Tuesday, November 11, 2014


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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Psycho on the Road: Brothers Sushi (Woodland Hills, CA)

I was recently back in California, despite being out here for ten days in April.  After a couple of months back in Colorado, I had to once again scratch my West Coast itch, so I booked a ticket to see my aunt and uncle for the fourth of July weekend.  In April, my friend Jean and I breezed through their neck of the woods on our coastal road trip for one night.  The trip, while thoroughly enjoyable, proved to me that I am overall more of a Southern California girl, as opposed to a Northern California girl.  On our single night in LA in April, our motley crew attempted to eat at Brothers Sushi, a local sushi bar that my aunt and uncle have been frequenting for years, but it was a Monday, and alas closed for the night.  Instead we spent a delightfully raucous evening at Monty’s Steakhouse.  Upon my return to LA, my aunt suggested that we have dinner at Brothers on my first night; LA is my favorite place to eat sushi, so I immediately lit up at this proposal. 

The last time I ate at Brothers, I was on spring break, my freshman year of college.  I was a month shy of 19, and thoroughly enjoying a late teenage rebellion.  To put it bluntly, I was partying too hard, and not making much effort to hide it.  Being the wise and accepting woman that she is, my aunt barely acknowledged my obvious hangover when she collected me from the airport, or my continued tendency to over-indulge on the trip.  Eleven years later, my chemical-intake habits have matured, but I still identify with some of that outrageousness, even if it is muted.  If anything, I am more conscious of my wild heart and my food-obsessed tendencies, which brings me back to California time after time.  I come here to have outrageous conversations with my aunt and uncle, catch a glimpse of the ocean, and eat.  And eat.  And eat.  Most people associate LA with Hollywood, glitz, and superficial.  While I do relish the random opportunities to rub elbows with the rich and famous, I mostly come to LA to participate in my most prized sensory act, as I truly feel that it is one of the best food cities in the country.  Sushi is one of my all time favorite things to eat in LA.  When it comes to sushi, the proximity to the ocean provides unprecedented freshness of seafood, and the diversity of the population provides unparalleled expertise in preparation.  After the sushi misfire in April, I was so excited to eat at Brothers, and I was also excited to return to this place that I ate at so long ago, when I was so much more impressionable and less jaded.
The motif of Brothers was exactly the same, relative to the imagery with which my fuzzy memory provides me.  We sat a cozy corner table, and my uncle began ordering food in heats.  We started with cold, unfiltered sake and oysters, briny and bright.  Our waitress was uncertain as to what their varietal was, but she knew they were from Washington.  Served over ice on the half shelf, each oyster was chopped into two pieces, which made them easier to eat.  They swam in a small pool of oyster liquor, mingling with soy, and topped off with a dime size dollop of Sriracha, some grated ginger, and scallions .  It had been years since I had an oyster; the last time was at an upscale steak house that I worked at when I was 22.  Wanting to get the true experience of eating an oyster, I had garnished it with only a squeeze a lemon, and sent it down the hatchet; with that bare bones preparation, it is no surprise that I wasn’t impressed.  Brothers method had me all smiles, and I was especially pleased by the tender texture which so complemented the clean, yet assertive flavor profile.
We were next greeted by the house salad.  I had pictured mixed greens dressed in some sort of sesame-ginger vinaigrette, garnished with some carrot tendrils.  Instead, I was surprised by something much more special: a pile of greens studded with ruby and white cubes of raw fish and small, tender shrimp, cooked by the acidity of the vinaigrette.  Garnished with pea shoots, sesame seeds, and masago, it was mild, tender, and tasted of the sea.  Had the meal stopped here, I would have left a satisfied diner, but instead a slew of unctuous sashimi was on its way.

After a few minutes left to sip sake and discuss the delight of the humbly named house salad, our first round of sashimi graced the table: mackerel, halibut, and albacore tuna.  Each one of similarly garnished with a mild soy sauce, ginger, and scallion combination. There may have been the slightest hint of sesame oil in the mix.  My first bite was mackerel, which tested wholly of the ocean.  It even retained some of its silvery skin to enhance this oceanic quality, not to be confused with fishiness, but instead an assertive sea quality, that is still decidedly fresh, and the texture so tender.  My next bite was halibut, which was mild, sweet, tender, and the color of snow, slightly translucent.  It was so delicate, it barely required chewing.  It was initially buttery, but when I tasted the albacore, the notion of buttery became unrivaled. It’s striations were nearly falling apart, and there was a lovely layer of fat along the top, which caused the whole thing to fall apart in my mouth.
Albacore Tuna
Sweet Shrimp
After another brief break, we ordered our final installment: fresh water eel, and sweet live shrimp.  The eel was firm, charred, and caramelized in sweet, sticky sauce.  The shrimp was served in two styles: a fried shrimp head and the raw, firm body, topped with masago.  Fried shrimp heads are one of my favorite foods, and something that I have eaten exclusively in LA.  The first time I ever had one I was about 11 years old, at dim sum in Chinatown.  My family is known to have some pretty stilted palettes, so my aunt’s friends practically broke into applause when I joyfully devoured my first shrimp head.  They are full of sweet, fine textured meat, entwined with the shell, which imparts so much shrimpy flavor.  And obviously everything is better fried, as the shell is essentially rendered into the finest shrimp flavored potato chip you never knew existed.  Watch out because those crispy legs might poke you, but they are certainly delicious.  It was served with a sweet and broth-y tempura sauce.  The body is served raw, with a squeeze of lemon and tiny, vibrant fish eggs that pop in your mouth, contrasting the firm meatiness of the shrimp.  A delightful end to a delightful meal, and a perfect way to kick off a trip to one of my favorite places with my favorite people.  Redundant?  I think not.  Brothers Sushi does not disappoint.  Similar to some of my memories of that first experience there years ago, I will be dreaming about the butter albacore for years to come.
Shrimp Heads

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Grilled Steak Tacos with Radish Salsa

As I sit writing, I would normally be in my Sunday morning yoga class, but yesterday I acquired a sunburn so severe that the notion of stretching, bending, and contorting my body made my skin cringe.  The truth is I got sunburned on purpose; I have grown weary of my skin’s pasty hue, and decided this necessitated action.  So on Saturday morning, after my routine yoga class, I donned my bikini, and lay poolside at my gym, exposing my virgin skin to the high noon sun, applying sunscreen only to my face.  Initially, I thought I had achieved a perfect sunburn: one that would help me develop a base for bronzing my skin, but not result in significant discomfort.  I was dead wrong, and as the day wore on, my skin became increasingly red and angry.  Thus, out of fear, I skipped my yoga class, and chose writing as an activity less likely to bring on any additional physical pain.
Salsa ingredients

Unlike my poorly executed tanning plans, these steak tacos with radish salsa fell seamlessly into place.  It is a simple and delightful summer time recipe that I highly recommend.  I found this recipe in the June issue of Bon Appétit.  Though I don’t eat radishes often, the idea of radish salsa complementing thinly sliced steak certainly has a quiet charisma as far as I’m concerned.  The salsa consists of vibrant pink and white radishes tossed with cilantro, scallions, and jalapeno, then dressed in limejuice and olive oil.  The original recipe called for cooking flank steak in a skillet, but this seemed like a misstep to me; the obvious cooking method for this summery dish would be grilling the steak, and this would also allow for a convenient method of heating up the corn tortillas before serving, thus circumventing the use of an indoor heating element. 
Pretty salsa
The finished tacos are of the utmost simplicity: warm corn tortillas, topped with thinly sliced grilled steak, radish salsa, some crumbled cotija cheese, and a few extra cilantro leaves.  Cotija cheese is like a cross between Parmesan and feta: crumbly, salty, and very dry.  It’s less dense than Parmesan, and lacks the brininess of feta.  It worked in this dish, but I would be curious to see how a slightly creamier cheese like queso fresco, or even feta would have worked.  I found the cotija cheese to be a bit dry, both literally and figuratively.
Otherwise, this dish is a winner.  I would recommend making a double batch of the salsa as I would have been happy to pile it higher on my tacos, and I probably would have eaten it with a spoon, if given the opportunity.  As it sat in the fridge for a day or two, the pink hue of the radish skins permeated the salsa.  This a beautiful, delicious, and low maintenance dish.    

Steak Tacos with Radish Salsa (adapted slightly from Bon Appétit, June 2014)

1 lb. flank steak
2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup cilantro leaves with tender stems, divided
6 radishes, trimmed and chopped
3 scallions, white and light green part, thinly sliced
1/2-1 jalapeno, seeds and membrane removed, finely chopped
Juice of one lime
8 corn tortillas, warmed (preferably on the grill while the steak rests)
2-3 oz. cotija cheese, crumbled

-       Chop half of the cilantro.  Mix the chopped cilantro, radishes, jalapeno, scallions, lime juice, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
-       Preheat your grill to medium high. 
-       Rub remaining tablespoon of olive oil into the steak.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook on the hot grill for about 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare (I did about 7 minutes on each side for medium).
-       Remove from grill, and allow the steak to rest for about 5 minutes. 
-       Thinly slice steak against the grain with a serrated knife.

-       Pile the steak on top of the warmed tortillas, with the cotija cheese, radish salsa, and additional whole cilantro leaves

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Taco Salads

“Plates or bowls?” Jean queried.

“Definitely bowls,” I responded.

This was the brief, yet definitive exchange I had with my friend as I put the final touches on the inventory of ingredients for taco salads.  There’s something infinitely satisfying about a smattering of ingredients heaped in a bowl, waiting to be mixed up and scooped up.  There’s no risk of a stray bean or avocado cube falling over the edge; you can enjoy with reckless abandon. 

Due to rising summer temperatures and a busy schedule, I have been seeking out quick meals, and this taco salad certainly fits the bill.  This is actually the second time I’ve made it in two weeks (the first time, my comrades and I were too hungry to pause for the photography process, which necessitated another production). I can say with authority that it can easily be compiled in twenty minutes. Despite its expedited preparation, this taco salad is elevated from a mere weeknight meal to something more worthy of your attention, with just a few simple touches. 
The foundational elements are aligned with any taco salad: chopped romaine, shredded cheddar, and seasoned ground beef.  I used an improvised version of my taco filling from a previous post.  The linked recipe could certainly be adhered to, but this meal is pretty forgiving.  Simply brown some lean ground beef in a skillet, and season with any taco-ish seasonings you have on hand, until it smells and tastes delicious.  The usual suspects showed up in mine: cumin, chile powder, red pepper flakes, and coriander.  Less conventional items like smoked paprika and dried Italian herbs also had cameo roles; essentially, anything goes. 

ingredients for salsa vinaigrette
I then made a simple vinaigrette with salsa as the base.  I used a smoky poblano salsa, but anything will do as long as it’s not chunky.  The texture of chunky salsa is a little weird for a dressing.  Add some fresh limejuice, a dash of vinegar, and olive oil, and the result is a simple, tasty vinaigrette.  Black beans, cubed avocado, and fresh corn add dimension.  You could pick one, and add it to the cheese/lettuce/beef/salsa vinaigrette backdrop, and you would have a complete meal; or you can use all three and have an elevated eating experience.  The corn is crucial, and do take the time to get fresh corn, and shuck it from the cob.  The sweet, starchy crunch is well worth the minimal effort, and ‘tis the season for fresh corn; frozen corn could never do it justice.  I layered all of my ingredients in big bowls, and finished it off with an extra spoonful of salsa and a dollop of sour cream.  The finished product resembles a savory Tex-Mex sundae; it’s crunchy and refreshing, yet hearty and satisfying.  Overall, a delightful summer meal.

Taco Salads (makes 3-4 servings)

1 lb. lean ground beef, prepared with taco seasonings (see this recipe for ideas)
2 hearts of romaine, cleaned and chopped
2 ears of corn, shucked from the cob
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 pound shard cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded
1 ripe avocado, cut into cubes
1 lime (plus extra for garnish, if desired)
1-2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1/4-1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sour cream

-       Prepare vinaigrette by mixing a quarter cup of store bought salsa with the juice of one lime and 1-2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar.  Whisk in enough olive oil to create a smooth emulsion.  Taste and add more vinegar or lime if more acidity is needed.  (A dash or two of a smoky hot sauce, like Chipotle Cholula or Tabasco is also a nice touch.)
-       Prepare the remaining ingredients.
-       Add a couple of handfuls of lettuce to each bowl and spoon over some of the vinaigrette. 
-       Top with corn, black beans, seasoned ground beef, shredded cheese, and avocado.  Add an extra spoon of salsa and some sour cream, if desired for garnish.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Scrambled Eggs with Beans

This is my comfort food, weeknight meal of the moment.  I tend to find something I like, eat on it repeat, and then burn out.  My current food crush is scrambled eggs with cheese and refried beans.  This simple preparation of store-bought ingredients results in a quick, satisfying meal.  It consists of slightly doctored refried beans, topped with perfectly scrambled eggs and shredded cheese, along with a splash of hot sauce and a little avocado, if you have it. 
I have made it a few times now, and timing is essential for success.  Everything must be ready and waiting for the scrambled eggs.  Since it is a simple meal with only a few ingredients, the eggs must be perfectly cooked.  Scrambled eggs are a delicate food because they cook so quickly; they must be removed from the pan immediately when they have reached your desired level of doneness (or even just prior) because extra time in the pan results in residual cooking, even if you have removed them from the burner.  I like to get my refried beans in the bowl (about a half cup, and I typically prefer refried black beans), cheese shredded, avocado sliced, and eggs beaten before I apply any heat to anything.  Then I heat the beans up in the microwave for about 30 seconds, stir, and season with hot sauce, pepper, and whatever else strikes your fancy (extra cumin, garlic salt, whatever sounds good).  Give the doctored beans a stir, and 30 more seconds in the microwave.  Then leave them in the microwave, pending a final zap just prior to serving.

Now is the time to cook your eggs.  I add about a teaspoon of olive oil to a small sauté pan, and allow it to preheat for a couple minutes over medium heat.  When it is hot, I add the eggs, and stir in long, slow strokes toward the center of the pan as the curds start to form.  When the eggs are still wet, but approaching doneness, give the beans their final jolt of heat in the microwave (about 15-30 seconds).  Give your eggs a final stir; add them on top of the beans with avocado slices, and sprinkle with cheese.  This past week, I was using a cheddar-gruyere combination from Trader Joe’s, which has the flavor of medium white cheddar, but a creamier texture, that allows it to melt more smoothly than your typical cheddar.  This dish would be great with homemade refried beans; making refried beans is simple, but it would detract from the quick, easy quality of the meal.
extra Frank's Red Hot on top
This dish could be prepared with over easy eggs.  The runny yolk would be delicious, but I enjoyed the uniformity of the scrambled egg version.  When I eat over easy eggs, I sometimes feel pressure to ration out the golden yolk throughout my dining experience; this is likely singular to me, but this week, I didn’t want any undue stress.  This is a flexible recipe, so make it to suit your tastes, but my mental health required the consistency of scrambled eggs.  I also like the way the soft textures of the beans and eggs complement each other, but still maintain their identities.    

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Whole Wheat Linguine with Kale and Sausage

Dating is a challenge.  Even if you’ve been married for 40 years, if you imagine the quest of seeking a suitable partner that will both help keep the house clean and give you butterflies in your stomach, I’m sure you will be able to flirt with the magnitude of this process.  Like most things in life, it’s usually best to enjoy the journey, instead of focusing on the end result; in dating, this means that sometimes you spend time with people that you know aren’t ultimately right for you, but you’re enjoying the ride and it’s nice to have some company from time to time.  This is exactly where I was with my last quasi-relationship, which is really a rare and beautiful place to be.  Heartbreak is not part of the equation because you’re not in love, but there also must be some sort of conclusion at some point.  Ideally, the conclusion will manifest itself in a natural and respectful manner.  I’m sure my readers are all very respectful people, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that text messages are not considered to be one of the respectful ways to end an affair, even if the premise was casual and low-commitment.  The problem was not that the involvement was concluded, but the means of message delivery was inappropriate.  I think it’s safe to say that anything beyond 3 or 4 dates requires an actual phone call, as opposed to some sort of electronically transmitted text. 
With a phone call, I would have seen said involvement as fun, and purposeful, but the text message breakup cheapened the experience.  It left a bitter taste in my mouth.  So I embarked on a three-step process to wash that man out of my hair.  The first step was to literally wash my hair; a hot shower can be a profoundly symbolic gesture in letting go of the old, and being prepared for a fresh start. Next, I got a pedicure; you can only take the missteps of others so seriously when your toenails have been freshly painted a color dubbed “Cajun Shrimp.”  Last, I indulged in a home cooked meal that was both satisfying and nourishing, and also one that I knew my former beau would not have enjoyed, but suits my taste perfectly. 
Enter whole-wheat linguine with kale and sausage.  I adapted this dish from my newest cookbook, cheekily titled “50 Shades of Kale” (completely ridiculous, I know, but I do attest that it was the most creative and compelling of the 5 kale-based cookbooks at Peppercorn, the local culinary retail Mecca of Boulder).  This dish is very simple, but it has all the best things in it: pasta, cream, white wine, garlic, crushed red pepper, sausage, and loads of kale. The recipe called for whole-wheat linguine, which is not my favorite.  In general, I feel like it’s not quite worth it; if you’re going to indulge in pasta, go for the real thing: tender, toothsome, silky strands, not their cardboard-esque, healthy cousin.  But I went against my usual stance because I felt that the hearty combination of the cream, sausage, and kale might be enough to balance out the rustic texture of the whole-wheat pasta.  This turned out to be an excellent judgment call.  This was definitely the right sauce for the job, but I also think I may have inadvertently chosen the best whole-wheat pasta on the market: Whole Foods Organic Whole Wheat Linguine.  It had the heartiness you expect from whole grains, which stands up nicely to the cream, without the woody or chalky quality that I so frequently encounter in whole-wheat pasta.  Delicious, satisfying, spicy, creamy, slightly acidic from white wine; this dish confounded the bitterness that text message left me with, and leftovers to boot.   

Whole Wheat Linguine with Kale and Sausage (adapted from 50 Shades of Kale)

1/2 pound mild Italian sausage
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, divided
10 ounce bunch of kale, stems removed and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 pound whole wheat linguine
Parmesan cheese for garnish

-       Cook the linguine in a large pot of salted, boiling water, al dente, per package instructions.  Reserve approximately 1 cup of pasta cooking water; drain pasta and set aside.
-       In a large skillet preheated over medium heat, sauté the sausage, breaking it apart, until cooked though.
-       Add the garlic and half of the hot pepper flakes, and sauté for 1 minute.
-       Add the kale and the white wine, scraping up any brown bits off the bottom of the pan.  Season with salt and pepper.  Sauté for about 5 minutes, until the kale is wilted, and starts to become tender.
-       Add the cream, and cook for about 5 minutes more.
-       Toss in the pasta and enough pasta cooking water to make the mixture slightly saucy.  Garnish with Parmesan cheese. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Grilled Chicken with Warm Chickpeas and Green Salad

Monday was the most glorious spring day in Boulder: mid seventies; sunny with a few clouds, alleviating the direct heat of the sun; foliage greening out before your eyes.  It seemed like the perfect day to lavish my grill with a little love, and I found the perfect recipe in the recent issue of Bon Appétit for the occasion. 
It was a simple dish of grilled chicken thighs, accompanied by a salad of baby greens and lightly sautéed chickpeas.  Straight out of the can, chickpeas can be a bit tinny, but when dressed up a bit, they can prove themselves to be a very worthwhile bean.  In this understated dish, the drained chickpeas are sautéed in olive oil with fresh thyme and red chile flakes.  The chicken thighs are seasoned simply, and grilled until just done. 
The chickpeas are supposed to be tossed with arugula, but silly Whole Foods was out of arugula.  In its place, I chose a baby greens mix, called “Super Greens,” which included arugula, and other bold, young greens.  The mix is made by Organic Girl, and the name is coined from the fact that it is composed of superfoods: red and green chard; tatsoi; arugula; spinach.  If you’ve never seen baby chard or tatsoi (a tender green with mild mustard quality), that experience in and of itself is certainly worth the cost of admission, as they are just about the cutest things I ever saw (see photo below for evidence).  The salad is finished with fresh lemon and olive oil, and I added a little bit of feta for a nice salty finish.  A perfectly satisfying warm weather meal.
Grilled Chicken with Warm Chickpea and Green Salad (adapted from Bon Appétit, May 2014)

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1-15 oz. can of chick peas, drained and rinsed
4 sprigs of thyme
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
8 small bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups arugula (or super greens)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 oz. crumbled feta cheese

-       Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium high heat in a skillet.  Add chickpeas, thyme, hot pepper flakes, pepper, and kosher salt.
-       Stir occasionally until just warmed though, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl.
-       Preheat a grill over medium heat (oil your grill if necessary), and season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. 
-       Grill chicken, skin side down for about 8-10 minutes, until skin starts to become golden brown.  Turn and grill until cooked through, about 8-10 more minutes. 
-       Toss greens, lemon zest, lemon juice, and chicken peas with olive oil as needed.  Sprinkle salad with feta and serve with chicken.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Spicy Chicken Soup with Greens and Shiitake Mushrooms

This soup has all of the best things in it:  shiitake mushrooms, leafy greens, and enough fresh ginger to kill a small horse.  Allergies and springtime colds seem to be plaguing a lot of people these days, and this soup is quite the sinus clearer, with a multi-faceted heat from copious amounts of fresh ginger and cayenne pepper.  This is a simple and quick-cooking Asian chicken soup that is both light and satisfying.  It is largely flavored with cayenne, fresh ginger, and shiitake mushrooms, which are some of the all time greatest in the history of mushrooms.  My soup is a slight variation off a recipe from Bon Appetit.  One important distinction that I made was to roast boneless skinless chicken instead of picking a rotisserie chicken.  This is more economical, allows for greater quality control, and ultimately, less work.  Picking an entire chicken from the bones is a greasy and time-consuming task, and you don’t really know what the story is behind that chicken.  See here for my easy method for roasting the chicken; then allow it to cool, and shred it.  Unless you are opposed to turning on your oven, this is much less work.  The other change I made, which is more important and came by recommendation of a friend, is to use chard instead of spinach.  It has more backbone that spinach, yet it is milder than kale, and it ultimately results in a tender, mild green that doesn’t disintegrate or destroy your mouth with tannic weaponry, like spinach.  This opposition to spinach may be mine alone, but I still urge you to try the chard. 
Another note about my interpretation versus the written recipe: I accidently used approximately 10 times the amount of ginger the recipe called for, and it turned out to be a happy accident.  Looking at the recipe, I was so confused to see it call for an 11” piece of ginger, peeled and chopped.  It seemed sort of excessive, but I’m an excessive person.  So, I went for it; I wasn’t exactly sure how to pick out an 11” piece of ginger, but I chose a decent sized hand, and it ended up being about a third of a cup of peeled, chopped ginger.  Writing this up, I realized that it was actually 1-1” inch piece of ginger (i.e. a single one inch piece, not an eleven inch piece).  I didn’t exactly measure out eleven inches of ginger, but I definitely used A LOT, and I liked it, especially on day two after it had a minute to infuse and marinate.  If you choose to make this recipe, your ginger quotient is entirely up to you, but know that one third of a cup will not harm you.
This soup is also spiced up with cayenne pepper, which can be such a fickle spice.  Well, it is really not fickle at all; in fact it a pretty consistent pattern on my palette, but I’m curious to see if other people have the same experience.  I find cayenne to be entirely heat-activated, as opposed to red chile flakes, which render spice regardless of temperature.  For example, with this soup, until the cayenne steeped in the hot soup, I couldn’t feel the heat.  Even with the leftovers, if I had a bite cold (no, cold, broth-based soup is not beneath me), it was barely spicy, simply perfumed by ginger.  When I reheated it, it had quite the resounding warmth.  While I think it is completely plausible for thermal heat to augment spicy heat, I find it peculiar that the chilled version tastes mild.  Is it me?  Is there something wrong with me?  Well, yes, there’s absolutely something wrong with me, but I’m unsure of whether this is operative example. 
 On the first night, I made the egregious mistake of not finishing my bowl with a squeeze of fresh time.  It was sheer laziness; apparently it can be quite challenging for me to cut a lime into quarters.  On the second night I ate this, and those following it, it was more than worth the 2 knife strokes to brighten up my dinner with a splash of green sunshine.  In the life of this soup, that is the precise function of fresh lime juice.  I would also recommend a drizzle of Bragg’s liquid aminos, as it rounded out the flavors nicely.

Spicy Chicken Soup with Ginger, Shiitakes, and Chard

1-1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken (I used a combination of white and dark meat)
2-3 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 pound sliced shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1" piece ginger, peeled, chopped (or in my world, 11 inches of ginger)
2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 bunch green chard, coarsely chopped
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
Lime wedges and Bragg’s liquid aminos or soy sauce (for serving)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Drizzle the chicken with a little oil, and season with salt and pepper on a sheet pan.  Roast for 20 minutes, or just cooked through.

Heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, season with a little salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, 8– 10 minutes.

Add mushrooms, and sauté for about 3 minutes.

Then garlic and ginger and cook, stirring often, 2 minutes; season with salt and pepper.

Add shredded chicken, broth, and cayenne and bring to a boil.

Add chard and cook for about 5-10 more minutes.

Garnish soup in bowls with Bragg’s and a squeeze of fresh lime.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Psycho on the Road: Mex (Bloomfield Hills, MI)

I have just returned to Colorado after a brief sojourn home to my native Detroit.  Well, I suppose referring to home as “Detroit” is a bit of a stretch, as I grew up about 20 minutes outside of the city, but even Metro Detroiters have a distinctive edge that is a result of existing near the blighted, battered (yet still magnificent) Motor City.  The concept of home always comes with distinct tastes, no matter who you are or where you’re from, but I think I can almost objectively say that Detroit has some seriously delicious eats.  It’s always a delight to go home and indulge in old favorites, peppered with some new restaurants under the guidance of my parents and brother. 

On this particular trip, one of the new additions that I was told I absolutely must try was not a restaurant, but a particular dish that is cropping up on multiple menus of the same young restaurateur.  Zack Sklar, owner of Social Kitchen and Bar in Birmingham, Mex in Bloomfield Hills, and a prominent catering company, has a certain dish that graces both of his menus: a not so humble egg sandwich.  My mom, my brother, and his girlfriend all independently provided me with delightful accounts of this flavorful egg sandwich, raving about the way the egg was cooked, the grilled whole grain bread, and the carefully selected accoutrements adorning the dish.   Initially, I thought they might be overselling this item.  Egg sandwiches are delicious, but I like to choose my meals in Detroit very carefully, and I wasn’t sure if it would be worth the investment.  Nonetheless, they wore me down, and I’m so glad they did.

My mom and I went to Mex for lunch the day that I flew out.  We initially toyed with the idea of ordering two egg sandwiches, but decided against that, as my mom reported that it was both large and rich.  So, we split an egg sandwich and a delightful kale salad, which resulted in the most perfect going-away lunch.   The egg sandwich was simple, nothing too esoteric or original, but perfectly executed.  Buttery, grilled whole grain bread; perfectly cooked over easy eggs (one on each half), whites firm and cooked through, and a runny, marigold yolk; smoky bacon; melted, rich, yellow cheddar; acidity from freshly made guacamole and sliced tomatoes, which through the other rich ingredients.  It was absolutely lovely, and worth the hype.

The kale salad balanced the egg sandwich out flawlessly.  It was a symphony of textures, colors, and sweet, smoky flavors.  The salad was both tender and hearty, and not the least bit horsey, which is my least favorite trait in a salad.  Composed of kale, arugula, and bibb lettuce, all three greens were torn into perfect bite-size pieces, with different textures, although not competing.  The salad had some heft from brown rice; creaminess from avocado; chewiness from pepitas; mild, earthy sweetness from golden beets; and richness from creamy, white goat cheese.  The salad was beautiful to look at, with a wide palate of greens, punctuated by mellow yellows from the avocado and bibb lettuce, and white clumps of goat cheese.  My mom and I agreed that the rice was a touch undercooked, but still delicious.  The whole thing was balanced by a mild cumin-honey vinaigrette, that was both smoky and sweet, and only mildly acidic.  The salad was tossed lightly in the dressing; it didn’t get in the way, but tied everything together.  My only complaint about the experience is that the post-modern mess of décor was a little over the top, but it was a small price to pay for such delicious food.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Easter Egg Pasta

The most recent issue of Bon Appétit is pretty brilliant; while I read it every month upon arrival in my mailbox, this month’s copy has myriad recipes that I truly want to make, flagged with hot pink Post It notes.  On the list of intriguing items, there was a short article on various uses for leftover Easter Eggs.  Though I don’t celebrate Easter, but I do enjoy eggs.  One of the recipes was for a garlic-olive oil-anchovy-based pasta that was finished with grated hardboiled eggs and parsley.  I would never in a million years imagined adding hardboiled eggs to my pasta, but the rest of the ingredients are some of my all time favorites, and the addition of the eggs was intriguing enough for me.
I have been a long time fan of pasta dressed in garlic-lemon oil, and finished with a ton of parsley and Parmesan.  There are many variations to this theme:  a little anchovy paste sautéed with the garlic; a few capers; olives; a splash of white wine.  Nonetheless, the result is always some version of lemony, bright, garlicky pasta, with a healthy dose of freshness from plenty of chopped parsley and salty Parmesan.  It’s a recipe for success. 
This Easter-inspired version is exactly that with the addition of hardboiled egg.  It’s certainly a strange idea, but I enjoyed it at every turn.  For starters, I’ve never grated an egg before, which turned out to be a satisfying experience.  Using the large holes of a box grater, the soft egg all but disappeared with a few stokes, resulting in stands of egg white and crumbles of egg yolk, ready to absorb the salty, rich dressing on the pasta.  The richness of the egg juxtaposes nicely against the coarsely chopped parsley leaves, which render this dish almost to a salad like state. 
This dish is rich, but well balanced.  I did not skimp on the anchovy paste, which was evident in the toasted brown color that the pasta took on when it was tossed with the spicy, anchovy-infused oil.  This richness is then tempered by multiple elements.  The first and most obvious is the parsley leaves; peppery, a little lemony, and decidedly green in flavor, they impart lightness with both their flavor and texture.  Ironically, the egg also lends levity that is unexpected.  The yolks and whites act in very different ways.  The yolk coats the pasta and absorbs the olive oil-based sauce, softening the flavors from preserved fish and red chile flakes.  On the other hand, the egg whites provide lightness with tenderness and little volume.  Basically, they prevent the pasta from being construed as a big, dense heap of carbs, a noble and necessary task.  I’m sure the entire idea sounds bizarre (hardboiled eggs in pasta?), but it was quite delightful.  And a senior food editor at Bon Appétit created this concoction, not me, so hopefully that indicates that this is a legitimate recipe, as opposed to me losing my mind with my pasta-loving ways. 

Easter Egg Pasta (adapted from Bon Appétit)
Makes 2 servings

1/4 pound short cut pasta, like campanelle or fusilli
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons anchovy paste
3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons capers
2 hard boiled eggs, coarsely grated
1/2 cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley leaves

-       In salted boiling water, cook pasta until it is al dente per package directions.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, and drain the pasta.  Set aside.
-       In a sauté pan, cook garlic, red chile flakes, lemon zest, and anchovy paste in the olive oil for about 3 minutes.
-       Add pasta to the pan, and toss to coat.  Season with freshly ground black pepper.
-       Add lemon juice, capers, and Parmesan.  Add a few tablespoons of the reserved pasta cooking water if the mixture seems dry. 
-       Add the parsley and hard-boiled eggs.  Garnish with more cheese and parsley if desired.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sick Day

It finally happened: I got sick.  After over a month of visitors and traveling, I suppose it was inevitable.  Although I would have preferred to not be sick, the timing worked out relatively well.  We have officially entered the schizophrenia season in Colorado, where the weather hovers in the 55-75 degree range, with sunny skies, punctuated the occasional snowstorm.  My sick day coincided with a well-timed gray, snowy day; I hunkered down, clad in sweat pants and wool socks, and had a long, leisurely day on the coach watching the entire second season of HBO’s “Girls.”  After the first few episodes and some dozing, I became hungry.  So I took some Advil and bundled up, in order to venture to Trader Joe’s for some easy to prepare, yet tasty, sick day foods.
My first sick day food endeavor supplied a late lunch and plenty of leftovers.  I was still feeling achy and chilled at this point, so I made the lowest maintenance soup I could imagine; I’m ever so eloquently dubbing it “Dump and Stew Tortellini Soup.”  It requires absolutely no chopping, but rather, it is a series of store-bought ingredients that need only to be opened, and dumped into a soup pot.  I started with 6 cups organic, reduced sodium chicken stock, a small can of diced tomatoes, 2 bay leaves, a quarter teaspoon cayenne pepper, and 6 whole garlic cloves (lightly smashed in order to remove the peel).  I allowed all of this to simmer over medium heat for about 45 minutes, and then I added a package of cheese tortellini from the refrigerator case, and allowed them to simmer for about 8 minutes, per package directions.  I then ladled the soup over a few handfuls of raw baby spinach, and allowed the heat of the soup to wilt the greens.  You could add it directly to the soup pot, but I prefer to add it to each individual serving so it doesn’t get overcooked.  I then added a sprinkle of Parmesan and a dollop of store bought pesto.  It couldn’t have been easier, and it certainly soothed my achy bones.  The garlic and the cayenne are key for curative properties, and to ensure that you actually taste some something in a congested state.  I recommend eating the garlic cloves; they mellow out a lot while cooking, and practically dissolve in your mouth after all of that cooking.  I would also like to note that Trader Joe’s Organic Low-Sodium Chicken Stock is my new favorite, regarding this genre.  At $1.99 a quart, the price is nothing to sneer at, and it actually tastes like chicken (roast chicken, to be exact), with a rich, brown color.

After about 6 more episodes of “Girls,” I was getting hungry again, and I whipped up a naan pizza in the toaster oven.  Again, most ingredients were courtesy of Trader Joe’s, along with some lingering morsels I had in my refrigerator.  The naan comes frozen, so while I let a piece defrost, I browned a pre-cooked garlic-herb chicken sausage link in a small sauté pan, to allow the casing to blister and the meat to heat through before slicing it into rounds.  I smeared the naan with pizza sauce, augmented with a few teaspoons of sriracha, again for decongestive purposes.  Then I added some Parmesan, a few sliced kalamata olives, and some toasted pine nuts.  I seasoned the pizza with dried oregano, ground pepper, and garlic salt before finishing it off with chicken sausage and shredded mozzarella.  I then put my gorgeous pizza in my toaster oven at about 375 for about 10 minutes, until the cheese was melted and bubbly (oven for the first 7-8 minutes, and broil for the last two).  Put it directly on the rack (no pan or foil necessary), so that the bottom crisps.  It was delicious, hearty, satisfying, and delightfully easy.  The most challenging part of the preparation was slicing the browned up chicken sausage, which wasn’t exactly an insurmountable feat.