December 26, 2007

Christmas dinner, Mom's turn

Since Lav's side of the family is down in San Diego, Christmas dinner was just me, Lav and Mom. Lav and I both like having everyone together for the holidays, so we're a little bummed out that we couldn't share the meal with everyone... but at least she'll be able to see them over the next few days.

Here in San Ramon, Mom pretty took care of everything for dinner. While she was cooking, Lav and I polished off some leftovers from yesterday and also had some incredibly fresh pistacchios from Santa Barbara, courtesy of Ron and Joyce. I love Mom's cooking; nothing can match the way it hits the spot like good comfort food should... a great final meal in the Bay Area, perfect in its simplicity and familiarity.

chinese style cold roast beef
star anise, soy-sauce egg, pickled cucumber, bell pepper, snap pea

fried rice noodles
pork, napa cabbage, snap peas, shiitake mushrooms

fried prawns
panko crust, tonkatsu sauce

December 25, 2007

Christmas Eve dinner

dungeness crab salad
ruby grapefruit, avocado, browned endive, tarragon

aged goat cheese souffle
cypress grove humboldt fog, bacon

roast tenderloin of beef
fried herb salad, parsnip puree, gremolata, shallots, merlot reduction

apple tart
almond paste, rosemary, bacon

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December 24, 2007

Mom's sake-poached chicken

I have distinct memories from my childhood of waking up late on a Sunday morning to the sweet, floral aroma of warm sake wafting throughout the house. Those were the Sundays when my mom was making "sake chicken," a simple dish of chicken poached in sake and ginger. My dad loved this dish and would drink up the resulting broth like soup... perfect for a cold winter day. I even remember the feeling I had the first time I got to taste the broth: my youthful curiosity was quenched and my palate intrigued by the rich, invigorating flavor of the sake, which permeated deep into the chicken... with just a small hint of bitterness from the residual alcohol. I knew from an early age that I'd like sake.

Here's my version of the dish, with a few vegetables added and a bit of chicken broth to round out the poaching liquid. Mom tried it and, while it is different than hers, she gave it a thumbs up. That's all the endorsement I need.

As an added bonus, this is an incredibly inexpensive dish to make. The following preparation should cost about $12 and is enough for 6 people when served with rice. One liter of sake might sound like a lot, but sake only has about the same amount of alcohol as wine (14-15%), most of which will evaporate away. You should be able to find 1.5 liter bottles of junmaishu-type sake for $7 or less at your local Asian market. We got a bottle yesterday for $4.99 at 99 Ranch Market. DO NOT use premium sake unless you've got money to burn.

Sake-Poached Chicken

10 chicken legs
1 medium daikon radish, peeled and chopped into large chunks
2 medium yellow onions, chopped into large chunks
3 large carrots, chopped into 1-inch segments
1 2-inch section of ginger, sliced
1 liter sake (a simple junmaishu, like Ozeki Dry or Sho Chiku Bai)
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Using a cleaver, chop off the ends of the drumsticks and discard. Chop the remaining portion of the drumstick into 2 pieces, cutting through the bone and exposing the marrow. If you prefer boneless pieces of chicken, use boneless chicken thigh instead. Season the chicken with kosher salt and pepper.

Heat vegetable oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken on all sides, about 6 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside. Reduce heat to medium and saute onions until they begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Turn heat to medium high and add daikon and carrots. Cook for 1 minute. Return the chicken and any juices to the pot. Add 1 liter of sake and bring barely to a low boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low or low and keep at a gentle simmer, uncovered, until most of the alcohol has evaporated, about 20 minutes. Add 1 cup of chicken broth and cover, simmering for another 20 minutes. Taste broth for seasoning. Turn off heat and add sesame oil.

Serve with hot rice, or ladle into a bowl and enjoy as a soup.

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December 20, 2007

Trying not to waste

Everyone has some memory of a parent saying, "Finish your food... there are children starving in [insert country]." Now that we're full steam into the holiday season and relatively recovered from the gluttony of Thanksgiving, we're about to enter a time where the abundance of the developed world stands in stark and shocking contrast to the needs of the impoverished.

Americans tend to have some pretty wasteful habits. Here are some interesting (and appalling) facts:
  • A mere 5 percent of American's leftovers could feed 4 million people for 1 day
  • Disposing of food waste costs the U.S. $1 billion a year
  • Rotting food releases methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2
Remarkably, the U.N. World Food Programme says the total surplus of the U.S. alone could satisfy "every empty stomach" in Africa. Crazy, huh? But the U.S. isn't the only offender. The U.K. and Japan are among the worst with food waste, tossing out 30 to 40 percent of their food produce. With the kind of hunger and malnutrition that exists in the world, waste of this magnitude is a real moral issue, and each of us has a part to contribute.

I'm reminded of how important it is to shop wisely and plan meals and portion sizes accordingly. In addition to tossing out as little as possible, it's also imperative that we consider (1) how much food and (2) what kinds of foods we actually need to eat. Instead of eating until we're full, why not just eat until we're satisfied? Rather than eating meals dominated by animal protein, why not shift more emphasis to grains, fruits and vegetables to reduce the environmental impact of our meals? We live in a situation where we have the luxury of making these kinds of decisions; but too often, we make food choices that emphasize our own selfish pleasure rather than an ethos of responsibility and moral authority.

So Lav and I have been spending the past two days trying to eat everything in our refrigerator before we head back to the Bay Area for Christmas so our food doesn't go to waste. We had an interesting set of ingredients which ultimately combined into some wonderfully satisfying, simple dishes:

Roasted beet and orange salad with baby arugula and chevre.

Somen noodles with basic broth of chicken and vegetables.

Roasted asparagus and bell pepper with chevre.

In the grand scheme of things, it's a miniscule gesture... but it's a start.

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December 18, 2007

fondue... why don't we do this more often?

Fondue is a strange creature. It's inexplicably expensive when enjoyed in restaurants, everyone always registers for a fondue set when they get married, and fondue parties still seem like a little bit of a relic from the 1970s. That being said, every time we have fondue, we can't figure out why we don't do it more often because its so outrageously good.

Our C-group from Quest Church went bold and took the fondue plunge for our Christmas party. Some Emmental and Gruyere, white wine, garlic, nutmeg and just a touch of scotch (no kirsch around, but the scotch was a decent substitute... Lav felt like it gave the fondue a nice floral dimension) and we were in cheese heaven. Pretty awesome for a cold night...

A little about the history of fondue... (I love wikipedia):

A recipe for a sauce made from Pramnos wine, grated goat's cheese and white flour appears in Scroll 11 (lines 629-645) of Homer's Iliad and has been cited as the earliest record of a fondue. Swiss communal fondue arose many centuries ago as a result of food preservation methods. The Swiss food staples bread and cheese made in summer and fall were meant to last throughout the winter months. The bread aged, dried out and became so tough it was sometimes chopped with an ax. The stored cheese also became very hard, but when mixed with wine and heated it softened into a thick sauce. During Switzerland's long, cold winters some families and extended groups would gather about a large pot of cheese set over the fire and dip wood-hard bits of bread which quickly became edible.
Wood-hard bits of bread? Lucky for us, JR made us fresh-from-the-oven homemade french bread to go w/ the fondue.

So seriously, why are we not eating fondue all the time????

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December 16, 2007

a chilly weekend = moderate hibernation

I've been cooped up inside almost all weekend working on a project and trying to stay warm. It's weird because it isn't brutally cold right now -- we're hovering in the mid-40s with the occasional sun-break -- but the days are still getting shorter so it just feels like its getting chillier. Weekends like this make us long for the bright Northern California sun.

A simple hot breakfast does wonders for waking me up. We've been eating some pretty rich, fatty foods lately, so it's about time to do something light, like an egg breakfast sandwich: Essential Bakery baguette, free-range egg over easy, and rocket dressed with a touch of meyer lemon juice and olive oil.

Thankfully, Lav's been in a bit of a knitting kick, so I'm bolstering my supply of scarves for when it's finally time to venture outside...

I forsee lots of braising in the coming weeks...

December 11, 2007

Menu for Hope 4

Wow, I can't believe another year has already passed... and it's time for the annual Menu for Hope, a blogger-driven campaign that leverages our passion for food to help raise money for a worthy cause. The whole idea sprung up five years ago thanks to Pim, who was looking for a creative way to help after the devastating tsunami in Southeast. Last year was the first year I participated, and we collectively raised $60,925.12 for the UN World Food Programme!

This year's Menu for Hope sorta snuck up on me... I feel like a bit of a bugger because I didn't have time to contribute and publicize a raffle prize. So the least I can do is pass the word along. Visit Pim's site for full details on the prizes that are available -- as usual, the potential prizes are pretty amazing... good luck!

Also, for a dose of deep inspiration on creative approaches to address the issue of global poverty, I encourage you to take a look at this post (as well as parts 1 and 2 of the string):

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December 9, 2007

cooking and leftovers: cabbage-wrapped risotto

We had a ton of fun having dinner for some friends last night. The weather has been growing colder, so we were aiming for some rich flavors.

marinated montrachet, delice de bourgogne, rosemary marcona almonds

soup of matsutake and crimini, creme fraiche

crispy pork belly, coffee cure & braise, fennel apple salad

chicken en demi deuil, wild mushroom risotto

blackberry financier, passionfruit sorbet

* * *

2006 whitehaven sauvignon blanc, marlborough

2005 frederic magnien grand cru chablis, "clos"

2001 white rock vineyards claret, napa

As often happens after a a large meal like that, I woke up this morning with a ravenous appetite. L made some splendid ricotta pancakes from scratch as we settled into our lazy Sunday, then went into full vacation-planning mode (Chile in April) as I pondered what to make for lunch. With the leftovers we had from yesterday (pork belly trimmings, chantrelle mushrooms, tomato soup, wild mushroom risotto), I thought I'd try making some risotto wrapped in cabbage.

Cabbage has a fantastic sweetness that presents itself when roasted in a hot pan or in a blistering oven... when you get that caramelization, the flavor dimensions of the cabbage expande exponentially. And here's the awesome thing about leftovers: we continued the decadence of last night's meal in a new context, using simple ideas to enjoy another flavorful meal with less than 15 minutes of work.

December 5, 2007

Absinthe is back!

I just read some awesome news on the New York Times website. So I gave a quick call, and Andy in the tasting room confirmed that December 21st is the official release date (just in time for our Christmas visit back to the Bay Area -- how perfect!). For those who aren't in the area, you'll be able to find it at K&L Wine Merchants.

Kudos and congratulations to the folks at St. George Spirits (just across the pond from our old 'hood, out in Alameda). I hope y'all get ridiculous amounts of publicity in the coming months for all of your offerings.

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December 1, 2007

The Thanksgiving whirlwind, a redux (part 2)

Thursday: San Ramon, Thanksgiving Dinner

A week before Thanksgiving, I got a pleasant surprise in the mail: a jar of kumquat marmalade from Kenny at Medlock Ames. Kumquats have such an interesting variant on citrus flavor, from the balance of sweet to bitter to the chewy texture of the rind and flesh. I immediately got excited about the kinds of things I wanted to try with the marmalade, and I promised Kenny I'd use it for one of our Thanksgiving desserts.

Since we were driving down for the weekend, we would only have enough time to bake one dessert during the early afternoon on Thanksgiving. We opted for the dense, moist and delicious roasted kabocha cake from Suzanne Goin's awesome cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques. The cinnamon and nutmeg, coupled with the kabocha puree, evoke the epitome of pre-winter/thanksgiving comfort.

We added our own variants to the cake: a touch of honey in the batter, a candied cashew and pecan topping, and an accompaniment of chantilly cream and kumquat marmalade. This dessert's for you Kenny!

As for the rest of the meal, we had a dazzling array of awesome food, thanks to the family:

The Classics
Roast turkey
Mashed potatoes
Cranberry sauce

The Asian Component
Black bean marinated prawns
Taiwanese sticky rice
Spareribs with kabocha squash
Stir-fried udon
Seafood lettuce wraps
Sauteed scallops and shrimp
Oxtail soup

Pumpkin pie brulee
Apple pie
Kabocha squash cake
Red bean soup with glutinous rice balls

Wow, it didn't really hit me until I saw that all written out... that's a lot of food for 10 people!

Saturday: Trip to Napa

The day before we left Seattle for the Bay Area, L told me that Connie and Paul had never taken a trip to Napa together for wine tasting. Unreal! And a great excuse to take advantage of the perfect Northern California weather for a quick day trip on Saturday.

We made the usual stop to Bouchon Bakery to prime ourselves with pain au chocolat, almond financiers and chocolate bouchons. The financiers are still the most decadent I've tasted, but the pain au chocolat can't compete with the glorious versions from Cafe Besalu. We made stops at the classic (but somewhat corporate) Clos du Val and the always elegant and finessed wines of Corison.

The real treat of the excursion was a late afternoon appointment at Pride, tucked away in the hills along the border between Napa and Sonoma. With almost 200 acres of specific lot designations, all with distinct soils and sun exposures, the opulent fruit of their wines was showcased with phenomenally integrated young tannins. Velvety and luxurious.

Sunday: Portland, Simpatica and Ken's Artisan Bread

The timing of our trip back gave us one final opportunity for a stop in Portland right at brunch. We stopped by Simpatica, another one of the innovative anti-restaurants changing the dynamic of the standard dining scene. Simpatica's approach is simple: Create awesome four course set dinners on Fridays and Saturdays in a wholly communal dining setting, enabling a substantial reduction in price per person. You aren't going to find meals of this quality for $35 per person in any large city. Check out their menu and drool. On Sundays, Simpatica utilizes its open space to make simple and satisfying classics, like my andouille hash and L's sweet potato crepe. Another Portland gem.

Our last stop was to Ken's Artisan Bakery to visit the place where the amazing baguette from our dinner at Le Pigeon was made. The story behind Ken's is pretty cool; you can read a nice article about it here. For me, the only mission was to get a sweet baguette to take back to Seattle.

I don't think I can overemphasize the simple pleasure of one of their baguettes: soft, lightly elastic and chewy interiors with just a hint of sweetness paired with an astounding range of variant textures in the crust. The crust really was the most phenomenal part of this bread... each area had a different feel... the rustic flat crust of the bottom to the rounded and slightly more pliable side crust; the crisped and shattering ridges on the top and the toothsome ends. Totally revelatory, and the new standard upon which I'll compare all other baguettes.