Monthly Archives: February 2017

CHOCOLATE BUDDHA’S FINGERS

Buddha’s hand may be the strangest looking fruit or vegetable in the produce section at the grocery store. It is easy to see how it got its popular name: Buddha’s hand looks like a many-fingered hand or a misshapen lemon with long finger-like projections and dark ends that could be fingernails. In fact, it is a member of the citrus family and one of the fruits that are lumped together as citron. Unlike a lemon, Buddha’s hand has neither flesh nor juice, only skin and pith. It does have a wonderful fragrance, sort of a combination of lemons and flowers. With no flesh or juice, about the only options open to the cook are to use the zested skin for flavoring or the pith for more substance.

If you have ever baked or eaten the notorious Christmas fruitcake, you probably have encountered citron. It is the sugary chunks that glisten in the cake, often in alarming bright colors of yellow or green. And that seems to be the breadth of culinary options, candied. Baking a fruitcake that would sit in someone’s refrigerator uneaten for a year or more seemed like a poor use for this interesting fruit. It occurred to me that cutting a Buddha’s hand into “fingers”, candying them, and then dipping them in chocolate might be a better option and more fun.

As you can see, the end result was not as attractive as I had hoped. For one thing, the chocolate bloomed under my amateur hand.  Even at that, the candied fingers tasted good, and the almost exotic lemon/floral flavor added to the richness of chocolate.

RECIPE

Chocolate Buddha’s Fingers

Ingredients
  • 1 medium-sized Buddha’s hand
  • water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 12 ounces mini chocolate chips

Method

  1. Wash and dry the Buddha’s hand. With a sharp paring knife, cut between the individual segments of the fruit to form “fingers”.
  2. Place the fingers in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring to the boil. Boil slowly until the white part of the fingers becomes translucent, about 20 – 30 minutes.
  3. Stir in the sugar and continue to boil until the liquid is reduced to a thick coating. Watch carefully so that the sugar does not burn. Transfer the sugar-coated fingers to a sheet of waxed paper to cool.
  4. Dry the candied fingers until the sugar coating is firm. This may take overnight.
  5. In a small saucepan over very low heat, melt the chocolate chips until they can be stirred to a smooth consistency. Stir in the candied fingers. When they are completely coated with chocolate, transfer them individually with tongs to a sheet of waxed paper. Cool until the chocolate is completely firm, at least 3 hours. Store in an airtight container.
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SMOKED SALMON NIÇOISE

Carol invited us to dinner last night. She was having salmon. She likes it, but her husband does not. He had to work late, so it was the perfect opportunity for her to have a dinner of salmon. It turned out to be relatively easy and absolutely delicious.

The thing that made the dish especially good was that Carol smoked the salmon in her Camerons stove-top smoker. That is definitely a kitchen gadget to have, even if you don’t use it very often. The standard model is a stainless steel pan with collapsible handles and an air-tight lid designed to keep smoke inside the pan and not in the kitchen (It really works.) Inside are a flat tray and a rack. You put a pile of very small wood chips (purchased from Camerons, of course.) in the bottom of the pan, cover with the tray, and arrange the food to be smoked on the rack. Slide the cover nearly but not-quite closed and put the whole contraption over two burners on your range. The heat from the burners should be low to medium–low – enough to get the wood chips smoking but not so hot that the food burns. When the first wisps of smoke begin to come out, push the lid completely closed. There should be no leaks. Then smoke the food for the desired time. In the case of salmon, about 20 minutes should do. Remove from the heat for a few minutes and then remove the lid. You will smell the smoke, but it should not invade the kitchen. Check to make sure the food is cooked to your liking. If not, you can close the lid again and heat for another few minutes.

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If you don’t have a smoker, you can accomplish the same thing by basting the salmon with a mixture of ½ teaspoon liquid smoke and 2 teaspoons soy sauce before broiling in the oven.

RECIPE

Smoked Salmon Niçoise

Ingredients

  • 1 pound salmon filet, bones removed
  • 4 cups lettuce cut or torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced (see post on how to peel a hard-boiled egg)
  • 8 small new potatoes, boiled, chilled, and cut into 1½ inch chunks
  • 2 cups green beans, cut in 2 inch lengths, blanched, cooked, and chilled
  • 20 pitted black olives
  • 4 teaspoons drained capers
  • 10 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • homemade vinaigrette or your favorite bottled salad dressing

Method

  1. Pat the salmon dry and place in the smoker. Smoke according to instructions with the smoker.
  2. In the meantime, arrange the lettuce in the middle of each of 4 plates.
  3. Arrange the sliced eggs, potatoes, beans, olives, capers, and tomatoes equally among the plates.
  4. Remove the salmon from the smoker, cut into 4 equal slices and arrange on the plates.
  5. Season as needed with salt and pepper
  6. Drizzle with vinaigrette and serve immediately.

 

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YIN-YANG CHILI

In spite of the wild weather in Southern California, Peter and René braved a drive down the 5. One of their daughters is a big Harry Potter fan. The purpose of the trip was to celebrate her birthday with a visit to Universal Studios and Harry Potter Land. It turned out to be a great visit. They helped with hanging pictures and moving heavy furniture. But the highlight was the gathering around the family table at Carol’s house. The star offering before dinner was what Carol called a cheese tart. There will be more about it in a later post, but it was beautiful and delicious with layers and layers of filo (and butter) filled with four different cheeses and then baked.

Dinner turned out to be a wonderful gathering with simple food and lots of laughter. Carol specifically wanted to keep it simple, so she made a salad and chili. She asked me to make something else because she planned to cook her chili without onions in deference to her and her allium-averse family. I could appease the onion lovers. She wound up making black bean chili with tender chunks of beef rather than the usual ground beef. So I decided to cook white chili with chicken and white beans. The result posed a dilemma for some of the folks around the table: they couldn’t choose between black and white; they wound up opting for both. I made some southern buttermilk cornbread, and Carol made a delicious lemonade birthday cake for the celebrant. It was an outstanding family gathering, and no one wanted to break it up, but Harry Potter beckoned early in the morning. It was a long drive across LA.

Here’s the recipe for White Chili. There are those in our family who cannot tolerate any spiciness, so this recipe uses only mild green chiles. But you can pep it up with hot green chiles or hot sauce. You can also put a bottle of hot sauce on the table so that each person can adjust according to his or her preference.yin-yang

RECIPEimg_0899

White Chili

Ingredients

  • 1 pound great northern beans
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 large boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 large carrot cut into thirds
  • 1 stalk celery, cut into thirds
  • ½ large onion
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 7 ounce can chopped green chiles
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • Siracha, to taste (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal

Method

  1. The night before, place the beans in 2 quarts of water to which has been added the baking soda. Bring to the boil, boil for 2 minutes, cover, and remove from the heat. Let the beans soak overnight.
  2. In a large cooking pot, place the chicken breasts in the chicken stock along with the carrot, celery, and onion. Bring to the boil. Boil gently for 25 – 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a plate. Cool and strain the cooking liquid, and set aside. Rinse and dry the pot.
  3. Heat the oil in the clean pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions, stir, and cover. Sweat for 5 minutes. Do not brown the onions. Add the green chiles and cook, uncovered for an additional 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for another few minutes to remove the raw taste of the flour. Add the reserved cooking liquid along with the garlic powder and cumin. Crumble the oregano between your hands and add to the pot. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  4. Drain the beans and stir into the soup. Return to the boil and boil slowly until the beans are tender.
  5. Cut the chicken into ½ inch cubes and add to the mixture. Adjust the seasoning again. Add the optional Siracha to taste.
  6. Stir in the cornmeal and simmer for another 5 minutes until the soup is thickened.
  7. Serve immediately. You may wish to add garnishes such as Fritos chips, chopped onion, chopped cilantro leaves, grated cheddar or Monterey jack cheese, and sour cream.

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EXPLORING FOOD IN SAN FRANCISCO

I’ve discovered that Californians like to identify significant landmarks with “The” tacked on to the front. This last week, we visited our children and their families in The Bay Area. To get there, we drove up The 405 (Interstate Highway 405) and then The 5 (Interstate Highway 5). We stopped at my son’s house in Silicon Valley (Why no “The”?) and then up The 101 to stay with my daughter in The Presidio. We didn’t visit The Mission or The Tenderloin, but you get the idea. Of course, in Texas, alums are adamant that you know that they were graduated from The University (of Texas at Austin, of course.)

A visit to San Francisco always means we will do a lot of eating, so we went prepared, and we were not disappointed. This post will describe some of the places where we ate. You will probably not have heard of most of them. San Francisco is filled with temples of fine dining that you already know about. They all get lots of publicity, so they don’t need any more. The places we visited on this trip are neighborhood spots in parts of the city away from tourist meccas like Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, or Golden Gate Park and Golden Gate Bridge. The food may not be as fancy as in the high-end restaurants, but it is every bit as delicious.

Of course, one of our stops was Rich Table in Hayes Valley. Sarah joined us at the dinner table while Evan worked as expediter at the pass. He used the opportunity to send us one of everything on the menu. Lucky – and stuffed – us. RT is known for its changing menu of cocktails. One thing they like to do is to put a twist on the old classics. The Southern Belle is a delicious variation on the whiskey sour, The Jefferson is a dressed up old fashioned, and the Paradisi is a refreshing spin on the margarita. Probably next week the choices will be completely different. One of the appetizers was described as fried chicken madeleines with Tsar Nicoulai caviar and crème fraiche. The madeleines were made with bits of crispy chicken skin and tasted of fried chicken. I have never before had a savory madeleine. Pork shank spring rolls looked like regular spring rolls, but the filling was seasoned so differently and so elegantly that they were unique. They were paired with black garlic dipping sauce. Black garlic can’t be compared with regular garlic; it has a rich and complex flavor. French onion dip was as far removed from the Lipton’s onion soup variety as you can get. Besides, it was topped with trout roe and wheatgrass and served on a crisp wafer of lavash. For just a bite, pomelo wedges were combined with sansho pepper and wrapped in thin ribbons of hearts of palm. Very tasty and very refreshing. Miyagi oysters in their zebra-stripe shells came from Marin, and were served with a toasted sunchoke mignonette. There was more and more, but I have to describe the desserts as well. We had three different ones. The big hit had just come on the menu. It was described as coconut cake with lime meringue and brown-butter ice cream, but it was so much more than that. There is an even newer dessert, but we didn’t get to taste it because Sarah was still working out the recipe. It’s called the Rich Table Candy bar. The components include chocolate cremeaux, pecan butter crunch, and sorrel. The pecans are caramelized and then toasted to give an ethereal crunch. Sarah sent me a picture.

The next day we checked out the space for Sarah and Evan’s new venture, RT Rotisserie. The future restaurant is in the next block, and they have completely renovated the interior. They hope that they will be up and running in a month or so. Renovations always take longer than you think.

While we were in the neighborhood, we decided to have lunch in a bakery and pastry shop just across the street from Rich Table. The place is called 20th Century Café; it is owned by a woman who has been the pastry chef in a number of high-end, high-pressure kitchens. She knows what she is doing. When you enter the front door, you immediately get the subtle joke. The place is retro from the antique sconces on the wall to the marble-topped tables and mismatched chairs. Most of the menu items are updated versions of old timey classics, and the pastries are like those that you remember from your childhood. They make their own bagels so you know that they are fresh while still being retro. The owner goes along with her own joke. Her red hair is done in bangs and she has bright red lipstick. She wears a frilly flowered dress with matching necklace, and her feet are shod in low high heels and bobby sox. We enjoyed the perfectly cooked baked eggs and “everything” bagels with salmon and a schmear of cream cheese. Three of us shared a slice of the impossibly 10-layered Russian honey cake. Honey was the predominant flavor, but it was not overpowering.

Another day we spent in Outer Richmond. We did just a quick pass down Balboa Street. Outer Richmond is one of the many San Francisco neighborhoods that are rich with small restaurants and a dizzying choice of cuisines. In a single block on Balboa one could choose pho, bánh mi (separate shops), two kinds of Italian, Thai, Chinese, American, Indian, Middle Eastern, French, and probably several others. For our first stop was at an eclectic café called Cassava that specializes in breakfast and in eggs. It also turned out to be a good choice for lunch. The fried egg and avocado sandwich was delicious, with a runny-yolk egg peeking out from the toasted bread. The Randwich! was a hunk of focaccia filled with turkey, cheddar cheese, pesto, and a poached egg – similar ingredients, but a totally different flavor profile. The baked burrata and summer squash was creamy but it reminded me a bit of queso fundido without the chorizo. It was delicious, and with a glass of wine to wash it down, it was outstanding. The evening menu sounds to be much more adventuresome, with braised beef cheeks, salmon, octopus, and fish collar.

Next we stopped by the Marla Bakery because we were out of bread and had enjoyed one of their loaves earlier in the week. The store front caught my eye because of the artistic display of an enormous selection of artisanal breads. Once inside, we bought a loaf of sprouted wheat and another of sourdough. It was not our intention to sit down. But hey, how can you pass up a slice of chocolate cake? We didn’t.

Before we headed home, we stopped back in Silicon Valley to say goodbye to my son and his family. Peter, Susan, and I had lunch at the Cuisinett. This little bistro on the main street of San Carlos gives a fond nod to France. Many of the decorative posters are in French, several of the wait staff speak French, an impressive wine list is French, and the menu is definitely French comfort food. I had the French steak sandwich with brie and excellent frites, Peter had the salmon Provençal special, and Susan chose a delicious soup.

Then it was home. It rained every day while we were in the Bay Area. Apparently it rained every day in LA. When we drove by the San Luis Reservoir on Pacheco Pass it was filled nearly to the brim – something I had never seen. The same was true at Pyramid Lake just before you head down the Grapevine into the LA Basin. I hope that neither reservoir will have the tragic problems they are experiencing at Oroville.img_0888

 

 

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BAKED WONTONS

The Sunday family dinner with Carol and her family has become a regular thing. Carol always comes up with interesting and delicious things to cook. In general, she has also tried to make things that are relatively simple so that she and the family can spend most of Sunday on the beach or at one or another family activity. Still, that puts the pressure on me to come up with something that is easy and tasty – with the added requirement that it is not a repeat of one of our earlier menus. This last week my assignment was appetizer and dessert. For dessert I made a mixed berry galette. I have included the recipe in an earlier post, but I had never made it for our family dinners, so its inclusion seemed legitimate. Berry galette bakes up beautifully and has the fresh, sweet taste of spring (even though it’s winter) I have made the recipe a number of times. My most important insight is that you should bake the galette on a parchment or Silpat lined jelly roll pan and NOT a cookie sheet. No matter how hard you try to seal the crust around the berries, some of the juice well leak out. If you have no sides to the baking pan, they will spill into the oven creating a lot of smoke and a huge cleanup project.

For the appetizer, I was looking for something simple and tasty. There is a recipe for deep-fried cheese-filled wonton wrappers in our family cookbook which served as the beginning idea. A search of the internet revealed a large number of versions of filled wontons, baked or fried, lots of fillings, often centered on crab. Since some of the family have an aversion to crab (How is that possible?), that was out. One of our diners has a great affinity for goat cheese. That was in. I picked shrimp, spinach, and mushrooms as other good stuffing ingredients.

These wontons are basted in olive oil and baked rather than deep-fried. I’m not sure if that cuts back on the calories, but it makes one feel more righteous. Our family recipe just calls for the wonton wrapper to be folded over the filling into a triangle. That seems dull. This version pulls the corners of the wonton wrapper into a little pyramid that bakes up with a golden crust. They look difficult to make. Actually, they are just as easy as the boring triangles

There was enough filling for 40 to 60 individual baked wontons. At the end of the evening there were none left. I call that success.

RECIPE

Baked Wontons

Shrimp filling

Ingredients

  • ½ cup crumbled goat cheese (may substitute softened cream cheese)
  • ½ pound small (51-60/pound) shrimp (sometimes called salad shrimp), cleaned, peeled and cooked
  • zest and juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Pulse the goat cheese in a food processor until smooth.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse only until combined, leaving shrimp bits to your liking.
  3. Set aside until ready to fill the wontons.

Mushroom and spinach filling

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 crimini mushrooms, chopped coarsely
  • 4 handfuls fresh baby spinach leaves
  • ½ cup goat cheese (may substitute softened cream cheese)
  • zest and juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 teaspoon Pernod
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-low heat
  2. Add the mushrooms and sauté for a few minutes until the mushrooms are cooked through. Add the spinach and cook until the spinach is completely wilted.
  3. Pulse the mixture in the bowl of a food processor until the desired consistency.
  4. Add the goat cheese and pulse until well combined. Add Pernod and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  5. Set aside until ready to fill the wontons

Baked wontons

Ingredients

  • 1 package of wonton wrappers (should have at least 60 wrappers)
  • fillings as above
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • olive oil

Method

  1. On a clean, dry surface, arrange wonton wrappers for filling.
  2. Place about 1½ teaspoons of filling in the center of each wrapper. Be careful not to overfill so that the wontons will stay sealed during baking.
  3. In a small bowl, beat the egg and water together until well combined. With your finger, trace the outer edge of a wonton with the wash. Then, pull up adjacent corners of the wonton and press together. Repeat with the other corners to form a four-sided “tent”. Make sure that the edges are all well sealed.
  4. Repeat with the remaining wontons. Repeat the entire process until you have used up all the filling or have gotten tired.
  5. Lightly oil a baking sheet with olive oil. Arrange the filled wontons so that they do not touch one another. With a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops of the wontons with more olive oil.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes in the middle of an oven pre-heated to 400°F.
  7. Cool on a rack. Serve while still warm or later reheat in a 300°F oven for no more than 5 minutes. Makes about 40-60 wontons.

 

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