Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cold Front

It's cold here! I know Californians are total weather wimps (see Exhibit A, courtesy of Jimmy Kimmel). We act like a bunch of idiots as the local news teams tell us to brace for the "coldest nights you've ever experienced," but I mean it this time. It was 35 degrees this morning. That's cold no matter where you are! 

Exhibit A

I went to a 6 am spin class this morning and someone was telling a story about how shocked they were to find frost on their car windshield and admitted she didn't know what to do. She thought flipping the windshield wipers on would do the trick, yet realized that was not happening. But like an inexperienced (yet resourceful) Californian, she said she used her credit card to scrape her window. I know, right?! Not a person I've spoken to owns an ice scraper. 

And when it's cold, few things seem to warm you better than a nice bowl of soup. Although summer seems like it was a long, long time ago, I can still remember one of the highlights. It was a clam and corn chowder I ate here while visiting my high school bestie in Annapolis.It left quite an impression on me. Honestly, I still fantasize about it. I took a picture of it on my phone and I find myself browsing through my camera roll from time to time and pausing to gaze at this lovely bowl of deliciousness. Food porn. 

As the temperatures dip "precariously," I thought it would be the perfect time to try to recreate the dish and conjure up memories of warmer days. It's not a replica by any means, but it's damn good—and surprisingly quick to put together. 

It's also the perfect bread-sopping soup, so make sure you pick up a baguette to eat with it. The whole milk and heavy cream definitely make this taste luxurious but it's not heavy and gluttonous. The corn adds a sweetness and crunch that is the perfect foil to the briny clams.I should just say that I know clams can be alienating but if you buy them fresh they will have no odor and should be tender when cooked. Overall it's very well balanced and incredibly satisfying. You'll want seconds but there likely will be none. 

Stay warm!  

Clam and Corn Chowder 
from Gourmet

3 bacon slices, cut crosswise into thin strips
1 bunch scallions (5 or 6) 
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
2 cups of corn cut from about 4 ears (can use frozen)
1 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 (8-oz) bottles clam juice
1/2 cup water
2 lbs small clams, well scrubbed
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Cook bacon in a 4- to 5-qt heavy pot over medium heat, stirring until slightly browned but not crisp. 
2. Chop white and pale green parts of scallions and add to bacon along with 1 Tbsp butter. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in corn, potatoes, clam juice, water and 1/2 tsp pepper and bring to a rolling boil, uncovered. 
3. Add clams and return to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until clams are just opened, 5-8 minutes (discard any clams that remain unopened after 8 minutes). 
4. Chop 1/2 cup scallion greens and add to chowder along with milk, cream and remaining Tbsp butter. Cook, stirring, until heated through (do not let come to a boil). Season with salt and pepper.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

On the Side

Wow, Thanksgiving is a week away. I'm not sure how that happened. This year is evaporating! I'm getting a little overwhelmed thinking about all that has to get done between now and the end of the year, but I'm certainly looking forward to next week. It has perhaps two of my favorite events:
1) Thanksgiving at my grandmother's 
2) The Iron Bowl [Roll Tide Roll!]

I'd be hard pressed to rank them so please don't make me, but I am not shy about ranking my list of favorite side dishes that typically accompany the Thanksgiving turkey. Dressing is at the top. If you are not from the South, you're probably like, "What the hell is dressing?" It's what you call stuffing. But at our house (and all over the South and perhaps in other geographies), no stuffing makes it into the turkey before cooking. Because of course you'd get salmonella and die if you ate that. Instead, you make the stuffing and cook it in a baking dish, which we refer to as dressing. How it got that name, I have no idea, but man do I love it. Probably because I love bread and that's basically what dressing is. On the other end of the spectrum lays the fruit and jello salad. Why it's made and served every year is a mystery (because there is always plenty left over), but I suppose it's just one of those Thanksgiving traditions you keep because if you didn't, someone—who never even eats the jello salad—would complain that it was missing. 

Second to the bottom of the list is the green bean casserole. I'm not much of a "casserole girl" anyway, but I tend to steer away from "creamy" vegetable dishes. I love green beans though. I just don't understand why they have to be swimming in cream of mushroom soup and topped with French's fried onions. If you want cream of mushroom soup, just make it. Why do you have to mix in the green beans with it? 

Anyway, my friends always host a Thanksgiving dinner for friends a week before the big day. This year it was 2 weeks ahead. It's always a great excuse to do a "dry run" and get your stomach ready for the main event, but it's also really special to be able to give thanks for your friends (or the "family you choose" as my mom says). The hosts provide the turkey and everyone brings a side. This year, I decided to spare the green beans from the soupy catastrophe and I made citrus green beans. 

It's a winning dish for several reasons:
1) You don't need the oven which has no available real estate on Thanksgiving
2) You can make this ahead of time and just stick it in a ziploc bag in your refrigerator
3) It's healthy but, more importantly, tastes good

I also love that it calls for cane syrup, which is the maple syrup of the South. If you haven't had cane syrup before, you're missing out. I can't find any in California so my parents are nice enough to haul it 3000 miles when they come and visit me. [Thanks, Mom!!] It adds just the right sweetness (and Southern hint) to the salad. The green beans are cooked crisp tender and should maintain their vibrant green color if you plunge them into an ice bath after you cook them. The citrus provides a fresh zinginess you'll crave and the pecans add a little crunch. Campbell's cream of mushroom soup need not apply. 

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!  

Green Beans with Citrus and Pecans

1 shallot
3/4 cup olive oil
zest from 1 orange
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup cane syrup (you can substitute maple, it just won't be as sweet so you may want to add a little honey)
2 lb haricot verts (thin green beans)
3 oranges, sectioned
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans

1. Steam green beans in the microwave until crisp tender (3-5 minutes). Plunge the green beans in an ice bath to stop the cooking process and drain. 
2. Whisk together the first 6 ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste. I made my dressing a little saltier than normal because I didn't salt the green beans. 
3. Pat the green beans with paper towels to dry and place in a zip-loc bag. Add orange segments and vinaigrette. Seal and chill for at least 2 hours. Sprinkle with pecans before serving. Serves 8

Monday, September 16, 2013

Bragging Rights

I don't mean to brag but I think I'm kind of getting the hang of this grilling thing! Don't let my drunk beer-can chicken fool you!

I've been wanting to make this recipe for awhile, which was provided by the chef at Root Down in Denver. I had the chance to eat there several months ago during a business trip and was blown away by how good the food was. It's received a lot of accolades and frankly deserved every single one. It was a very memorable meal. It was almost a perfect meal actually. So when Bon Appetit published this green curry pork tenderloin recipe, I knew I wanted to make it—even though it would involve grilling the meat. And for some reason, I knew I wanted to make it for a party.

While I know it's not recommended to serve something at a dinner party without having tried the recipe before, I've honestly had good luck with that in the past. Maybe it's beginner's luck? Having said that, I usually pick pretty straightforward stuff—nothing with unfamiliar ingredients or overly complicated steps. But I do suffer from perfectionism, so spent a good chunk of time researching the best way to grill a pork tenderloin. The rest of the recipe—overnight marinating, making the curry sauce and cumin-spiced pumpkin seeds—didn't ruffle my feathers. It was grilling the meat that kept me up the night before the party. I'm sure to many, that would be the easy part.

I stumbled upon a cooking technique for the tenderloin online that people swore by: 7-6-5. There was very strong consensus that this was THE WAY to cook pork tenderloin. It was very detailed too and addressed all my neurotic usual concerns with grilling......Should I close the lid? How many seconds am I supposed to be able to hold my hand over the grill before I know that it's the right temperature? Do I have to worry about direct and indirect heat?.....Anyway, the 7-6-5 technique can be easily summed up:
1) Turn the grill on high and let it warm up for 10-15 minutes.
2) Place the tenderloin on direct heat and cook with the lid closed for 7 minutes.
3) Turn the tenderloin over and cook with the lid closed for 6 minutes.
4) Turn the grill off and let the tenderloins sit with the lid closed for another 5 minutes.
5) Take them off, let them rest for another 10 minutes, slice and you will be guaranteed to have a perfectly cooked tenderloin.

I am now an evangelist about the 7-6-5 method and would challenge anyone to find an easier and more successful way to grill a pork tenderloin. The meat was so succulent. I would say "moist," but for some reason, that word really grosses me out. It's up there next to "runny." Anyway, you can see in this photo how juicy the meat is. It is glistening.

The funny part about the experience was that the kids in attendance kept asking what we were having for dinner. It was not the likely candidates of burgers, hot dogs and chicken breasts they probably more often associate with the grill. So when I told them pork tenderloin, they gave me confused looks. Finally I said, "Do you like bacon?" I got an overwhelmingly positive response, so I told them we were going to be eating something like bacon. That seemed to alleviate any concern they had over the mystery meat. In fact, they chowed down on it, even though I served theirs without the curry sauce because I didn't want to push my luck.

But that curry sauce. . . . Oh my. It was delicious. I wanted to just put a straw in the sauce and drink it. It was the right amount of fresh (from the cilantro and lime juice) and spicy (from the curry paste) and sweet (from the coconut milk). It was really a beautiful amalgamation of flavors that struck just the right chord. It was "cleaner" and more elevated than a curry you might get from Thai take-out but exotic and different enough to make it feel special. People seemed to really love the crunch from the cumin-spiced pumpkin seeds but to me it was a nice to have not a must have. It makes plenty, though, and I did enjoy crunching on them throughout the following week.

I served the meat along side this spicy Asian noodle salad that was frankly ridiculous. We inhaled it and several kids asked to take left-overs home (there were leftovers because I have a phobia that I won't make enough food for parties so always make about double what is needed). I used fresh linguini as the base and coated the noodles with a spicy soy and peanut butter sauce. I didn't take many photos of it though. Sorry, so you'll have to trust me that it was the right amount of crunchy, bright, and spicy and a perfect accompaniment to the meat. But some jasmine rice would also be an excellent choice and great for soaking up the sauce. Actually I didn't take many photos of anything for this post. That's the downside of cooking for a crowd—it's hard to run around snapping food pictures when you're trying to get everything on the table. 

I have since used the 7-6-5 technique several times and have become a staunch believer that it is THE WAY to grill tenderloin. And I feel equally confident that this is a damn good recipe. So even if you're a little grill-shy like me, I would encourage you to give this a try. It's fragrant, it's delicious, it's different but something you'll want to eat over and over again. And people will shower you with compliments  and make you feel like you're a fabulous chef, even if the kitchen—or grill—is usually not your strongest suit.

Green Curry Pork Tenderloin
from Bon Appetit

Note: Yes, it's recommended that you marinate the meat overnight, but a few hours will totally do the trick, and the curry sauce comes together very quickly even though it seems like it has a lot of ingredients and steps. It easily doubles and triples! The seeds can be made several days in advance and kept in a tightly sealed container. You can probably make the sauce a day ahead too. It certainly makes plenty and I used it on other dishes on subsequent days and it still tasted amazing.

Pork and Marinade
  1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
  1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  2 Tbsp maple syrup
  2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
  2 pork tenderloins (about 2 - 2.5 lbs total)
Cumin-Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
  1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  3/4 cup shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  1 Tbsp sugar
  1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  Kosher salt
Curry Sauce
  3 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided
  1 small shallot, chopped
  1 garlic clove, chopped
  1/4 cup green Thai curry paste
  1 tsp finely grated lime zest
  1 14-oz can unsweetened coconut mile (light is fine)
  1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  1 Tbsp packed light brown sugar
  Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pork and Marinade
1. Combine soy sauce, orange juice, maple syrup and sesame oil in a large resealable plastic bag. Add pork and seal bag. Chill, turning occasionally, at least 8 hours or up to 1 day.
2. When ready to grill the meat, prepare grill for high heat. Remove pork from marinade; pat dry. Grill pork for 7 minutes on one side with the grill lid down. Turn the pork over and grill on high for another 6 minutes. Turn the grill off and leave the meat on the grill with the lid closed for another 5 minutes. The meat should be cooked to 140 degrees. Let rest 10 minutes and then slice.
3. Slice the pork and serve with curry sauce and cumin-spiced pumpkin seeds sprinkled on top.

Cumin-Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pumpkin seeds and toast, shaking the pan often, until the seeds are brown, about 4 minutes.
2. Add cumin seeds, then gradually add sugar, then lime juice, tossing constantly to coat seeds with melted sugar and juice.
3. Transfer pumpkin seed mixture to a foil-lined baking sheet; spread out and let cool. Season with salt.

1. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add curry paste and lime zest and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
2. Add coconut milk and bring just to a boil, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan; reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture is reduced by half, 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
3. Transfer coconut milk mixture to a blender. Add cilantro, lime juice, brown sugar, and 2 Tbsp water and blend until smooth. With motor running, drizzle in remaining 2 Tbsp oil and blend until creamy. Season curry with salt and pepper, return to pan and cover to keep warm.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Summer Snaps

I heard someone say that August is like the Sunday of Summer. I couldn't agree more; I just wish it wasn't true. As Labor Day nears, I feel my favorite season slipping away and thought I'd share a few snaps from it. It was really a good one, filled with some fun trips, some special reunions and a lot of good food and drink! Hope yours was too! And while yes the tans will fade, the memories will last forever.

Heart-Shaped Homegrown
The Golden Hour
A Cool Cocktail
Afternoon in the Low Country
Best Tri-Tip (aka California BBQ)
Cold Spring's Rooftop Jungle 
My First Cronut (or Doughsant)
Full of Life Flatbread
The Calm Before the Storm at Cypress
Chicken 'n' Waffles (Santa Barbara-Style)
Sunset on the Bay
Clams with Corn
My Precious Godson
Alfresco Evenings
Nightcap by the Firepit
Lumineers Live

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Put a Beer in It

While I think women are quite capable, I still think there are some things that men do better. Like peeing outside, not holding grudges, and manning a grill. Having said that, I don't think that means women should concede those things, except for peeing outside—which I tried in a hoop skirt nonetheless when I was in college. All I can is that it's very difficult to accomplish with any sort of grace or class. But who says we can't master the grill, for instance? Well, that was my mindset when I finally decided to tackle the legendary beer-can chicken. 

I'm sure for some of you advanced grillers, you may laugh at the remedial nature of my quest. A beer-can chicken is like grilling for dummies. But I also say you can't go wrong with a classic and you have to start somewhere. While I've continued to dabble on the grill (with recipes like this and this), it's definitely still outside of my comfort zone.

This did seem easy though. You basically just stick a whole chicken on a half-full can of beer and then grill it for like an hour and you have a succulent, tasty chicken. The concept is that the steam from the beer flavors the meat and keeps it moist. And in theory the can props up the chicken for an even roast, so you don't have to worry about scorching, flipping, or stressing.  

But the problem with theories is that they are theories. And while this does seem impossible to screw up, I, of course, was able to screw it up. My error was that I didn't position the can well on the grill. It was kind of sitting precariously between the grates. (I could've just moved it 1 cm to the left or right and it would have been fine.) Rookie  move! As such, my bird tipped over and was left to grill unevenly for an unknown period of time. 

Thankfully it's a mistake you can recover from. While my bird was a little crispy (*cough*) on one side, it was indeed incredibly juicy. And I see now why men say that a grill is not an oven. You can't walk away from it when it's on. I used to think it was just an excuse to drink beer and avoid doing other work in the kitchen, but now I realize it's some pretty sound logic. 

The smoky-sweet rub offered great flavor to the meat and is also a ridiculously simple formula for success. It's as easy as 1-2-3...4 in this case. You just mix 1 Tbsp cayenne pepper, 2 Tbsp sweet paprika, 3 Tbsp brown sugar and 4 Tbsp kosher salt. This rub would be perfect for almost any meat so feel free to make a big batch and keep in the pantry so you have it at the ready.

Even though I biffed it a bit, I do think a beer-can chicken is a nearly fail-safe way to achieve grilling perfection—whether you're a guy or a girl. Even though it's easy, it's still impressive to pull a whole bird off a grill. And at the end of the day, who doesn't want to look like they've got it going on? 

Beer-Can Chicken

4 Tbsp kosher salt
3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp sweet paprika
1 Tbsp cayenne pepper
1 can lager beer
1 3 1/2 - 4 lb chicken
Foil baking pan

1. Prepare grill for high, indirect heat and fit with grill pan. For a gas grill, leave 1 burner turned off and place drip pan over unlit burner. Add water to pan to a depth of 1/2 inch. Pour out (or drink) half of beer. 
2. Combine the first 4 ingredients into a small bowl and season the outside of the chicken with the rub. Place cavity of the chicken, legs pointing down, onto open beer can so that it supports the chicken upright. 
3. Place the can, with chicken, on the grill over indirect heat and above the drip pan. Grill chicken, covered, until cooked through and an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees (about 45-60 minutes). Let chicken rest 10 minutes before carving.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Another Side of Ceviche

The first time I was exposed to ceviche I was living in Panama (as in Panama, Central America not Panama, Florida) with a very limited palate. Well, I was like 6 or 7 so my narrow focus on buttered noodles and hotdogs is kind of expected. [Side note: Chicken nuggets didn't even EXIST back then. Damn, I'm getting old!] The likelihood of me eating raw fish "cooked" in lime juice was low. Very low. It seemed like one of those "parent lies" they tell you to try to get you to do something they want yet you know they're totally full of it. Like when my mom told me that the giant bowl of whipped yucca was delicious mashed potatoes. More like mashed paste. I admit, though, that at the time I was strangely intrigued by the idea of cooking something with lime juice. It seemed improbable but I'd also recently seen my neighbor mimic an erupting "volcano" with a roll of Mentos and a 2-liter bottle of Coke.

Fast forward many years and I finally did try ceviche, like a big girl. And it was delicious and refreshing and made me feel like I was on a beach with sand between my toes. Living by the ocean provides access to wonderfully fresh fish and Santa Barbara grows citrus like kudzu in the South, so ceviche is common. It usually tastes even better with a margarita or cold beer but that is optional. I've come to realize that I really love lime, especially lime juice. I mean, I'm not dissing the lemon but if I had to choose between the two it would not even be a contest. Maybe too many tequila shots in college?....The lemon never had a chance.

So I was instantly drawn to a recipe I saw for a vegetable "ceviche" in the August issue of Food & Wine. I was hosting a dinner to celebrate Fiesta, which is Santa Barbara's equivalent of Mardi Gras with cascarones instead of beads and flamenco instead of women flashing their boobs, and thought the vegetable "ceviche" would be the perfect accompaniment to the tacos I was serving. And I was thankfully right since I made about 10 pounds of it.

It utilizes many of summer's finest stars—corn, nectarines, tomatoes—and preserves their sweetness and silkiness with a tart lime marinade, which seems like it shouldn't work but does. Kind of like cooking raw fish in lime juice. The ripe avocado adds a welcomed creaminess that compliments the zippy jalapeño and cilantro. And if you think that cilantro tastes like soap the same way that I think yucca tastes like paste, then I beg you to just give it a chance. It really does round out the balance of the dish. 

And if you want to feel a little closer to the beach, I suggest you whip up a batch of these to wash this "ceviche" down with. I feel like summer is sadly winding down so I'll gladly squeeze every last ounce out of it I can. 

Summer Vegetable "Ceviche" 
from Food & Wine

1 cup shelled edamame (or cooked baby lima beans)
1 tsp finely grated lime zest
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cup fresh corn kernels (from 2 ears)
2 nectarines, cut into thin wedges (can substitute peaches)
1 avocado, cubed
1 large orange bell pepper, finely julienned (you can certainly use a red or green one)
1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped

1. In a large bowl, whisk the lime zest and juice with the olive oil, scallion, jalapeño and shallot; season the dressing with salt and pepper. 
2. Gently fold in the edamame, corn, nectarines, avocado, bell pepper, and tomatoes. 
3. Refrigerate the "ceviche" for at least two hours and up to 8. Fold in cilantro just before serving. 
Serves 8-10