New York style Brunch: fresh baked bagels

A good friend of mine is moving to New York City next week.  That got me thinking about what he’ll be giving up by leaving sunny SoCal and what he’ll be gaining by joining the ranks of the chic New Yorkers.  I’ve visited the Big Apple just twice, both times for a meager few days, and I was left with the distinct impression that NYC is fabulous, for sure, but big and scary.  If you’re not careful the City will swallow you up for breakfast and leave you bruised, broke, and begging for mercy.

I am jealous, however, that my friend will be able to enjoy New York bagels whenever he desires.  There really is nothing like them.  Puffy and moist on the outside, chewy and doughy on the inside, nothing beats a fresh baked New York bagel, especially if it’s from Ess-A-Bagel or Murray’s.

With New York on the brain and my recent success with gravlax, I decided to see if I could duplicate NYC bagel magic at home for a family brunch over the weekend.  I turned to legendary bread baker Peter Reinhart for his bagel recipe, available with great instructions at the Smitten Kitchen blog.

For Sunday brunch, I was expecting 10 guests.  I started my gravlax on Friday morning so it would be ready on Sunday morning.  I started my bagels on Saturday evening so I could leave them overnight in the fridge to finish off Sunday morning and have them piping hot and smelling wonderful when the guests arrived.  On Saturday, Big N asked me, “don’t you think it would be best to try out new recipes before it really counts? What if you mess up?”  To which I responded, “what’s the fun in that? I thrive on pressure, baby.”  Fake confidence aside, I was a bit worried since this would be my first attempt.  Nobody but Big N knew in advance that I would be attempting bagels, so I had it on the back burner that I could call my dad and ask him to make a Western Bagel run before coming to my house, just in case disaster struck.  In the end there was no need.  My bagels turned out (almost) perfect.

First I made the sponge dough and let the yeast rise for 2 hours while I watched it nearly double in size.  Then I added the rest of my bread flour and a bit more yeast and kneaded until I had a nice ball.  I weighed out 3 oz. balls of dough (I yielded 18 from the recipe I used, 3 oz makes a perfect medium bagel, not too big, not too mini) and let them rest.  Then I rolled them into a 8 inch long worm and wrapped them around into a bracelet, pinching the overlapped edges.  I let them rest again and then tested one bagel in a bowl of cool water for the “float test” (when you know your yeast is done rising).  Then I put my bagel rounds in the fridge overnight.  The next morning I boiled them in water with a little baking soda and malt syrup (malt syrup is the key ingredient to getting them to taste truly deli-style) on each side for about 90 seconds.  When I took them out of the water I quickly topped them.  Some bagels I topped with a white and black sesame mix.  Some with garlic granules, and most I kept plain.  I then baked them in a 500 degree oven for 5 minutes, then at 450 for the rest of the time until they looked done.  Last, I took about half of my plain bagels and brushed them with melted butter and dipped them in a cinnamon/sugar mix.  Voila.  A delicious assortment of homemade bagels.

Brunch spread How were they?  Really, really, really good.  I did achieve the chewy exterior but my bagels were ever-so-slightly undercooked (a little doughy) on the inside.  Nobody complained though.  They were light, tasty, and perfectly fresh and just about as good as I remember them in NYC (though homemade always ups the wow factor).

I made a dill and chive cream cheese to go with the gravlax, tomatoes, capers, and red onions I set out for toppings.  I tell you there really is nothing like biting into a freshly baked homemade bagel topped with herbed cream cheese, homemade lox, and a juicy tomato.  To round out my brunch spread, I served an egg scramble with spinach, onion, crimini mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, and parmesan cheese, plus oro blanco grapefruit and cara cara orange supremes, and finally smoothies made with blueberries, strawberries, bananas, and yogurt.

Now that’s what I call Sunday brunch.  Try to find that meal in NYC for less than $30 bucks a pop.

Brunch spread

 

More unfriendly pregnancy foods: Gravlax

Now that I’m in full pregnancy swing, of course I’m craving all of the foods I’m not supposed to have: sushi, sausages, anything fried, and gooey unpasteurized cheeses.  I’m not sure if they’re cravings really, more like defiant stubbornness. Gravlax sliced

Recently I was inspired (read: the pictures made me salivate) by an article I read about Marcus Samuellson, chef/owner of the chic Manhattan Nordic restaurant, Aquavit.  His recipe for Gravlax (cured salmon) seemed simple enough and I had a beautiful piece of salmon and some fresh dill calling my name in the fridge.  Rather than go with Mr. Samuellson’s recipe, however, I pulled out my trusty behemoth of a cookbook, the CIA’s Professional Chef, which had a nifty Gravlax recipe that seemed more fun (see my adapted recipe below).  Mr. Samuellson’s recipe uses a simple dry cure, but the one in my CIA bible also used a wet component that included some brandy.  Can’t go wrong there.

We Jews love our smoked or cured salmon, which we lovingly call “lox” (after Gravlax presumably).  On a bagel with some schmear, on a chic blini, or by itself, lox is just plain good.  If you don’t have a smoking gun (and I don’t, yet), curing it is your next best bet.

Making the cure was easy.  The tricky part is leaving the darned thing alone in your refrigerator for 2 days while it cures, and then controlling yourself and not eating the entire slab of salmon in one sitting, which would probably give you a salt heart attack.

Once my salmon was cured, scraped, and thinly sliced, I placed it on top of mini Melba toast squares (thank you Trader Joe’s) with some creme fraiche and chives.  Simple appetizer, tasty snack, and sublimely irresistible to this pregnant lady.  Plus it’s the perfect Sunday brunch food.

Like I said before, don’t judge.  I’m a self-admitted foodaholic.  (Incidentally, the salmon I chose was fresh as could be and I’m ServSafe certified so I wasn’t worried about endangering my kidney bean with icky bacteria).  Well worth the little cheat.

Try it.  If you’re not pregnant you have nothing to feel guilty about.

Gravlax on toast

Gravlax: Cured Salmon

Serves 6
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 48 hours
Total time 48 hours, 20 minutes
Meal type Appetizer, Breakfast

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lb Salmon (Fresh, high quality)
  • 3 oz Kosher salt
  • 1/3 oz Cracked white peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 oz Dill (Finely chopped)
  • 8 oz Brown sugar
  • 1 oz Lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz Olive oil
  • 1/2 oz Brandy

Note

Adapted from The Professional Chef, 8th Edition (the Culinary Institute of America's cookbook).  You can also find Marcus Samuelsson's simpler gravlax recipe here.

Because this salmon will be cured but not cooked, it's important to use fresh, high quality salmon from a reputable market.

Directions

1.
Combine the dry ingredients (sugar, salt, pepper, dill that's been finely chopped) and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (lemon juice, oil, brandy).
2.
Place salmon on a piece of cheesecloth and brush the wet mixture on both sides.
3.
Pack the dry cure evenly on both sides of the salmon and wrap it tighty in the cheesecloth.
4.
Place the wrapped salmon in a pan or dish, with another pan or dish on top and weigh it down. Put the assembly in the refrigerator and let it cure for 2-3 days (minimum 48 hours).
5.
After 2 days, it will look like this.
6.
Unwrap the salmon and scrape off the cure.
7.
Slice salmon as thinly as possible (with a long sharp knife) on the bias and serve.
8. The cured salmon will keep in the refrigerator, covered with plastic, for 6 days. You can also freeze it.

Thanksgiving Recap: Deep Fried Convert

thanksgiving-4-of-9

How was your Thanksgiving? Did you survive? Better yet, have you recovered from your L-tryptophan induced coma?

My Thanksgiving was spectacular, thanks for inquiring. I have to say I was a little disappointed that three full days of cooking produced a meal that lasted about 45 minutes, but at least one guest said it was the best Thanksgiving meal they had ever had (so what if that guest was Big N, my husband, I’ll take it!).

thanksgiving-8-of-9

The menu received a few last minute adjustments. Here’s the gist:

  • Roasted turkey- brined in homemade brine first, then roasted in a Reynolds bag. Came out pretty, but still just ho-hum. It is turkey after all.
  • Sous vide / Deep fried turkey- spectacular! I’m going to forget roasting from now on. This was the way to go! First brined, then fabricated into individual parts (removing thigh bone) and injected with needle additional brine. Sous vide in water bath for 2 1/2 hours until cooked. Just before serving, I deep fried the breasts, legs, and wings in hot oil for 5 minutes each until golden, crispy, juicy, and divine! For the boneless thigh, I added duck fat to my sous vide bag, then sauteed in a hot pan with more duck fat (as in turkey leg confit). Delicious.
  • Side dishes included stuffing with leeks, walnuts and mushrooms, brussel sprouts with pancetta, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, bourbon glazed sweet potatoes, cranberry pomogranate sauce, home made brioche dinner rolls. thanksgiving-6-of-9
  • Desserts included a traditional apple pie, pumpkin whoopie pies, pumpkin spiced macarons, and Momofuku’s crack pie with an oatmeal cookie crust, which tasted sort of like softened toffee. Deliciousness.

Too bad the pics, taken under my kitchen’s super yellow lighting, didn’t do my feast justice.  *Sigh*  But my pumpkin spice macarons were pretty, no?? (Recipe for these will follow soon)

Pumpkin Spice Macarons

Oh well.  My table was gorgeous, the family was (nearly) all together, and everybody had a nice, traditional Thanksgiving. It’s good to be American.

thanksgiving-5-of-9

Not for the home cook but still cool: Volt Ink

Top Chef Season 6 was by far the best season as nearly every contestant was a bad ass cook and way fun to watch in the kitchen.

About 2 weeks before the season finale aired, I had the pleasure of dining at a private dinner party for 12 people at the Dining Room at the Langham Hotel where Michael Voltaggio was at the helm, biding his time until he could tell the world that he had won the title of Top Chef.  He cooked a 7-course meal for us.  I remember his food was unique, beautiful, and a little bit crazy, though not always spot on “delicious.”  This was a while ago but one dish that stood out was his deconstructed PB&J, with a savory cake that oozed purple jelly just when you cut into it.  Each plate was more beautiful than the next, and the ingredients were carefully paired in ways I had never experienced before.  There was absolutely no mistaking that this guy was the real deal.

After the dinner we went into the kitchen to meet the man himself for an “eat and greet.”  Though Voltaggio was of course bound to secrecy on his Top Chef experience, he did say that he had a good time on the show but that it mischaracterized him as a little bit of a bully.  He was gracious but exactly like he appears on TV, intense and buzzing with energy.  He showed us how he prepared the vacuum packed meats for sous vide, his favorite technique, at the end of each night for the next night’s service.

Voltaggio left the Langham shortly after that dinner to begin working on his new restaurant, Ink, which currently has a 30 day wait to even get a reservation.  I plan to dine there when I can get in, but in the meantime I picked up his new cookbook co-written with his brother, Volt Ink.

The cookbook showcases the brothers’ unique approach to family and food. Foods utilized in the recipes are grouped together by their families (eg. from avian to the night shade family), and then each brother contributes a recipe showcasing these ingredient families. Both brothers show off their crazy skills by marrying classic with modern techniques. You’ll find most of the recipes calling for expensive restaurant equipment like an immersion circulator, nitrogen tank, and smoking gun. They attempt to offer alternative instructions on these techniques for the home cook, but I doubt I’ll be purchasing a pig’s head any time soon so that I can brine it in a plastic bag in my cooler for 10 days, just to pick through the cheeks and jowls to obtain the small amount of meat garnered and then pressed for Bryan’s “head cheese with sunchoke relish” recipe.

Highlights for me included Bryan’s “mock oyster” dish as well as Michael’s pork belly ramen with squid noodles.

Most of the techniques in this book are impractical and nearly impossible to recreate at home and only work in a restaurant setting, because each dish requires multiple elements, and each element often takes a day or two to create.  In a commercial kitchen you can whip up large batches of elements used for a complicated dish and then store them and use them throughout the week.  (Make no mistake, that blood orange charcoal or tarragon gelee that garnished your plate in the fancy restaurant you ate at last night was not made to order just for you.  It was made days ago and stored in a deli cup so that it can be artfully plated by the line cook on a busy Friday night.)

But this cookbook was not intended to teach the home cook.  The recipes are carefully constructed road maps to create art on a plate, albeit art that would fall flat as “too derivative” if duplicated by another.  Rather it offers a window into the brains of two very inventive chefs on the forefront of the evolution of new American cuisine.  And on that note it succeeds.

 

 *Photos by Ed Anderson via Cool Hunting

 

 

 

Halloween treats: Llama Llama Griffin and Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

I may have mentioned that my son is coo-coo over Llama Llama Red Pajama.  What choice did I have but to make him a Llama Llama costume for his very first Halloween (he was 2 weeks old last year and too much of a blob for costumes)?

Llama Llama props

To recreate Llama Llama, I sized down the pants and button down shirt from larger patterns I had in my project books for his red flannel pajamas.  I added a flannel stuffed tail to the back (no comments on the brown wad coming from his behind, it was part of the costume!).  The PJs ended up being a bit roomy on him but not big enough for him to trip.

The booties and hat I bought on Etsy and glued on some black and white felt to create the eyes.  When we added his Llama Llama doll, the transformation was complete.  The toughest part about this costume was getting Griffin to actually wear the hat, which he tore off his head as soon as he realized it was there.  The more distractions, the longer the hat stayed in place.

There he goes!  Catch that Llama!

Llama Llama Griffin

There goes the Llama
To show off celebrate, Griffin was invited to a pre-Halloween birthday party potluck for his playmate.

My contribution to the potluck were these darling pumpkin spice whoopie pies with maple cream cheese filling.  The whoopies were moist and soft, with just enough spice and not too much pumpkin to make them overbearing, and the filling was de-lish (as anything with cream cheese is).  Plus, bonus, they’re pretty easy to make, unlike finicky macarons.  The whoopies were a party favorite, not a crumb left on the plate.  Pumpkin Spice Whoopies

[Note: I also made chocolate whoopies with marshmallow cream, but they were too scary to eat.  Well, actually, they were too dry and crumbly, a recipe disaster that still happens occasionally.  Snapped a photo anyway.  Hee.] Scary spider

Loved the accolades received from my whoopies, but Griffin’s costume made an even bigger impression, as he walked around in his hat (for the 20 minutes it stayed on his head) looking up at each guest and holding out his prized Llama Llama doll to anybody that would catch his infectious smile.  Cuteness in spades.

I always used to dread Halloween.  I was never one to try to recreate a hokey costume into something slutty for the one day out of the year where it’s required to put it on display.  But now that kids are involved, I can get into the holiday spirit the way it was when I was a kid: a cute mom-made costume, candy and treats galore, trick or treating around the neighborhood, and celebrating the arrival of Fall.  Tonight- on with the tricking and the treating!  Happy Halloween!

Pumpkin Spice Whoopie Pies

Serves 20
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 25 minutes
Total time 45 minutes
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

Whoopies

  • 1 1/2 cup Flour (All Purpose)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon Ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon Ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg (Fresh grated is best)
  • 1 cup Brown sugar (Firmly packed, dark or light is ok)
  • 1/2 cup Canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cup Pumpkin puree (Canned, but fresh is best if you have time. (Roast halved pumpkin with a little butter until soft, scrape, puree in blender))
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons Unsalted butter (Room temperature)

Whoopies (Optional)

  • 1/2 teaspoon Allspice

Filling

  • 1 1/2 cup Powdered Sugar
  • 4oz Cream cheese (Philadelphia, the brick kind)
  • 1 tablespoon Maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract ((or 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped))

Note

Adapted from Browned Eyed Baker

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use parchment or silpat lined baking pans or use a whoopie pie pan sprayed with cooking spray (Crate & Barrel has a good one, while you’re there, pick up a 1 tbs sized ice cream scoop)
2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder and soda, and spices.
3. In your mixer, mix on low the brown sugar and oil, then add the puree, then the egg and vanilla until incorporated.
4. Add 1/2 of your flour mixture to the bowl and mix on low until just combined, then repeat with the second half. Don’t over mix.
5. Use a small 1 Tbs ice cream scoop and drop them onto your baking sheet or in your pan. Leave 1 ” in between for spread.
6. Bake 10-12 minutes until cookies just start to spring back when touched. This will give you a nice moist whoopie. Let cool in pan for 3 minutes, then remove and let cool on wire racks until room temp.
7. For the filling, cream the butter and the cream cheese together until there are no lumps. Add the powdered sugar, syrup, and vanilla and beat until smoothe, but do not overbeat.
8. Assemble cookies by piping or spooning a dollup of cream cheese filling inbetween two cookies.
9. Keep chilled until ready to use, then remove and let come to room temp for a few minutes before serving. They will keep in the fridge under plastic wrap for a few days.

 

 

 

The Mighty Quince: Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Poached Quince

In early Fall I say tearful goodbyes to summer stone fruit and fresh berries.  The only thing that will improve my somber mood in the produce section is the appearance of a fall favorite- the gorgeous, fragrant, beautiful quince.  (And literally every time I see one I think of the “Jeopardy” scene from White Man Can’t Jump- it’s a food that begins with the letter “Q.”).  The quince is related to the apple and pear, though you can’t eat it raw because it’s too fibrous and will give your mouth that terrible puckery feeling.  That means you have to cook it, and the longer you cook it the better, because the flesh turns from whitish yellow to beautiful deep claret red.

We invited friends over for a small dinner party on Sunday and you know how I like to roll for a dinner party.  On the menu, fresh Greek salad with a brick of French feta piled on top, Wagyu ribeyes with white asparagus and balsamic glazed pearl red onions, and of course, dessert featuring the gorgeous quince I picked up.

For dessert I was inspired by an old cookbook a friend gave to me:  The Wine Lover’s Dessert Cookbook, which had a recipe for buttermilk panna cotta.  I thought it would be perfect with quince.

I brought 4 elements together for this beautiful plated dessert (see links to all of these recipes above): the buttermilk panna cotta, poached spice quince, almond tuile cookies, and candied hazelnuts.

A good plated dessert should be sweet but not too sweet, with something a little savory to balance the sweetness, and something crunchy to balance the soft textures.  This dessert nailed it.

The spiced quince melted in your mouth and really stood out against the mellower creamy smoothe panna cotta, and the hazelnuts added the savory crunch.  I knew it was a hit because all of my guests cleaned their plates.  The panna cotta was rich but not so rich that you could only eat a couple of bites.  I have to say I was proud of this one and may even mention the idea to my restaurant’s pastry chef.  It was the perfect finish to a meal with great friends.

Recipes for panna cotta, spiced poached quince, and candied nuts follow.  For almond tuile cookie, recipe here.

Buttermilk panna cotta poached spiced quince

Buttermilk Panna Cotta

Serves 6
Prep time 3 hours
Cook time 10 minutes
Total time 3 hours, 10 minutes
Meal type Dessert
Region Italian

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Unflavored Gelatin
  • 1 cup Heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup Granulated sugar (or Evaporated Cane Juice)
  • 1 cup Buttermilk

Optional

  • 1/2 Vanilla bean (seeds scraped)

Note

Adapted from The Wine Lover's Dessert Cookbook

Directions

1. Prepare a muffin pan (I prefer the silicone type) or 6 small ramekins by putting vegetable oil on a paper towel and rubbing the muffin tin or ramekins with the oil.
2. Pour 1/4 cup cold water into a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over water and let soften for 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, gently heat cream and sugar in a saucepan until it’s just warm, not hot or steaming. Scrape seeds from vanilla pod into cream and add the pod as well. Stir well to dissolve sugar.
4. Remove cream/sugar from heat once it’s just warm and stir in softened gelatin until it’s fully dissolved, about 1 minute. Stir in buttermilk.
5. Remove vanilla bean pod before pouring. Pour panna cotta mixture into muffin pan or ramekins. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour, then put into the refridgerator to set, about 3 hours (can be made up to 4 days in advance, just store in the muffin pan in your fridge).
6. Run knife around muffin pan or ramekin and invert carefully on plate.

Poached Spiced Quince

Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 3 hours
Total time 3 hours, 10 minutes
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 2 Quince
  • 1 1/2 cup Granulated sugar
  • 3 cups Water
  • 3-4 Star anise
  • 15 Black peppercorns
  • 2-3 Cinnamon sticks

Directions

1. Add sugar and water to heavy pot and bring to slow boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.
2. Peel quince, then cut 4 sides, cutting around the core like an apple (make sure you don’t get the hard fibrous core in your slices). Slice each of the 4 sides in 1/2" slices. Work quickly to avoid the quince turning brown.
3. Add quince slices to pot, then put spices in cheesecloth sachet, tied with twine, and add to pot. Simmer on very low heat, covered, for about 3 hours until quince turn deep amber red.
4. Remove quince from syrup and set aside for use in dessert. Strain spices and return red syrup to the pot. Create thicker syrup by reducing at a simmer, uncovered, until syrup thickens to desired consistency. Put in squeezy tube to use cooled syrup artfully on plate.

Candied Nuts

Prep time 20 minutes
Meal type Snack

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Nuts (Your choice: hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts all work)
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 cup Water
  • Oil (Peanut, canola, or vegetable, enough to make 4" deep in pot)

Directions

1. In small sauce pan, bring nuts, sugar, and water just to boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Simmer for about 15 minutes until sugar water thickens to a syrup consistency.
2. In a separate pan, heat enough oil to submerge nuts. Heat oil until thermometer reaches 325 degrees (if you don’t have a thermometer, add 1 nut to test temperature, if it makes bubbles when you add it to the oil, you’re good, if the oil is smoking, it’s too hot). Deep fry nuts until they turn a nice dark brown.
3. Strain nuts from oil and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or silpat, keeping nuts separate so they don’t stick together as they cool. If you want them sweeter or saltier, toss with sugar or salt as desired. When they dry they’ll be nice and crunchy.

 

Sushi night: tuna poke on crispy rice

Whenever I see sushi grade tuna at my local Whole Foods or Trader Joes, I buy it.  Every time.  I can’t help myself — I’m a sushi addict.  Plus, making tuna poke at home doesn’t require any cooking (a plus after a 9-hour shift at the restaurant), and it’s just as good as the spicy tuna you get at your local sushi bar.  (See my easy recipe for spicy tuna poke below, look for the ingredients at your local asian market or in the asian food aisle at Whole Foods).

The other night for dinner I decided to put a little spin on our typical tuna poke and served it over a bed of crispy sushi rice.  (See a simple sushi rice recipe here, except I add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp sugar to my rice as it’s cooking to give it a little extra flavor).  I made the sushi rice, formed it into square cakes in my square mold, then fried them in grapeseed oil until GBD (golden brown & delicious).   I layered a nice brick of the tuna poke over the crispy rice.

Boy oh boy was it good.  Spicy tuna with creamy avocado over crispy sweet/salty rice with a generous helping of wasabi paste in between.  I take it back.  Homemade spicy tuna cakes are better than those at my local sushi bar.  You try!

sushi-night

Spicy Tuna Poke

Serves 2
Prep time 20 minutes
Meal type Appetizer, Main Dish
Region Japanese

Ingredients

  • 1/2lb Ahi tuna (Be sure it is sashimi grade only!)
  • Sesame oil (To taste, I use spicy chili sesame oil (it's red in color))
  • 1/2 teaspoon Toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup Scallions or green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 Avocado
  • Salt (To taste, I prefer crunchy Hawaiian red salt for this recipe)
  • Nori sheets (Dried seaweed sheets, as needed)

Directions

1. Finely dice tuna, discarding tough white veiny parts.
2. Toast sesame seeds by heating them in a dry pan until they brown slightly and become fragrant, cool.
3. Add scallions to the tuna. Stir in chili oil to taste, add salt to taste. Add sesame seeds, chopped seaweed flakes, and diced avocado just before serving.

Baby Shower for H: Just the Accents

Enamel bottles

For a planaholic like me, is there anything more exciting than planning a baby shower?  I know not, especially when the guest of honor is a bestie who has been waiting 4 long years for her miracle daughter to arrive.  Unfortunately, I am not the only bestie in H’s arsenal, so I was not bestowed with a planning monopoly on this particular shower (I’m not good at sharing).  But I was in charge of a few key elements: center pieces, and of course, DESSERTS!

For the center pieces, I decided to go with the enamel bottle idea once again, this time choosing a color palette of coral, pink, and white.  I filled them with gerbera daisies and baby’s breath to keep them bright and cheery, like H herself.

Bottle center pieces

As for desserts, I ordered another lovely cake from Jill’s, and made a few different types of bite size treats.  The guest count for this shower was about 70, so I spent the better part of two days baking.  I made another batch of brownie pops, decorated with pink chocolate and sprinkles, gluten free mini donuts (because 1: gluten intolerant people deserve sweets too, and 2: the donut recipe from this cookbook is absolutely fabulous even though it’s gluten free) which I decorated with coral and pink icing with sprinkles to keep with the color palette, and raspberry macarons with raspberry jam frosting (a recipe I adapted from this cookbook).

The pops were a hit with the young guests, everybody loved how cute the donuts were, and as for the macarons, I overheard one guest saying, while eating my macaron and staring at it in wonder, “this is the best cookie I have ever eaten.”  *Sigh*  Compliments like that make me swoon.

Butterfly stuffed toy

Finally, the present.  Everybody knows the goal is to make the guest of honor cry and the rest of the ladies “ooh” and “ahh” over the cuteness of your particular present.  I sort of blew that opportunity by giving H the special basket full of my handmade creations before her actual shower.  I needed another spectacular present!  Scrambling, I made a butterfly stuffed toy for Addison in delightful pinks and greens to match her bedroom.  The stuffed toy wasn’t too complicated a project for the last minute and jingles as you shake it- babies love that.  You can find the instructions in Amy Butler’s project book, Little Stitches for Little Ones (it also includes a darling lady bug toy but I didn’t have time to make one of those too).

I also wanted to give Addison something personalized, so I worked with a wonderful design artist on Etsy to create a custom poster with Addison’s birth time, weight, length, and a few other unique details (blond hair, four years in the making, etc.) in beautiful baby colors.  Once we perfected the layout and colors, the artist sent me a high resolution image (all for $8), and I printed and framed it.  The present was a big hit with H- who cried when she looked at it (success!) and can’t wait to hang it in Addison’s room.

H opening her present

Everybody, especially H, had a lovely time at the shower and Addison behaved like a perfect angel as all the guests passed her around for a little cuddle time.  Though I didn’t have full rein to plan the entire shower (the other hosts did a spectacular job with food and games), it appeased my plan fetish for the time being, that is until H decides to adopt her next bundle of joy.  Then I might have to take over.

 

Garden to Table: Tomatillos & Peppers

I know.  It’s been so long.  Did you miss me?

I didn’t mean to abandon this little blog but life got in the way.  It does that.

Since we last spoke, I finished classes at culinary school and began my required externship as a cook at a wonderful restaurant in Pasadena.  There’s so much to catch up on, but I’m not going to try to cram it all in one blog post, that’s just silly.  Instead I’ll divert your attention with tomatillos.  I like random.

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So my mother-in-law has a garden.  Each year we are lucky enough to receive some of the fruits of her labor, which I can assure you is immense, as she not only battles pests and weeds but birds and squirrels, all to give us beautiful garden-to-table treats.  This year we were blessed with jalapenos, Anaheim and serrano chiles, cherry tomatoes and tomatillos.  Tomatillos are the key ingredient in salsa verde but they’re also great in salads.  They may look like green tomatoes, but they have a tart and slightly bitter flavor.

We used ours to make a tomato/tomatillo salad, which we paired with a marinated flank steak and simply grilled Anaheim chiles.  I quickly grilled the tomatillos to bring out their savory flavor, then added them to the cherry tomatoes with some fresh basil and a little olive oil.  The cherry tomatoes were sweeter and brighter than your typical store-boughts, and the tomatillos gave the salad extra punch.  The Anaheim chiles were slightly hot and bursting with flavor.  Home grown veggies makes any meal more special.

When cooking home grown fruits and vegetables, it’s usually best to keep it simple to allow the flavors to shine through.

Though I love receiving garden goodies, don’t expect me to go and start my own garden any time soon. No green on these thumbs.

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In season: Opah fish

Grabbing my attention at the fish counter at Whole Foods I found fresh Opah, aka moonfish, aka sunfish, aka kingfish, and aka Jerusalem haddock.  [Unrelated tangent: In Greek, “opa” is roughly translated as “hell-to-the-yes!” and is often shouted before and after consuming a disgusting shot of ouzo.]  So many nicknames for this deep water ocean fish usually found swimming near Alaska.  You might recall (if you’re a food dork like me) that Mario Batali once beat challenger Tony Liu in an opah battle on Iron Chef.  He won, naturally, because he’s Mario Batali.

Back to opah, aka whatever-you-want-to-call-it.  Opah is a white fleshed fish with a texture similar to halibut and a slightly sweet yet mild flavor.  Mild means that you can dress it up any way you’d like.  One of my favorite ways to have fish is to season with salt, pepper, and olive oil and fry it in a saute pan until “GBD” (Le Cordon Bleu speak for golden brown and delicious) then finish it off in a 400 degree oven.  This method is foolproof for nearly any type of fish.  In the summer I like to take advantage of the bounty of fruit available and top my fish with salsa or chutney.  For the opah I went with mango salsa: mangoes, cilantro, red or green onion, jalapeno, lime juice.  Easy.

Opah dinner ingredients For sides I sauteed baby bok choy, then cooked up quinoa (it’s a superfood, high in the good-for-you-category and a cinch to cook) with roasted mini heirloom tomatoes.

The fish was the star.  Clean, fresh flavors for a light meal that paired very nicely with our 2009 Carr Pinot Gris from Turner Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills.  The wine had a bright acidity and floral finish that didn’t upset the citrus salsa with the fish.

Healthy meal of fish + veggies = happy brain and happy belly, leaving plenty of splurge room for wine.  Win win.

Opah!