fish, or anything for that matter, in parchment paper is a great one. It is essentially steaming without the fancy steamer, rack, etc. I love it for fish because it is really hard to screw up. It is a fool-proof way to keep your fish moist and juicy. The icing on the cake is opening the parchment when you eat it. The aromas that come from that little paper package are amazing!

I've used this French method with Asian ingredients to create my Fish in Parchment recipe. If you cook half as well as two of my students in class last week, I have no doubt your fish will be delicious. You will love this recipe as much as I do for a couple of reasons...First, you can assemble the whole thing in about 30 minutes and you can do it about 6 hours in advance. Second, it works with any fish-buy what you like, what's in season, and what works with your budget. The only tricky part of this recipe might be folding the parchment. If you're having trouble you can easily Google 'en papillote' and there are videos and pictures galore to help you. If you have no parchment, foil works in a pinch but I think there is a lot more drama on the plate when you use the parchment (and that's important, right?!).

Asian Style Fish in Parchment

6 medium snapper fillets, 6-8 ounces each (any fish will do-just keep it 1" or thinner)
½ cup dry sherry or dry white wine
¼ cup oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce (more if desired)
1 teaspoon Asian chili paste (I like Sambal Oelek but Sriracha works well too), optional
¼ cup honey
1 pound mixed mushrooms (such as Shitake, Oyster, Button and/or Crimini), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
¼ cup minced fresh ginger
¼ cup minced fresh garlic
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
6 pieces of cooking parchment, about 12 x 12 inches

Season both sides of fish fillets with salt and pepper. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use. In a small bowl mix together sherry, oyster sauce, soy sauce, chili paste and honey. Set aside.

In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil. Add mushrooms and a pinch of salt and sauté over medium high heat for about 10 minutes, or until soft. Add garlic and ginger and continue cooking until very fragrant, up to 5 minutes. Turn heat to medium and add sauce mixture. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half and quite thick, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with soy, salt and/or pepper and remove from heat. Cool to room temp if making in advance.

Fold each piece of parchment paper in half and brush melted butter on bottom half. On the bottom half of the paper, place one of the fish fillets. Cover the fish with a large spoonful of the mushroom mixture (use approx. 1/6 of the mixture on each fillet). Top with a drizzle of olive oil. Fold the paper over and crimp the edges to seal tightly. Do this by folding the paper around the edges and tucking it under itself each time you fold. At this point, packets can be placed in the refrigerator for up to 6 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.

Place packets on a baking pan and brush the top of each packet with a bit of olive oil to prevent it from getting too brown. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the fish goes from translucent to opaque. Serve immediately, placing the entire packet on a plate and letting each diner open it at the table.

Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

(it's a "double post day"...if you're reading this one first, you'll notice the 'coffee' post below from earlier this morning. enjoy!).

Speaking of coffee, I was having it with a friend yesterday and we had a long conversation about making dinner with less meat. The ears at the SF Chronicle must have been burning! There is a nice article today with ideas for meatless dinners. I love the Italian Farro and Beans recipe, especially if you make your own veggie stock (the recipe is there). It could not be easier and, compared to the bland stuff you buy at the market, it will blow you away.

If you bring your lunch to work, you will love the LA Times article about getting creative with your lunch box. I don't know if it was the Dandelion Green and Goat Cheese Empanadas, the Black Bean and Chorizo Soup, or the Pan Bagnat but, I may just pack a lunch to try these things out.

Maybe it's my pending trip to Thailand but, the recipe in today's NY Times for Coconut Curry Chicken Noodle Soup sounds like the perfect meal on one of those cold wintery days. Of course the video of Mark Bittman cooking Chicken with Jamie Oliver is a lot of fun too...as Jamie says 'It's not going to change your life but, it's lovely".

Sriracha sauce is a firey Asian condiment that I've grown to love. The combination of bright red chilis and a bit of vinegar give it a great kick. Today's Seattle Times has a recipe for Chinese Restaurant BBQ Ribs that uses a combination of Sriracha and honey to glaze baby back ribs. This sounds like the perfect match to me!

Happy Cooking!

Ahhhh....coffee

I got up at the crack of dawn, actually before, on Monday. I don't know if it was the 'back to school' jitters or just going to bed too damn early. This is a rare occasion. I usually wake up when my son comes running down the hall to snuggle in our bed around 6a.m. I turn over, go back to sleep, and finally stop pressing 'snooze' around 7.

In the dark pre-dawn hours on Monday, I was on the computer wondering if the coffee grinder was going to wake my sleeping boys. I debated until about 6 and finally decided to go for it. Everyone still sleeping, my coffee machine signaled it's 5-alarm buzzer when it finished brewing and I poured a steaming cup.

Ahhh.....coffee.

I LOVE coffee. The smell, the taste, the hot, all of it. We got these great mugs with no handles from Heath Ceramics (kind of like this) a few years ago and there is something so inviting about wrapping your hands around one when it's full of warm Joe. One sip and I realize the day is going to be okay. It's fine that I woke up when it was dark. The coffee makes it all better, right?

Here's the crazy part....years ago my tummy told me "no more caffeine" so I went off the stuff. I've been a decaf girl for years and years. That said, I still can't live without it and like it dark and strong, with no milk or sugar. Yes, I know that even decaf has a little caffeine. Just enough, I think.

I'm always on the hunt for the best coffee because most decaf is weak and not worth the time it takes to brew it. Lately I've been loving Peet's Holiday Blend but, sadly it's no longer. I'm always happy with Blue Bottle's Decaf Noir and my go to cup is Peet's Decaf Major Dickason's.

Caffeine or not, how do you take your coffee in the morning?

Monday, January 5, 2009

What's for Dinner

Last year I promised to post weekly recipes on the blog for quick and easy dinners. I was miserable at it. I hope to be better this year but, don't think I can promise one a week. Maybe monthly?

This recipe for Roasted Pork Loin with Milk basically cooks itself. I'm making it tonight with roasted cauliflower and what ever else I can dig out of my pantry (maybe last night's left over Pasta with Pepperonata). It's a simple way to cook a lean cut of meat and have it come out caramelized and browned on the exterior while still staying juicy inside. It takes about an hour but, because most of that time is in the oven, you can do other things while it cooks.

Roasted Pork Loin with Milk (adapted from The Silver Spoon by Phaidon Press)

2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 sprigs fresh sage
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 to 2 1/2 pound pork loin roast (not a pork tenderloin)
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the butter, oil, sage, and rosemary in an oval roasting pan (or an oven proof skillet) over medium high heat. Season the pork all over with salt and pepper. Add the pork to the pan and cook until well browned all over, about 2 minutes a side. Add the wine and cook, stirring to release any browned bits from the pan. Continue to cook until the wine has evaporated.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan and leave it on low heat.

Brush the meat with a layer of warm milk then transfer the pan to the oven. Continue roasting, turning occasionally, until the meat is cooked through and reads 145-150 on an instant read thermometer, about 1 hour. While it is cooking, occasionally baste the pork with the hot milk.

Remove the pork from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes. Cut into slices and serve, pouring any sauce from the pan over the top.

Makes 6 servings.



Saturday, January 3, 2009

A New Year of Cooking

Every food section and magazine has published their predictions for food trends in 2009. I am making my own list. Things I'd like to do more and less of in the year to come when it comes to food. I'd love to know what you're thinking too. Will anything change in your cooking, eating, or dining out habits in this new year?

1) First, I have to say I want to use my NEW KNIFE more in 2009. Yes, my husband and son scored huge, giant points when they got me the "Bob Kramer for Shun" chef's knife for Christmas. The thing looks incredibly daunting but it cuts food like butter. Nothing makes your prep faster than a sharp knife. If you're still out there cutting with a dull one, make a resolution to have it professionally sharpened or to buy an upgrade this year.

2) Eat more appetizers for dinner. I'm over the small plates thing but, I do love the idea of eating two appetizers instead of one app and an entree. My eyes are always bigger than my stomach and I never finish my dinner. Last night we had a fantastic meal at Anchor and Hope. Four of us shared lots of apps then I had another app as my entree. I left feeling just right-not too full. I need to remember to do this more often.

3) Keep cooking at home. I would say I cook an average of 4-5 nights a week. I'd like to keep that a consistent 5 in 2009. I'd also like to try more new things. Last year I made a pledge to cook through my cookbook library. I'd pick a book each week and cook only from it for that week's dinners. It didn't last long enough and I still have so many books collecting dust on the shelves. I'm trying this one again.

4) Try new restaurants. I get in a rut and don't try enough new places. I have a handful of SF restaurants that I know will be consistently delicious all the time. They are worth the money and I'm never disappointed. Because of this, I get stage fright when it comes to trying something new. What if it sucks? What if it is outrageously overpriced? What if I leave feeling like 'I could have made that at home for a lot less'? I hate to risk it and tend to keep my choices safe. This year I'm venturing out and trying more new places.

5) Bake more bread. I love, I mean love, the idea of mixing flour, water, and yeast and creating a crusty loaf of homemade bread. My bread doesn't turn out great-it's fine, always smells good, and we certainly eat it. I want to get good at making bread and need to practice to make that happen. This is the year.

6) Entertain at home. We recently remodeled out house and there are still a million loose ends to finish. Those last things on the 'to do' list have been my excuse for not having a dinner party. I need to get over it and start entertaining again. I love dinner parties and this year I will try to step up and have them a lot more often.

7) Keep blogging. This one is really for you. If I keep writing this thing, will you keep reading? Posting? Telling your friends about it??? If I know you're out there I'll keep at it. If I don't, this one may fall by the waist side.
 
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