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Life in small town, Colorado

16 Apr

As the subheading of my blog reads “Food, Love, and Life (Not always in that order)”, this post is mostly about love and life. At the end, I’ll post a dynamite chocolate cake recipe that is terrible for the body, but excellent for the soul. It’s my great grandmother Agnes Nolan’s chocolate cake. She was my grandmother’s mother. If you don’t care to read some of my reflections about my family and life, or to see some pictures of the scenery where I am, please feel free to scroll to the very bottom for the cake recipe I made for Easter lunch and for some quick lessons I learned about high altitude baking.

For 2 weeks, I have been in CO staying with my mom and visiting with my grandparents, one aunt and cousins. C flew in for the weekend to spend some time with my mom, and I took him back to the Springs airport this a.m. at 4:15. I saw the sunrise on the way back and decided to stop for some quick iPhone pics, one of them being the feature picture at top.

This town is so “Americana” to me. I grew up in the midwest, and this same small-town feel can be found still in so many places around the U.S. including the one in which my mom lives now. She lives at 3300 feet in the valley of some mountains. On some days here, it is gorgeous and charming, as you’ll see from the pics, below. But, the history here is scary and I can’t seem to get over it. I suppose I shouldn’t be that astonished considering the racist country we started out as, and still are, since the “discovery” of the Americas by white men seeking to bring riches back to their home countries. But, I am astonished. For instance, why were there still wooden chairs in the middle school here in the 1990s that had placards on the back of them that said they were donated by the KKK? Yep, you read it right – the 1990s. There’s a prison museum here, of course, because the town’s main industry is the State of CO’s maximum security prisons. I believe there are 7 prisons, in total here. There’s a big meth problem. And, the pace here is ultra slow and the people here are super inefficient in their daily business – because why are you in such a hurry when you can drive from one end of the town to another in 10 minutes? To some people, this all sounds very bad, and I’m not going to lie and say I disagree. But, with some bad (and very bad) often comes some good.

Here, people still wave at you on the street when you drive by even though they don’t know who you are. They smile and say, “Good morning, how are you today”, as you walk past them on the sidewalk, again even though we don’t know one another. There’s a Carnegie library in a beautiful historic building. There’s a food incubator that helps people start small, food businesses legally. The incubator was started by an amazing middle-aged woman whose politics were too progressive for this town so she stopped running for office and devoted her energies in another way to helping the community and its people make money. The server at Merlino’s (good, aged steak there and even better homemade key lime pie!) calls me “hon” even though I’m at least twice her age, and she smiles and asks questions about my life as my grandmother brags about me being a former-lawyer-turned-chef-who-now-lives-in-Barcelona, even though the server’s busy and has other tables to wait on. My mom’s here. My grandparents are here. I slow down here and have time to reflect on what’s important to me: my family.

I believe if you take time to stop and look around – no matter where you are – you can find beauty (I know I’m a romantic, very blessed, and possibly naive, but I have to believe it’s true to combat all the bad I know of in this world).

Here are some pics from yesterday and today that make me smile…

My husband and me, lying on the floor at Aunt M’s after lunch yesterday (thanks for the picture, cousin A!):

A new friend I stopped to meet this morning as I drove back to my mom’s place:

My new friend in “Americana” landscape on a crisp, gorgeous CO morning:

If you look closely at “brown beauty” (I named her in my early morning fog and haste), she is branded with a heart on her left side.

Sunrise in the mountains (spectacular!):

After relaying some wicked history to C last night (yep, every family and every town has some), I woke realizing that my family, their history – the great, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the downright horrid -, and my history with them is everything. I am who I am because of my mom and my dad. I am who I am because of my grandparents. I am who I am because of my best friends, who are also my treasured family. Life is too short to hold grudges, to be angry over things in the past you can’t change, to be wrecked over the sad and inevitable things in the future that seem to come too quickly. Live as if you’re dying and you only have a short amount of time to love, to give, to honor and to eat chocolate cake ūüôā Because, you are and you do.

So, here’s Great Grandma Nolan’s chocolate cake recipe, courtesy of my mother who grew up on a corn farm in Iowa and who made this cake for me countless times when I was growing up.

Great Grandma Nolan’s Scotch Cake

Cake:
1) Sift together in a large bowl: 2 c. AP flour, 2 c. sugar
2) Bring to rapid boil in heavy saucepan: 1 stick butter, ¬Ĺ c. shortening, 4 T. cocoa powder, 1 c. water
3) Pour over flour and sugar. Mix well.
4) Add ¬Ĺ c. buttermilk, 2 eggs (slightly beaten), 1 tsp. baking soda and mix well. Bake in greased 10×16 pan at 375 degrees F.

Icing:
1) Start making 5 minutes before cake is done baking.
2) Bring to rapid boil: 1 stick margarine, 4 T cocoa powder, 7 T milk.
3) Remove from heat and add roughly 3/4 box, sifted confectioner‚Äôs sugar. Add in slowly so that it doesn’t clump. Follow with 1 c. unsweetened coconut flakes and 1 c. chopped pecans. Spread over cake while still hot.

Let cake and icing cool until icing becomes a bit firm on top and cool enough to cut without melting.

Chef’s notes:

1) I know this recipe calls for margarine and that’s very bad for your health. But, it’s what they had growing up in the 50s, so, if you substitute butter, you’ll likely need to make adjustments on other ingredients as well.
2) I know this recipe will probably make some bakers cringe, as the mixing of certain ingredients and in certain orders flies in the face of conventional wisdom on how to make a proper cake, but this recipe works. I’ve made it several times. The cake batter will look weird, and the icing will too, but both the cake and the icing will have great textures in the end.
3) At 3300 feet above see level, the adjustments are: a) bake at 400 degrees F (conventional wisdom on high altitude baking says to bake at 25 degrees higher), b) use 1-2 T. more flour, c) use slightly less baking soda as you don’t want it to rise too quickly and then fall (although I used almost a full teaspoon), and d) use slightly less sugar in your cake batter (I used 1 3/4 c. sugar instead of 2 cups. The chocolate cake is so rich anyway, I think even sea level bakers might consider using less sugar – you don’t miss it!).

Happy eating!

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Valentine’s Day Thai-ish food!

15 Feb


Yes, it has been a slow year of blogging, so far. But, I’m off to Spain very soon and then my culinary adventure updates will be more regular (I’d like to say everyday, but my goal is a minimum of 5 days a week).

So, what did I cook for Carnet for Valentine’s? ¬†Thai-ish, of course. I forgot to take a picture of course #1. Since we were both way too hungry, we dove right in and I thought it might be gross to post at an empty bowl with fragments of prawn tails, lemongrass, chilies, herbs, garlic and ginger at the bottom. It was delicious, so here’s the recipe:

Shrimp and noodle salad: Makes 2 bowls

Ingredients: 1) Fresh peas, snowpeas, or peapods (anything that looks good), 2) your favorite noodle of choice e.g. rice vermicelli noodles or any thin rice noodle that doesn’t need to be cooked. I used a kelp noodle that is essentially seaweed and water. 3) 2 garlic cloves, minced, 4) 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced, 5) 2 Thai chilies, seeded and thinly sliced into rounds, 6) 1/2 pound large or jumbo prawns or shrimp, 7) 2 scallions, thinly sliced on a bias, 8) 1 lemongrass stalk, minced superfine, 9) 1 carrot, cut into julienne, 10) 1/2 red bell peper, julienne, 11) fresh mint, Thai basil and cilantro – all roughly chopped, 12) black sesame seeds for garnish (or, you can use white).

For the Dressing: 1) 1 Tbl. fish sauce, 2) 1 teaspoon tamari, light soy sauce, or regular soy, 3) 1 tsp. toasted sesame oil, 4) 2 Tbl. rice vinegar, 5) squeeze of lime.

Directions: 1) If you are using rice noodles, soak them in a bowl of hot water for 5 minutes, drain (if you’re using kelp noodles, just heat in microwave or on the stove with a little of the kelp water in a bowl for 1-2 minutes), 2) Steam the peas for about 2-3 minutes, until crunchy yet tender, then refresh in ice water to stop cooking, 3) While you’re steaming the peas, make the dressing from the above recipe, shake in a glass jar and set aside for the moment, 4) Stir fry all ingredients in roughly this order: a) Heat 2 Tbl. peanut, regular olive oil, or canola oil in a wok or large frying pan, b) Add garlic, ginger and chilies and cook 1 minute, c) Add jumbo shrimp and let sit 1 minute on one side, then flip to other side, d) after you flip the shrimp, add in the julienned carrots and red bell pepper, the scallions and the peas. Cook for another 1-2 minutes until shrimp is pink but not rubbery, 5) Put 1/2 the noodles on 1/2 side of each bowl, stacked in a little pile, 6) Add half of the stir fry mix on the other side of each bowl, 7) pour 1-2 tsp. of the dressing over both the noodles and the stir fry mix, 8) Garnish the top of the noodles with the fresh herb trio and garnish the stir fry mix with the sesame seeds.

Carnet said he thought the sesame seeds looked nice, but he would have preferred some rough chopped cashews or peanuts for more of a crunch. Noted.

Here are the kelp noodles I used:


I love this product, especially if you’re trying to cut out grains, are gluten or rice intolerant, or you just want to change things up. There is not a strong sea-weedy taste and the texture is crunchy, so it goes well as a base for just about any food you would want to accompany with glass noodles.

Onto the main course: whole striped bass marinated in coconut milk, dry white wine and chilies; stuffed with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil and ginger; and garnished with the trio of fresh herbs – Thai basil, cilantro and mint – and Meyer lemons (feature picture above).

This was a really simple dish. Directions:¬†I used 1 can of coconut, 1/4 bottle of dry white wine I had left over from oyster tasting in Tomales Bay with Bob, Steph and Carnet on Saturday, 1 inch piece of fresh ginger sliced into rings, 1 stalk of lemongrass I beat up a bit with the back end of my 10″ knife, 4 lime leaves, 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce, and a few Thai chilies. ¬†I mixed the coconut milk, wine, soy sauce and Thai chilies in a bowl. I stuffed the cavity of the fish with the ginger, lemongrass and lime leaves, then poured the coconut milk mixture over the fish. I let that marinate in the fridge for about 3 hours, basting the fish once during that time to cover it again with the coconut marinade.

Then, I took it out of the marinade, wrapped it in a tent of aluminum foil (ran out of parchment paper) and added back about 1/2 cup of the marinade, so that it would steam in the oven.  I baked it at 375 degrees F for approximately 40 minutes (it was a 4 Р4 1/2 lb. fish prior to cleaning).  While the fish was baking, I strained the rest of the coconut milk marinade, put it in a small saucepan and simmered it/reduced it for the entire time.  I added in a couple of extra lime leaves and a whole Thai chili to bump up the flavors, as well as a couple of tablespoons of the coconut sugar.  Without the sugar, it was pretty acidic from the wine.   To me, the end result tasted something like a coconut beurre blanc.

Here’s the fish before it went into the oven:

If you notice the sauce, it’s not milky white. That’s due to the light soy sauce and coconut sugar. The coconut sugar I’m using these days is this one, and it almost looks and tastes like an off-brown sugar (it’s not coconut-y at all):

And, here’s the manufacturer’s story on it, on the back:

Again, I’m not sponsored by any of these products. Carnet and I just do a fair amount of research into healthier alternatives for things and based upon the way we like to cook and eat. So, these are just some products we’ve found along the way that we really like.

Happy Eating!

Stuffed salmon for dinner, a different “dinner” for breakfast, and some nutritional healing

3 Feb

After a full day of packing, I went up to S & F’s for dinner. MMMMMM! We had stuffed salmon, grilled eggplant Thai-style, roasted vegies and a cauliflower “risotto” (riceless). Fred stuffed the salmon with sundried tomatoes, basil, feta, onions, and roasted red peppers. Then, he sauteed the stuffed salmon in butter, brown sugar and lemon until it was brown and crispy on each side. ¬†Wow, what a killer salmon and so easy. ¬†Nice and moist and just barely cooked in the middle. Perfect!

Shannon has been experimenting to try to recreate the eggplant from Spices restaurant in Honolulu.  Her eggplant was pretty darn close and simple to prepare!  If you like eggplant with a little sweet-heat/herby topping, this is the recipe for you.   She thinly sliced small Japanese eggplants and then grilled them with a little oil on them.  Then, when they were almost done, she mixed the sweet chili sauce with 1/2 c. fresh mint and 1/2 c. Thai basil, both minced, along with some sauteed onions as well as fresh white onions, both minced. The use of both raw and cooked onions makes for a great contrast in textures, as well as provides a bit of fresh onion flavor from the raw onions.

Here are picture of the plates, first without the eggplant (we forgot it, but I like this pic as it shows the full cross-section slice of the salmon), and then with the eggplant in front:

Delicious dinner!

So, I went on a run this gorgeous Hawaii morning and then came back feeling like I needed some salt. Before I went to culinary school, I would have a problem every once in a while where I would feel faint because I have low blood pressure (except when I’m driving in Hawaii – people, the accelerator is the pedal on the far right!), and then I would need to eat some salt. Thank goodness FCI cured me of this issue, since there was never a point at which I could get away with using little salt ūüėČ

So, to get my salt fix in, I decided to have “dinner”, or a savory meal, for breakfast. I don’t like eating rules, much, so this fits in line with my eating philosophy. I made a Greek-inspired salad that was incredibly satisfying (and I threw in some braised tofu for good measure). I topped it with just a splash of peppery EVOO and sherry vinegar. Lots of salt in the feta. Perfect! Then, I followed it up with a sweet apple banana and a cup of Kona. Sounds weird, but it was perfect after my run.

Here’s a pic of the salad in my favorite bowl (thanks for making the Hampig bowl Jeff and Ca!):

The reason I love Greek salads is because I think they are a “cleaner” form of a chopped salad, without lettuce, at least the way I prepare them. I definitely love lettuce, but there’s something about just vegetable chunks without the abundance of lettuce in my usual salads that sometimes overshadow the other vegies. That said, I’m a fan of all kinds of salads. I try to eat at least one salad a day, and many times 2. I think it’s a really simple way to get in an array of fresh vegies (the possibilities for vegie and fruit salad combos are endless), which is what most nutritionists say is important for health (don’t just eat one type of vegie, but mix it up during the week and use lots of variety, including dark leafy greens).

One thing I read the other day in a nutritional healing book is that romaine lettuce has some great nutrient qualities to it. If you’re in a rut with dark, leafy greens or are getting bored of eating mixed green salads, try going back to a salad with a base of romaine. Romaine is an excellent source of Vitamins A and K, and a very good source of Vitamins C and Folic Acid (an important B vitamin for heart health). If you eat 2 cups, you’ll get 167% of the U.S. recommended daily intake (“RDA”) of Vitamin A, 120% of the RDA of Vitamin K, 37% of Vitamin C and 32% of folic acid, according to a few sites. See http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=61. Plus, I love that I can feel really full after eating a bunch of romaine, as it has a high water content. And, who drinks enough plain old, good water these days? I’m pretty sure I don’t.

One final word on nutritional healing for the day. I think I have ulcers and I’m going to blame that on being a stressed lawyer for a few years, although devouring extra spicy and acidic foods ever since I was little probably has something to do with it. No matter, I was on the hunt for some herbs or food that would help aid in repair of the problem. I don’t like people telling me what I can’t do, so any “diet” that says I can’t eat x, y and z, just isn’t going to work for me at this point in my life. And, I don’t like defaulting to western medical pills as the first resort. I have been accused of being a hippy at times, and sometimes I do believe I was born in the wrong era (yes, I romanticize the upheaval of the 60s and 70s in the U.S. and the change that was spurred by those years), but I think automatically defaulting to prescription drugs is not the way to go – hippy or not. Try healthier food, try alternative medical remedies, and go exercise for god’s sake! These are not hippy thoughts; these are common sense. Okay, enough proselytizing.

So, I did a bunch of research and came upon something that I think works for me. It’s called Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice Root extract, or “DGL” as it is often labeled. It’s essentially a concentrated form of licorice root. I have been eating a tablet 20 minutes before each big meal and I think it’s helping. The theory is that that the licorice coats the stomach, by increasing mucous and decreasing acid in it, and helps to prevent new ulcers from forming. So far, I have less stomach pain.

A word of caution and a disclaimer: I am not pushing this supplement, nor am I giving advice on the subject. My writing on the topic is really a chronicle for me as I journey into some aspects of herbal remedies and nutritional healing. Do your own homework and ask your doctor before you embark on any supplements, especially if you have any medical conditions and/or you are taking medications.

Read more about the benefits, drawbacks, potentially scary med interactions, and potential side effects. One site I went to see about these is co-sponsored by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/881.html. Another is a University of Maryland Medical Center page at http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/licorice-000262.htm.

Back to packing! Then, off to Michele’s with Mom2, Sabrina and Jim tonight. Fine dining on the water….doesn’t get much better! I just looked at the menu and I think I’ll try something for dessert that looks very scary to me: “Strawberries Foie Gras Forever”. Description: Ripe Strawberries Flamb√©ed With Brown Sugar and Balsamic Vinegar, Foie Gras & Cognac over Vanilla Gelato. Check back tomorrow for an update on this one.

Comfort food – stuffed meatloaf and egg nog bread pudding

11 Jan

My mom grew up in the midwest and she loves midwest comfort food – meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn, salad and bread pudding. So, last night she made meatloaf and bread pudding. Busaba, Bev and Ian supplied the potatoes, salad and bbq’d corn.

But, unlike some of the food in the midwest and especially traditional midwest meatloaf made with ketchup (gross!), mom’s meatloaf and bread pudding are excellent.

Janet’s meatloaf recipe starts with a standard lean ground beef and ground pork mix. She does 50-50 pork to beef, and last night it was 6 lbs of meat total. I should note that this recipe makes 2, 3 lb loaves, so it feeds a lot of people. To the meat she adds 2 diced and browned onions, 1/2 head of sauteed minced garlic, 1/2 cup of bread crumbs she makes herself, oregano, salt, pepper, and 4 eggs. For the stuffing, it’s 1/2 lb. of shredded mozzarella, thin slices of good deli ham, and lots of blanched spinach. She rolls the meat around the filling and shapes the loaves. On top, she puts 1/2 strips of thick cut bacon and cherry tomatoes cut in half. Then, she bakes the loaves at 350 degrees F for about an hour, and then broils the top to brown it at the finish.

Here’s a closer look at some slices:

It’s absolutely stunning, isn’t it? ¬†And, I can’t believe I just called meatloaf stunning. ¬†At any rate, it was delicious. ¬†Mario Batali, eat your heart out!

Even though we were all stuffed, we had to eat Janet’s famous bread pudding. Whenever she makes this, people ask for the recipe. It’s so utterly simple, yet it pleases every time. ¬†She calls it her Egg Nog Bread Pudding.

Here is her recipe (yield: 9 small pieces, from an 8×8 pan):

3 eggs
3 egg yolks
3/4 c. white sugar
2 c. half and half
1/4-1/2 cup light rum (amount depending upon your taste)
1 tsp vanilla
nutmeg to your taste
1 loaf good crusty bread

Beat eggs and egg yolks. Add in cream and then beat in sugar a bit. Add rum, vanilla and nutmeg. Mix all together, then, cut the bread into 1 inch squares and soak in the egg-cream mixture for 1/2 hour to an hour. Bake at 350 until done, which was about 35-40 minutes last night, plus a quick broil to brown the top at the end.

She always pairs it with a good vanilla bean ice cream, although last night we forgot the vanilla at our place, so we used Busaba’s haupia. It was still delicious!

Mex food night and a quick braised greens recipe that’s awesome

8 Jan

The other day when I said 2012 food has not been that exciting so far, of course I meant with the exception of going to Shan’s for Mexican night! Above, her lovely table and the food. The menu: Likikoi margaritas (the best I’ve ever had) rimmed with li hing mui; marinated and grilled tuna on corn tortillas; grilled chicken skewers; Mex rice; a salad of black beans, hearts of palm and mango; and chili rellenos. Below is a closer look at the rellenos. Shannon loves to fry, and she’s great at it. She never uses a thermometer and her fried food always comes out stunningly crisp and not greasy. There’s no magic here, just lots of experience. She knows her stove temperatures and when to drop the items in and take them out.

I loved her really simple salad of black beans, hearts of palm and fresh mango. It was dressed with a hint of lime and cilantro. The sweetness of the mango worked with the marinated hearts of palm really well.

Onto a recipe from last night’s meal… after a beautiful sunset and Mai Tai at the Elk’s Club (below):

Last night, I topped the gumbo a la Rachel with some braised kale (1 bunch green, 1 bunch purple). I’ve always been a fan of kale, collards, and chard. After so many years of preparing them, I’m trying to find new ways to enjoy them. Have that bottle of Martinelli’s left over from New Year’s eve? This recipe is a great way to use it! Any apple cider will do, but preferably one with no added sugar as you don’t want to overdo the sugar.

Here’s the braised greens recipe (serves 4): Take 2 bunches of your favorite cooking greens and throw them in a large pot along with 2 cups of apple cider, 1 cup chicken stock, and a large pinch of salt if your chicken stock has no salt (otherwise, you don’t really need the salt). Turn the burner on high and steam/braise the greens for a few minutes until wilted, but not “dead”. You want to preserve some of the great vitamins and fiber in them. Take them out with tongs and place on top of your favorite stew or protein, or use as a side. E voila! The sweetness of the cider compliments the earthiness and slight bitterness of the greens. So easy and delicious.

Up to Gigi and Suzanne’s tonight for dinner. Gigi always makes these individual chocolate molten lava cakes that are to die for. Can’t wait for dessert!

Hangover food and 3 rounds of chicken

6 Jan

Isn’t this sandwich beautiful? I am a bit of a sandwich queen, despite my attempts at eating Paleo which has provided Carnet with much success in how he feels and looks. There’s something so satisfying about 2 really good pieces of bread housing a fantastic sauce or sauces (the gooey-er the better in my book), and your favorite vegies, fruits and/or proteins. Before culinary school, I thought about doing a sandwich truck, but the math didn’t work out for me as I’m stubborn and wanted to serve only all natural, pricier proteins, and organic grains and vegies. I don’t think people in Hawaii will flock to buy a $15 sandwich over and over, no matter how delicious or packed with good calories and fats (in large part, people in Hawaii want lots of food for their money and they’re addicted to fat, usually bad fats. Spam musubi and plate lunches….need I say more?). In defense of Hawaii, over the last 5 years especially, we have seen a movement by the 30s and 40s crowd to source and serve better food, source locally, engage in nose-to-tail cooking, and “try” to bring more CA-style eateries into being. There’s still room for improvement, however, and hopefully in a few years that’s where I’ll come in ūüėČ

But, I digress. Back to my sandwich. So, my cranberry-walnut-whole wheat bread sandwich is perfect hangover food. How do I know this? Not saying. Anyway, I toasted the bread, slathered it with soynut butter (non-gmo, if you believe the label but I don’t since I’m pretty sure Monsanto owns the whole corn and soybean world – boooo!) and inserted slices of local apple bananas and turkey bacon. The sweet, the salty, the crunchy and creamy from the soynut butter…ahhh. It seemed healthier than many other combos I could have opted for, but it had lots of fat and salt that did cure me. That, with a piping hot cup of 100% Kona coffee. Wow! I suppose it’s an ode to Elvis, as everyone says he liked peanut butter and banana sandwiches, but this one is really an ode to my mother. We have been laying into bacon and banana sandwiches since I had my first tooth. I think this would have also been great with almond butter, which I’ll try next time.

2012 has not been a really exciting food year for me yet. It’s mainly been about making simple, nutritious food for the family. Carnet and I made 2 beer can chickens (yes, free range, organic chickens if you believe the labeling) the other night, which is a great way to have leftovers for at least 2 meals. Super simple recipe will be posted at the bottom of the page. And, you don’t even need to use beer cans. I only had one can of Asahi, so I used a can of ginger ale for the other one. Last time, I used a can of pineapple juice. It all works. It’s about the steam more than the actual flavor of the liquid.

Anyway, 1 chicken fed 4 of us, along with roasted root vegetables and cauliflower rice. Then, dinner #2 out of the second chicken was a sliced chicken, apple, spinach salad, with a few left over vegies from the fridge topped with a simple balsamic, mustard, and olive oil dressing.

Meal #3 will be a kind-of gumbo, but not really. I’ll shred the rest of chicken #2 and throw it in with some fire roasted tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, onions, fennel, celery, red bell peppers, chicken broth, a Thai chili or 2, andouille sausage and scallions. Again, this one is about cleaning out the pantry and using up vegetables in the fridge. We won’t put it over rice, as that’s not in Carnet’s eating regimen at the moment, but it will be a good stew, nonetheless.

Here’s the beer can chicken recipe I use:

Beer Can Chicken

 1 (4-pound) whole chicken

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons of your favorite dry spice rub (if it doesn’t have salt, also rub chicken with 1 tablespoon salt)

1 can beer

Remove neck and giblets from chicken and reserve for gravy making. Rinse chicken inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels. Rub chicken with oil and then rub inside and out with dry rub and salt. Set aside.

Open beer can and take several gulps (make them big gulps so that the can is half full). Place beer can on a solid surface. Grabbing a chicken leg in each hand, plunk the bird cavity over the beer can. Transfer the bird-on-a-can to your grill or an oven roasting pan and place in the center of the grate or oven. The bird should be balancing on the can uniformly.

On Grill: Cook the chicken over medium-high, indirect heat (i.e. no coals or burners on directly under the bird), with the grill cover on, for approximately 1 1/4 hours or until the internal temperature registers 165 degrees F in the breast area and 180 degrees F in the thigh and let rest for 10 minutes before carving.

In Oven:  If you do it in an oven pan, you can also throw in vegetables to roast with it in the bottom of the pan about 30 minutes prior to the bird being done. I use carrots, celery, onions, parsnips and sweet potatoes cut in big chunks. If you cut them too small, they will be too mushy.  Cook at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes to start browning and crisping the skin, and then lower temp to 350 until temp registers 165 in breast.  Let rest for 10 minutes before carving.

* One chicken will feed about 4 people. Use two chickens if there are more people or leftovers for 2 more meals!

** If you want crispy skin, you’ll need to baste the outside of the chicken with olive oil or butter a few times while it’s cooking.

Graduation and End of 2011 re-cap

3 Jan

Graduation was on December 20. ¬†What fun! ¬†Above is a pic of our whole class on Dec. 19 with our final exam judges. ¬†Below are a few shots of us in different groups. ¬† My mom flew out from CO and Carnet flew in from Japan. ¬†Carnet was a super champ, as I made him go out to dinner at Sons & Daughters for an 8:45 seating. ¬†Dinner was fabulous, so for anyone who is in SF, I recommend Sons & Daughters. ¬†You need to have some time to dine, as it’s a price fixe dinner and they space out the courses. ¬†It wasn’t overly long, but you’ll need to plan a good 2 1/2 hours, especially if you want to speak with the somm about some wines. ¬†Carnet picked out some great wines to accompany the courses!

From left: Chef Jeremy, Ian (congrats, Ian, on best project, you sous vide king!), Anne, Bobby, me, Mark and Tomas.

Chef Peter and me.

The day after graduation, we threw a little cocktail party in the SF apartment. Bobbie and Mark helped me cooked appetizers: kibbeh with carmelized onions; flatbread pizzas with roasted mushrooms, pecorino romano, mozarella, roasted garlic oil, and arugula in balsamic on top after it was baked; smoked salmon on cucumber rounds with creme fraiche and dill (classic, but always good); and a meat and cheese plate with fig jam and fresh fruit. ¬†Many thanks to the boys who basically did most of it, as I was busy doing something I can’t remember at this point.

Carnet, Jan and I flew back home to HI on Dec. 22, and on Dec. 24 we were at our favorite Christmas Eve dining spot – more out of tradition and view than anything else. We went to Orchids in the Halekulani Hotel. Here’s a pic at sunset of Carnet and me (and some random guy off to the right), and then another one of me after Busaba, Ian and Bev made me wear a bakers cap with “Iron Chef” labeled on it – hilarious!

On Christmas day, we went over to Busaba’s and cooked there. Prime Rib is Carnet’s domaine, so he was in charge of that. ¬†In trying to stick as much as possible with Carnet’s paleo eating (with a few blips here and there), I made a parsnip and celery root puree that mimicked mashed potatoes and was sooo much more flavorful and healthy. ¬†Here’s the quick and easy recipe:

Celery Root and Parsnip puree (serves 8-10):

Ingredients: 10 parsnips; 1 large celery root; 1/2-1 cup cream; 3 Tablespoons butter; minced parsley; salt in boiling water

Directions: Think of this preparation as similar to mashed potatoes but sweeter. 1) ¬†Peel parsnips and celery root and cut them into even size chunks. 2) Put in 2 different pots with enough water to barely cover each. ¬†3) Salt each pot of water heavily so it tastes like sea water. 4) Cook each until fork tender. 5) Strain both, reserving the parsnip water. ¬†6) Add cooked parsnips, celery root, 3 tablespoons of butter, 1/2 cup of parsnip water, and 1/2 cup of cream in a cuisinart or really good food processor or blender. ¬†7) Puree, adding more of the parsnip water as you go until the mixture is creamy, like mashed potatoes. ¬†You can also add in more cream if you’d like, but the parsnip water adds in a lot of flavor and vitamins from the cooking water, and saves a bunch on calories and fat. ¬†8) Pour into serving bowl and mix in minced parsley. ¬† E voila!

New Year’s Eve we spent at the Rachel and Carnet casa, made a few appetizers, and drank way too much champagne and 21 year old Glen Livet with family. ¬† I need to get my butt in gear and start planning some more for Spain. ¬†Hawaii has a way of making you slow down, enjoy the sun and sand, and just want to be. ¬†Tonight – up to Shannon and Fred’s for what will surely be remarkable Mexican food. ¬†Shan is a whiz in the kitchen and my learning continues every time I go to her house!

Days 107 and 108: Monkfish (ummm, on the Monterey Bay seafood watch list!) and Wild Mushroom pasta (yeah, a vegetarian dish other than salad)!

2 Dec

Yesterday, I was on monkfish. ¬†I’m not sure why that’s on our menu. ¬†Is it cheap? ¬†Seems awfully silly to put monkfish on the menu in California when, 1) it’s on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch List, which means do not buy or eat!, and 2) it’s from the Atlantic. ¬†We can’t get any other fish that swim in the Pacific?

According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, “Monkfish are usually caught using bottom trawls, a method that can damage seafloor habitat and often results in high bycatch. Monkfish are also caught using gillnets, and this can result in the accidental catch and death of sea turtles and marine mammals.” ¬†For more information, see¬†www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_factsheet.aspx?fid=53 . ¬†And, for me, they just have too many worms.

On a yummier note, we do have a good vegetarian dish on our menu: Tagliatelle with Roasted Mushrooms and Fennel Cream. ¬†(see a picture of it at¬†www.flickr.com/photos/64065736@N02/6371650713/in/photostream¬†). We make the tagliatelle with a combination of “00” flour and fine semolina, but if you can’t find 00 flour, all purpose flour will do. But, be sure to use semolina, as well.

Here’s a similar recipe to what we have been doing at school, which will serve 8.

Pasta:

200 grams (approximately 7 oz.) 00 flour or AP flour

200 grams fine semolina flour

pinch of salt

4 whole eggs

*A general rule to keep in mind is 1 egg per every 100 grams of flour. ¬†This won’t be exact because the size of eggs differ and flours differ, but it’s a general rule. ¬†The recipe at school calls for an additional 4 egg yolks in this recipe (yolks, only), but my pasta was way too wet with the extra yolks so I ended up adding more flour.

Directions:¬†Combine the flours and salt in a mixing bowl, beat the eggs separately and then mix them in a mixer with the flour until it forms a ball. Or if you don’t want to use a mixer, simply make a well in the flour and pour in the egg yolks and work the eggs into the flour until it becomes a ball. ¬†Take the ball out of the mixer or bowl and work it with your hands for 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface until smooth and light golden-ish. ¬†Let it rest in the refrigerator for about an hour or more and then take it out about 1/2 hour prior to rolling it out in the pasta machine. ¬†Roll out the pasta, cut it into 12 inch long pieces, then cut the pasta into 1/2 inch x 12 inch pieces with a sharp knife. ¬†Hold on a lightly semolina-floured surface until ready to cook. ¬†I’m sure there are probably better videos out there (and Chef Udo and Chef Rogers would take issue with what I’m going to suggest here), but if you need a quick visual, someone who does a fast, simple pasta is Jamie Oliver at¬†www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0XVDpPBHho .

Fennel Cream

3-4 heads of fennel, white parts only and thinly sliced

1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced

1 Tbl. fennel seeds

2 bay leaves and 3-4 tarragon stems

water to cover

1/2  pint of cream

Directions: Heat a pan on medium. ¬†Toss in the fennel seeds and roast until aromatic, which will be a couple of minutes. Then, put in some oil, add thinly sliced onions and sweat the onions. ¬†After a few minutes, toss in the fennel and sweat down for another few minutes. At this point, you need to season the vegies with a couple of tablespoons of salt. It will seem like a lot but it’s better to season prior to dumping in the liquid. ¬†Next, add in bay leaves and tarragon stems. ¬†Pour in enough water to just cover the vegies and then pour in 1/2 pint of cream. Continue to simmer for another 20 minutes until the flavors all meld. ¬† Check seasoning and adjust salt or liquid. Throw in some white pepper (not black, as you want this to be totally white).

Remove bay leaves and tarragon stems and then blend in a blender until smooth. Here’s where you need a chinois or fine mesh hand strainer. ¬†Put the blended cream through a chinois or fine mesh strainer. What you should be left with is a thin fennel cream. ¬†It will thicken up later when you toss it in the pasta, so don’t worry if it’s really thin at this point.

Roasted mushrooms

24 oz. of your favorite wild mushrooms.  Our recipe at school calls for 8 oz. each of oyster mushrooms, creminis and shitakes.

4 garlic cloves, finely minced

4-8 oz. dry sherry or madeira

salt and pepper

fresh thyme, parsley and tarragon, finely minced

Directions: You can either roast these in the oven with some olive oil, garlic, and salt until brown, or you can pan sear them until they are brown. Either way, you need to stir them to make sure they brown on both sides. After brown, add the dry sherry or madeira and stir until the alcohol evaporates by at least half.  Remove from heat and save the mushrooms until ready to put everything together.  The herbs will be added at that time, as well.

The pasta, sauce and mushrooms: Putting it altogether.

1) Bring salted water to a boil.  Throw in your pasta and boil for  2 minutes Рno more!  You want it to be pretty al dente because you will add it to the fennel cream and mushrooms and cook it a bit longer in the sauce.

2) Meanwhile, get a very large saute or 2 large saute pans on medium heat. ¬†Add in about 16 oz of fennel cream between the two pans or in one large pan. ¬†Add in the mushrooms. Heat that through. ¬†Here’s where your fennel cream starts to thicken. If it gets too thick, you can always add some pasta water to thin it out a bit.

3) After the pasta has been boiling for 2 minutes, take it directly from the water and put it in the warm fennel cream mushroom mix.  Add in a 1 tablespoon butter and some grated parmesan. Toss to coat the pasta in the sauce, butter, and mushrooms.

4) Taste. Adjust any seasonings at this point, and you can always add in more fennel cream here if your sauce is too thick or more pasta water, or more cheese if it’s not cheesy enough. ¬† At the very end, toss in a couple of tablespoons of the minced herbs. Serve immediately in a large, warm pasta bowl, or plate separately on each diner’s plate.

*This whole process takes no more than 5 minutes from the time you drop the pasta into the boiling water, so you need to have everything ready. Otherwise your pasta will be overcooked and your sauce will get cold.
Happy eating!

Day 106: poissonnier, arctic char, and some more practical advice on fish

30 Nov

Today, I moved to poissonnier and made the arctic char dish, for 7 customers to be exact. Arctic char is such a beautiful looking fish. ¬†Unfortunately, our recipe pairs it with a chickpea cake that tastes like complete ____ and a radicchio that’s just not tasty. ¬†Granted, it was my first day making the dish so one needs to consider that there is likely some error in my execution, but the reality is that every person in our class hates the chickpea cake. ¬†The cake tastes dirty, the texture if gummy, it’s not attractive in appearance, and it’s just not a good pairing for the lovely char. ¬†I would never dare speak for our chefs, but I have a good idea that they aren’t disagreeing with me here, at least not in whole.

On a brighter note, I want to share Chef Peter’s very practical “trick” for helping fish and sticky items not stick to a pan (this is for regular pans, not nonstick pans). ¬†Yes, the obvious is that you need to get your pan really hot, the oil needs to be hot, and you need to leave your protein alone for a bit until it gets to a point where it wants unstick itself in the pan prior to you flipping it. But, Chef Peter also reminded me of something he learned. ¬†“Season” your pan, in a sense. ¬†Put it on heat, pour in some oil and a couple tablespoons of salt, and let it sit over medium heat for a few minutes. Then, take a dish towel and rub the salt and oil in the bottom of the pan. Then, wipe it all out, and start your searing process as you would normally ¬†i.e. heat your pan, then throw in your oil, wait until it’s hot, then put in your protein to sear it. ¬†When I did that, the skin got crispy and brown on my char (without having to cheat and use flour) and it stayed intact. ¬†Thanks, Chef.

Changing gears, one condiment I love is salsa. I think salsas are super versatile. They pep up any meal. For me, they can go on breakfast, lunch or dinner; they can be sweet or savory or both; they can be spicy or not. ¬†But, the best ones are fresh. ¬†When I was in Hawaii, we made a breakfast salsa to go with our egg, bacon and opah lettuce wrap. ¬†Here’s the super simple salsa, followed by the recipe:

Papaya, pineapple, tomato salsa:

Ingredients:

1/2 of a papaya, small dice

2 rings of fresh pineapple, small dice

1 teaspoon of minced red onion

1 roma tomato, seeded and small dice

2 tablespoons cilantro, minced

juice of 1 lime

salt to taste

red chili flakes or fresh chili finely minced, to taste

Directions: Mix altogether in a bowl and serve immediately. ¬†This salsa doesn’t really keep as it starts to break down, so make only as much as you’re going to eat in one sitting.

And, the breakfast wrap:

Mmmmm, I’m craving breakfast now.

Days 103, 104 and 105, plus a trip home to Hawaii and Thanksgiving on the beach

29 Nov

The last two days prior to Thanksgiving break, I was on saucier, which meant doing short ribs and racks of lamb. ¬†I don’t know what happened to me on Wednesday but I could not cook a rack of lamb to save my life. ¬†What makes that ridiculous is that, generally, the one meat I’ve had the most experience cooking and I usually always get right – medium rare – without thinking about it is rack of lamb. ¬†Guess my mind was elsewhere… like going home to Hawaii.

Thanksgiving Thursday in Hawaii was perfect. It was just Carnet and me on the beach for 6 hours. We brought snacks, then ate fresh opah and three kinds of poke: taco, ahi and salmon (yes, I know, salmon don’t live anywhere near Hawaii, my bad). ¬† Carnet and I just needed to be. ¬†And we were. And it was perfect.

Then, we had another great day on Friday. ¬†The sunset at top is one of several pics Friday night at our favorite beach, Kaimana. ¬†We would have sat there for hours, likely, if I hadn’t said I was hungry and mentioned a new Honolulu restaurant, SALT, I wanted to try. ¬†They have their own charcutier, so I was anxious to try. ¬†Honestly, I didn’t think the charcuterie was all that great, even compared to the charcuterie our class made with Chef Ryan in Level 4. ¬†The pickles were all one note – and sweet. Problematic for me. ¬†And, some of the charcuterie seemed “amateurish” as Carnet put it. ¬†But, they did do a mean Neiman Ranch burger with tallegio and red onion marmalade and a dangerous “SALT martini”, an ingredient of which is my new favorite spirit as of 2 years ago – Elderflower. ¬†And, it was a great pleasure to spend several hours with some of our best friends, Pete and Carol, and their daughter. ¬†You know when it’s just easy? ¬†It’s just easy to be with Pete and Carol, like you’ve known them in another life.

And, then, just when I thought the weekend couldn’t get any better, we had Thanksgiving on Saturday with Shannon and Fred and 12 others at their house.

We had dueling turkeys – one brined overnight, the other not -, two kinds of stuffing, creamy pearl onions, haricot verts with bacon and mushrooms, sweet potato casserole, garlic smashed potatoes, boozy cranberry sauce, pumpkin cheesecake, apple pie, a whole luxurious pupu plate full of smoked ahi appetizers with olives and stuffed piquillo peppers, pumpkin rolls (I baked!), and I can’t remember what else since we started the day with fresh squeezed orange juice mimosas. ¬† Shannon and Fred are awesome. They never miss a chance to throw a raucous dinner party at their house in which inevitably there are exploding chestnuts (my bad), exploding corks breaking through ceiling lights (Sean’s bad), Carnet taking a nap at 8:00 p.m. on his favorite couch, and so many booze bottles that we temporarily broke the recycling container. ¬† Fun doesn’t even begin to describe Thanksgiving Saturday. Thanks, S and F – you two are the bomb! ¬†That night was also spectacular, even with a bit of rain. Check out the views from their house.

But, I digress. ¬†The purpose of this blog is about food, so below is a pumpkin dinner roll recipe I have been making for years, but only once a year on Thanksgiving since I don’t have a lot of confidence in my baking skills. ¬† If you try this recipe, please keep in mind that it might look as though it’s not going to “work”, meaning it will look way too sticky to rise or be anything but a mess. ¬†But, persevere. ¬†It will work.

Pumpkin roll recipe:

Ingredients:

2, .25 oz. packages of dry, fast acting yeast

1/4 c. brown sugar

1 ¬†1/2 c. water (if it’s hotter than 110 degrees F, your yeast won’t work, so either use a thermometer or take warm tap water)

1 cup canned pumpkin

1/2 c. melted unsalted butter, but not hot

1 tablespoon salt

8 cups flour, plus more for the work surface

Directions:

1) Stir the 2 packages of active dry yeast into the 1 1/2 cups of warm water plus the brown sugar. ¬†Make sure it bubbles; that is how you’ll know the yeast is working. The sugar will help activate the yeast.

2)  In another bowl, stir the pumpkin and butter until fully incorporated.  Then, add in the yeast/sugar/water mixture.

3) In a separate bowl, mix the salt and flour. ¬†Then, slowly incorporate the dry mixture into the wet mixture until it forms a loose ball. ¬†I use the term “ball” here loosely, as this dough is sticky. ¬†You’ll want to work it a bit to develop the gluten and to make sure there is no flour left on the outside. If it’s too sticky, you can add a bit more flour, but if you add too much, your buns will not be as moist.

4) Put the dough ball in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place out of a drafty area and preferably somewhere slightly warm (not hot). Let it rise for about 30-45 minutes. It doesn’t need to double in size here, but it needs to rise some.

5) Then, working pretty quickly, tear off enough dough to form a 1 1/2 inch ball. You’ll need a bit of flour on a surface and on your hands to form it into a ball. ¬†Continue to do this with all the dough. You’ll likely have around 25-30 rolls when completed. ¬†Space them out on parchment paper covered cookie sheets and let rise until 1 1/2-2 times original size. ¬†Again, it doesn’t need to absolutely double in size, but is should rise some. ¬†The rest of the rising will occur in the oven when it’s hot and the bun steams.

6) Bake at 375 degrees F for approximately 15-20 minutes, until the tops of the buns are golden. If you take them out early, the insides will be gooey, so don’t be tempted. Or, if you need to try, take one out and pull it apart and see how moist it is still inside. ¬†If you want extra butteryness on the roll, during the last 5 minutes of baking, you can brush melted butter over the tops of the rolls.

Happy eating!