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every dish has a story

Turkey Pot PieJan 08, 2012

This holiday season came and went like the whirlwind it always is, and I sit here in the aftermath realizing that I have plenty of recipes to catch up on. So let's take a mini jaunt down memory lane to Thanksgiving, shall we?

Being the lucky recipient of my family's turkey carcass, I ended up with about 6 quarts of homemade stock, most of which sits in the freezer waiting for a chilly night when turkey noodle soup is a quick solution to the question "What's for dinner?" Unfortunately for the stock but quite happily for the rest of us San Franciscans, warm weather has taken up temporary residence in these parts, so soup has been on the back burner, so to speak. But back in late November when temps were still brisk in the low 50s (here, my East Coast friends may shout whatever expletives come to mind), comfort foods were definitely on the brain.

Purists will say that a pot pie must be just that: a pie complete with buttery, flaky crust on the top and the bottom. I get it (admission: I love Marie Calendar's frozen chicken pot pies dumped on a pile of hot white rice), but (1) who has time to whip up pie dough on a weeknight?, and (2) it's hardly a light meal. So I substituted store-bought puff pastry for the crust and focused on a rich, hearty filling for my turkey pot pie. For the recipe, read on.

CarnitasOct 10, 2011

Ah, pork. Be it crispy golden tonkatsu, softly simmered chile verde, or even a perfectly pan-fried chop, I can't get enough of the other white meat. At the forefront of my porcine passion: carnitas: that tender, flavorful pork crisped at the edges by a hot bath in its own fat. Surprisingly, recipes are bountiful for such a simple dish. I've seen preparations involving braising, roasting, and deep-frying in a backyard turkey fryer, and an exponential number of seasonings, from a healthy dash of salt to a myriad of unconventional ingredients. In the end, it depends on personal preference, and I like my carnitas about as simple as can be with a little Mexican oregano and orange notes to highlight the sweetness of the meat. As for condiments, the more the merrier, but I tend to enjoy pork the most with "green" flavors (tomatillo salsa verde and guacamole), pickled red onions, and salty cotija cheese with homemade corn tortillas, fresh radishes, black beans, and rice on the side. For my recipe, read on.

Spaghetti With Fried Eggs and PangritataJul 10, 2011

I believe there are two types of pasta sauce people: those who gravitate toward tomato-based sauces, and those who fiend for butter and dairy. You may spike your sauce with something special, be it some chili flakes in arrabiata, olives in puttanesca, or pancetta in carbonara, but if you are a serious carb-loader, I'm pretty sure that you'll fall into one of the two camps. As surely as I am left-handed, I belong to Team Dairy. This affiliation can often be inconvenent in light of my lactose intolerance, but as easy as it was to give up ice cream, it has been impossible to say goodbye to cheese. Some nights when I am eating alone, I will boil up some spaghetti, sizzle a few fresh sage leaves in butter and olive oil, and toss it all together with Parmesan. If I'm feeling particularly daring, I'll fry up an egg to give my pasta a happy little party hat. But I've been looking for a new recipe to turn that quick weeknight staple into an elegant meal for two.

Recently, I uncovered this gem on Food52, a recipe site with a collection of truly amazing user-submitted, editor-curated recipes. Not only does this one contain the holy trinity of butter, cheese, and yolky eggs, it's topped with a lemony rosemary-breadcrumb crunch and a sprinkle of capers to make you pucker. I've upped Rhonda's recipe to feed four (or, in this household, two), but it's also easy enough to make on my nights alone! For the recipe, read on.

Crisp-Skin Herb Roasted ChickenMay 19, 2011

Nothing's simpler, easier, or more perfect than a dinner of a whole chicken, roasted in your oven. So they say.

I have to say, it took me years to figure out how to roast a chicken. I followed every no-fail recipe out there — from Martha to Ina to Alton to Jacques — and they all failed me, time and time again. I followed their instructions on temperature, trussing, stuffing, basting, and roasting time, and yet I always ended up with a sad little chicken with an assortment of over- and underdone parts. Profanity, flying objects, sulking, hair-pulling (my own, thankfully), and oaths to never again touch a frickin' chicken usually ensued. That is, until I discovered butterflying.

I'm not sure what possessed me to try this one Cook's Illustrated recipe (oh yeah, must have been the word "crisp-skin"), but by the time it found its way to my counter, I was definitely questioning my abilities as a cook. So I sighed resignedly, just knowing that defeat rested on the other side of my oven door. And then the shock of my life (OK, perhaps the third greatest behind my husband's marriage proposal and finding out I was being joined by my first and only sibling when I was 12): it was P-E-R-F-E-C-T.

Aside from needing to hack the backbone out of the poor bird and break its little birdie breastbone, it was quite simple, provided I gave myself enough time for the brining and the roasting. It's also much easier to break down into parts for serving when it's flattened out like an open book. So now I pass my no-fail roast chicken recipe on to you, in the hope that it can save you from a patchy scalp and mouthful of soap. For the recipe, read on.

Clams "Provençal"Apr 22, 2011

When my brother was 7, he ODed on clams. One afternoon, my mom had trudged up to the Clement Street seafood market for a large bucket of bivalves to feed the four of us, and since his dinner time was several hours before the rest of us, she cooked up a batch for him when she returned home. It was a healthy portion (for an adult, let alone a 7-year-old), but ten minutes after sitting down to eat, he walked into the kitchen holding his bowl to announce that those clams were really good, and could he have some more? So another batch went into the sauté pan and out to the dining room. Ten minutes later, there he was again, clutching his empty bowl and asking for more. Fast forward another 30 minutes, and all the clams were gone. As was his enthusiasm for them. To my knowledge, he hasn't eaten a clam since.

To this day, every time I find fat little Manila clams at the store, I hoard them with the ludicrous notion that I need to eat them before the spirit of my 7-year-old brother comes into the kitchen and scarfs them down. 99 Ranch always seems to have great, lively clams — they spit and spray as I pluck them out of their water bath — so last week while I was there picking up some pork belly for my Momofuku-style pork buns redo, I bought about 2.5 pounds for dinner that night. I simmered them in a smoky, Provençal-style broth and served them with crusty bread and potato leek soup, and we definitely didn't need to worry about running out. For the recipe, read on.

Hawaiian BreakfastApr 16, 2011

When I was a kid, we would go to Hawaii just about every summer because for us fogged-in San Franciscans, it was our opportunity to get consistent (warm) sunshine for more than one day. Most of the time, we stayed in condos because they were more economical, and I looked forward to breakfast because it meant one thing: Apple Jacks. Or Corn Pops. Or Cocoa Puffs, for that matter. I was never allowed sugary cereal at home, and vacations (or trips to Grandma and Grandpa's house) were the only chance I had to infuse my diet with more sugar than you'd find in the nearby cane fields. These days, the only time I eat that stuff is for dessert (and I do admit picking up a box at the grocery store from time to time just for that purpose), but I still have fond memories of the excitement I experienced waking up that first morning in Hawaii thanks to the Capt'n Crunch awaiting me in the kitchen.

It probably wasn't until I was about 10 that I discovered the other Hawaiian breakfast. You know, the kind that real Hawaiians invented and eat. Really, Hawaiian breakfast foods are quite diverse because of the richness of cultures that infuse the islands. In some households, kimchi may be a constant condiment. In others, a piece of raw or cooked fish is a fixture. Other folks can't do without some Portuguese sausage. In my heart, Hawaiian breakfast will always mean rice, fried eggs, and Spam.

My family has never had an aversion to Spam. Sure, we buy the low sodium variety (which is still off-the-charts high in salt...that's why it's so GOOD!!). But I guess having parents who are from the generation born around World War II means that we have never been afraid to eat mystery meat out of a can. I remember eating Spam, rice, and vegetables for dinner which usually meant finding Spam and mustard sandwiches packed in my lunch bag the next day. These days, we eat Spam in our kimchi jjigae or kimchi bokkeumbap (thank goodness I found a partner who shares my love for this delicacy). But the simplicity of a few slices of Spam alongside a scoop of rice and a couple of runny-yolk eggs is heavenly. I'm not providing a recipe, for as long as you can cook rice and open a pull-top can, you can have a hearty breakfast like this one in 10 minutes.

Niu Rou Mian (Spicy Beef Noodle Soup)Mar 09, 2011

It's amazing the difference between what you learn at college versus what you learn and retain during those four years. I went to (some) classes, took exams, and came out the other end with a degree, but can I solve the limit of a function when x approaches a constant or recall the dates and significance of the Han Dynasty? Sorry. I do remember all of the places I could use my student ID to buy meals on campus and who played point guard my freshman year (Anwar McQueen). And the first time I had niu rou mian was when Dave and I first started dating, and he took me to Taste of Taipei in the Durant Food Court for one of his favorite dishes. Our palates (and stomachs) demonstrated incredible tolerance back then.

Of course, if we went there today, we'd wonder what we were thinking. But for a couple of college kids who were accustomed to eating instant ramen, Jack-in-the-Box tacos, and sorority-house salad bars, it was heavenly. Later, we discovered the nuanced styles and varieties of niu rou mian at Queen House in Mountain View (fiery chili) and Spices in the Richmond District (numbing peppercorn) who both put Taste of Taipei to shame. But all had a few key ingredients: star anise, ginger, onions, soy sauce, and loads of tender beef. Mine has all of the above plus a bunch of tomatoes which really deepens the flavor of the broth. Not a bad evolution considering it all began at a dirty hole in the wall near Telegraph Avenue. For the recipe, read on.

Tennessee Whiskey Pork LoinMar 01, 2011

My Grandpa was from Tennessee. I think my dad mentioned something about the Blue Ridge Mountains and that he lived in Nashville for a time. Unfortunately, I haven't had the opportunity to visit the state of his birth (funnily enough, my dad and my husband visited Knoxville together for the Cal-Tennessee football game...they said the people were unbelievably welcoming but that stadium full of orange was the scariest sight they have ever laid eyes upon), but maybe I have a little bit of Tennessee in me because I read this recipe in my BBQ cookbook and had to make it.

Now, I have no qualms about cooking with alcohol: a splash of brandy in lobster risotto or shao xing rice wine in dumpling filling, a half-cup of sake in miso sauce for fish or wine in my duck ragù -- heck, a bottle of wine in my shortribs. But by the time these porky suckers were ready to go on the grill, I had used nearly 2 cups of JD. If I drank that amount instead of letting it burn off over the flames, I would be hanging out the car window on my way to the emergency room. Needless to say, I was daunted.

Some learnings from this effort:

  1. Get yourself a good grill man. In our household, I don't touch the grill. The hubby might be afraid of the stove, but he is a whiz kid with the grill (just don't let him watch the NBA Finals and grill at the same time...sometime ask him about the $40 Porterhouse Disaster of '10).
  2. Be prepared to get messy. When it comes to cooking, I'm kind of like Phil Hartman's Anal Retentive Chef. All waste materials have their own place (compost, recycling, trash); everything gets wiped up as I cook. By the time I had trussed up these piggies, I was up to my elbows in rub and fillings, and some had even dripped over the side of the counter and down my legs. As soon as you fold over the other half of the pork, everything gushes out the sides, so make sure you have a large, contained work space.
  3. Make your own BBQ sauce. It's sooooo worth it.
  4. I'm not sure if it was the whiskey or the 10 other ingredients, but this pork loin was BAD ASS (all caps and expletives required). It's sweet, spicy, tangy, and smoky all in one bite. The author of my cookbook (Steven Raichlen's BBQ USA) merged together a few different recipes he gathered on his travels throughout Tennessee, and if this is the end result, then I'd better buy some bigger pants before my first visit.

For the recipe, read on.

Duck RagùFeb 17, 2011

Recently, I got to pretend to be a member of the ladies-who-lunch set with a partner in crime. Jess and I tried out Cotogna over a late lunch and cocktails, and in between the kale sformato, halibut tartare, and sea urchin-and-cauliflower pizza, we had a delicious plate of braised rabbit pappardelle. The plump chunks of rabbit just melted in your mouth and contrasted nicely with the just-chewiness of the fresh pasta. YUM.

It reminded me of a recipe I found via Epicurious for duck ragù, so with a quick trip to Molly Stone, dinner was underway. It's actually remarkably simple; it just takes a while because you have to let the duck breast render some of that amazing fat in to the pan and then simmer all of the ingredients together to infuse it throughout. The recipe calls for a heavy skillet, but I like to use my Le Creuset 5 qt. Dutch oven to retain all the moisture and flavor. For the recipe, read on.

Saba No Miso Ni (Miso-Simmered Mackerel)Feb 15, 2011

I'm really not a fan of mackerel. And that's saying something, because I generally like and will eat anything that no longer moves or breathes. But fishy fish have never been a favorite of mine, and while that goes against my love of gamey meats and other strong flavors, I have been perfectly happy to steer clear of mackerel and herring and cod. But while Dave was on a business trip in NYC, I took the opportunity to experiment with some foods that I normally won't touch. Nijiya had some nice looking mackerel fillets (even though I don't eat it, I can still appreciate a lovely fish steak when I see one), so that sealed the deal.

It's interesting how certain flavors can so effectively tone down others. That's why your local sushi chef will often serve saba nigiri with some grated ginger and slivered green onions -- they cut that metallic fishiness. Same goes for miso. After simmering the fillets in a shoyu-based broth and then finishing with some red (aka) miso, the fishiness was gone! I added a few shiitakes while the fish was simmering, but root veggies woould work well, too. For the recipe, read on.

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