Wednesday, March 4, 2015

My love affair with oysters

I was fidgeting on my bar stool. 

I didn't remember what he looked like, even though the last time I saw him was only two days ago. But then again, I had only met him two days ago, as well.

It wasn't that his face was forgettable.  I remembered thinking that he had very kind eyes, and his hair was some shade of brown.  He wasn't that much taller than me. 

I distracted myself with the menu.  Oysters were outrageously expensive.  But I had always wanted to be a patron at this particular establishment, and I was finally here. 

He appeared at my side, looking nothing and everything like I remembered.  

--

It was his first time, and my first time in a long time.  I clumsily showed him how to use the comically small oyster fork, suggested a light touch on the accoutrements (lemon, mignonette, etc), shyly toasted each other and down the gullet it went.

The first sip of the briny water was a mild assault on the senses. The meat itself was creamy, which balanced out the acidity--or was it the other way around? My eyes closed, rolling back into my head, lips slightly parted and slack, and finally an exhalation from the fleeting pleasure.  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Restoration

It's been said that the very first restaurant originated in 18th century France, in which a patron might pay for a bowl of tonic, medicinal soup - a 'restorative'.  From this, one could see that the name was befitting because a restaurant was, and remains to this day, a place where one might seek restoration.

~

It was Friday, the end of a work week and the start of the work weekend.  I had been feeling particularly listless from my monthly inconvenience.  I drove toward my church, where in an hour's time I would assist with the youth group.  My lips pursed as I sipped cold coffee.  I had leftovers in my Tupperware.  All I needed to do was pull up to the church facility, throw them in the microwave, nosh.  Put on a happy face and let the kids' crazed energy wash over me.

But I found myself driving past, didn't stop long enough to ask why.  I was headed toward my default Friday night dinner spot, a little Chinese hole-in-the-wall where the owners knew me--but still never gave me a blessed discount.  I found myself driving past that, too.

Where am I going?  Story of my life.  I remembered a little Mexican restaurant I read about a while ago, bookmarked 'to try', across the street from the Chinese restaurant.  I think I read something about them being particularly exceptional with seafood.  I would've tried it sooner, but for some reason or another, never did.  No day like today, I suppose.  Prudence admonished me: it wasn't too late to head back toward the church, save a few bucks.  But a stronger, firmer voice pushed me toward the door.  You need this. Next week will be nothing but peanut butter sandwiches but you need to do this, and do it now.  

I walked in, a little hesitant.  I could see that there were no covers for two available, much less one--I could perch myself at the end of a six top, but waited for the staff to tell me where I should sit.

He bustled over, and jovially welcomed me with his quick Honduran accent--yes, I should sit at the head of the long table, or wherever I felt comfortable.  I felt instantly at home.  I scanned the menu, and I knew why I had come.

I asked him, "What soup should I order?"

"Ah, you know, the beef, this one.  This is my favorite.  The other, you know, coconut?  Little sweet. Customers like that one a lot.  But get the beef.  My favorite one."

I smiled, and handed the menu back to him.  "Let's go with your favorite one."

~

The steaming bowl arrived and engulfed me in its savory aroma.  It was the plainest, homiest soup I ever saw; it was the most beautiful soup I ever looked upon.  It was wholly unpretentious: big chunks of bone-in beef, a big wedge of cabbage, some softened carrot sticks and yucca thrown in there.  The side of rice looked almost to be an afterthought, but once I tried it I found that it had been cooked with the same broth.  The side of homemade corn tortilla, too, felt like too much - but still, after a bite, I found it to be just as essential to the whole of the meal.

As I sat there, eating that bowl of delicious soup, I felt each bit of my body being infused with strength.  I read leisurely, between bites of rice and tortilla.  The chatting noise was comfortable.  I was alone, but I was not lonely.

"You, are you doing ok?  Can I get you more rice?"

"Um, yes, it's delicious...do you think I could get a box?  It's great but I just don't know if I can finish it."

"You keep working on it a bit more, I come back later with the box if you still need it."

It was good to the last drop.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Chicken and Rice

Let it be known that I love my parents' culinary expertise, and am deeply appreciative when they cook for me. However, there is one point that we disagree upon.

Dishes.

Namely, the number of dishes, pots, pans, crockery, utensils, what-have-you required to cook dinner from start to finish.

My parents don't mind having ten prep bowls and breaking out the garlic mincer-press thing and utilizing every single burner. I personally like to minimize the clean up, so I'll use one board and knife, the same pot for just about everything and rinse it between uses. Or, I throw everything into a roasting dish.  You may have heard the term: "One Pot Wonder".

Here's a classic OPW, with an adult twist:


Chicken and Rice (for two)

Ingredients
-2 chicken thighs, skin on. Boneless optional.
-1 cup of uncooked white jasmine rice
-1 cup white wine, your choice
-1cup chicken broth, or water
-frozen veggies/uncooked chopped vegetables
-salt, pepper, paprika
-optional: raisins

Equipment
Deep baking dish, with cover (or cover with heavy aluminum foil). I have a square Le Creuset ceramic casserole.

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Pat chicken thighs dry with paper towel; season generously on both sides with salt, pepper, and paprika.  Set aside.
3. Rinse the rice with water until it runs clear. Layer the washed rice on the bottom of the baking dish.
4. Mix in the frozen/uncooked vegetables with the rice. 
5. Arrange the chicken thighs on top.
6. Pour the wine and broth from the sides until rice mixture is submerged, and the liquid comes up to at least halfway up the meat. 
7. Cover, and bake for an hour or until chicken thighs are done (juices run clear, not pink/bloody. Salmonella=bad!)
8. This shouldn't be the case, but if your rice seems a little hard, add more liquid and bake a little longer. Thighs should be fine, they're a very forgiving meat to overcook!
9. Bonus step: turn on the broil to crisp up the chicken skin. YES!

Enjoy washing just ONE dish (if you eat directly from the pan, ha!) after dinner! 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Mom's Birthday Dinner

My sister and I took our dad out to a Brazilian churrascaria for his birthday this year.  The family had a wonderful time! However, my mom did say that even though she does enjoy a fancy meal occasionally, she's still happy with a simple meal at home.

So for my mom's birthday, my sister and I did up a simple family-style meal:

(From the top: Sautéed beet greens, seared scallops with sweet corn succotash, broiled skirt steak over green beans with roasted golden beets--served with chimichurri sauce)

This entire meal was definitely low-stress, fairly easy to prepare! Most importantly, Mom felt appreciated and that's all that matters.

Roasted (Gold) Beets, and Sautéed Beet Greens 

Ingredients:
4-5 beets. Gold or regular, doesn't matter--both are great!
Olive oil 
Salt and pepper

Chopped garlic 

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2) Thoroughly rinse beets, and chop off the beet greens to reserve for sautéing (the tops. Yes, they are edible--don't be like my friend MikeG and throw it away!)
3) Peel beets with peeler or paring knife. Slice beets crosswise into coins, about a quarter inch thick.
4) Arrange beet slices in a single layer on a lines baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil, and sprinkle salt and pepper. You won't need a whole lot--beets have a wonderful sweet natural flavor!
5) Pop the tray into the oven and roast for no longer than 20 minutes, or until fork tender.


While that's cooking, work on the BEET GREENS:

1) Optional: chop beet greens into manageable  chunks, 2 or 3 inches long
2) Heat up a frying pan or wok with some olive oil,medium flame.
3) Add chopped garlic, sauté until translucent and softened.
4) Add greens to the pan. Stir and toss in the olive and garlic until just cooked through, losing that raw bite in the center. Add some salt and pepper to taste.

With any luck, both side dishes should finish cooking at the same time! Enjoy these healthy dishes!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My Parents' 30th Anniversary

 

 

It isn't much, but my sister and I did what we could to commemorate our parents' milestone:

  1. Seared scallop salad with plums and toasted almonds over mixed herbs, light vinaigrette dressing.
  2. Brie and parsley stuffed mushrooms (thanks, Pioneer Woman!) 
  3. Roasted pork loin, yukon gold mashed potatoes, green bean and cherry tomato saute with toasted almonds (ok, yes, the same toasted almonds from the salad.  We let nothing go to waste.)
  4. Too pooped to whip out a dessert, so a cute cake instead.  

Fun fact: my sister bought everything from the local produce market and Trader Joe's, except for the scallops and the mini-Tiramisu.  I bought the dozen scallops and the cake at Whole Foods on my way home from work.  When we compared receipts, the damage was the same.

When I asked my dad what he learned in 30 years of marriage, he said:
I learned to be grateful-I have family, health, and wealth.
And I guess that's all that really matters.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Rice Porridge for a Sick Day

For the days you're feeling under the weather, a warm comforting bowl of rice porridge might be what you need.  This is probably ideal for afflictions of the digestive system, such as a stomach flu or food poisoning.


Ingredients:
  • 1 cup of uncooked jasmine rice
  • salt
  • vegetable oil
  • water
  • (optional) dried abalone, or other dried seafood 
  • White or black pepper, your preference, to taste
  • (optional) sliced green onion, fried shallots, furikake, other porridge condiments, whatever you like!
Recipe:
  1. Wash the rice in a circular motion in a bowl.  Rinse several times until water runs clear.
  2. In the same bowl, season the rice with a generous pinch of salt, and a tablespoon of oil.  Mix.
  3. Pour enough water to submerge the rice; let stand for at least 30 minutes.  This process seasons the rice and softens it for easier cooking.
  4. Take a pot and fill with 5 cups of water, to start (5:1 ratio of water to rice).  Bring to a rolling boil.
  5. Once the water has boiled, put the rice mixture in, and the optional dried seafood.
  6. Bring stove temperature to medium-low to obtain a continuous simmer.  Leave the lid off the pot, there is a clear and present danger of the porridge boiling over (and the mess is definitely one you don't want to deal with when you're already sick).
  7. Stir occasionally to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom.  Let boil for at least half an hour, or until desired rice porridge consistency.  I happen to like mine thicker and creamier.  If it's too thick, add more water to thin it out, and bring to a simmer/boil before serving.
  8. At this point, you can serve the rice porridge with condiments, or eat it plain!  If you added the dried seafood, it should impart a nice umami flavor to the porridge (sans MSG).
I made a big pot to eat over the course of 2 days while I was recovering from my last ailment, and it helped a lot!  Hope you give this a try for yourself or for a loved one that isn't feeling well!


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cooking Chronicles of UCLA's Most Eligible Bachelor

A person whom I'll now affectionately refer to as the Professor has recently taken up the domestic and frugal challenge of making lunch to take to work at his research lab everyday.  And because he knows I am a sucker for bento boxes and that Japanese cuisine is one of my all-time favorites, he sends me a picture of his lunch every morning to torture and delight me:

 

 


 

Some notables:

  • First Row, Right: Deconstructed Salmon Skin Roll.  Crispy salmon skin on top of vinegared rice, with strips of carrot and cucumber.
  • Second Row, Right: Sushi
  • Third Row, Left: Soba with Shrimp, and a beautiful fan of vegetables.
  • Fifth Row, Left: Costco Spinach and Cheese Ravioli, the best stuff ever.
  • Fifth Row, Right: Homemade chicken katsu, with onigiri (this simple rice ball is one of my favorite comfort foods).

He knows how to plan a party too:


Sakura Blossom Sushi (sushi with salmon wrapped around it)

 
Green tea, to finish.

Ladies, single file line.  This is a man that's brainy as hell, knows how to cook, clearly has taste (do you see his tea set?).  If that alone doesn't sell, he's good looking and a sweet guy too.  But requirements go both ways: smart, classy and beautiful women need only apply!