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every dish has a story

Horenso No Ohitashi (Seasoned Spinach)Feb 16, 2011

My mom never needed to prod me nor threaten me with a deficiency of Popeye-sized muscles to get me to eat my spinach. Next to broccoli, this is my favorite vegetable, and I will eat it until I turn green. Of course, it helped that my mom would give my boiled spinach a sprinkle of shoyu...and you know about my salt addiction. Thanks to my friends Audrey and Kevin, I have this great cookbook which is quite simply called "The Quick and Easy Japanese Cookbook," the title of which I find funny because most Japanese home cooking is quite quick and easy if you have the right ingredients on hand. At any rate, these recipes are -- as the title suggests -- simple and fast, and among them I found a one that reminds me of the shoyu-drizzled spinach of my youth, with a few grown-up touches. And I just happened to have all of the ingredients for this one in my pantry/crisper, so it found its way into my mackerel-experimentation meal, somewhat on the fly. For the recipe, read on.

OkazuJan 20, 2011

In Japanese, okazu means a side dish intended to accompany rice...which could really represent anything you eat in Japan because rice is such a staple. But in my grandmother's day, okazu and rice was a full meal. My great-grandmother passed away from tuberculosis when my grandma was just 8 years old, and that left her, the sole daughter, to cook for her father and six brothers. Okazu was filling, could be made from any vegetable and/or meat that happed to be available, and was all that they could afford being indentured farmers in the Sacramento Valley.

Grandma's okazu is one of my earliest flavor memories -- the broth was virtually the same, regardless of the main ingredients -- and it's a tradition my mom continued throughout my childhood for fast, easy dinners, especially on cold nights. Generally, we eat okazu with pork sirloin and vegetables ranging from nappa cabbage to Chinese long beans to cauliflower. Tonight, we had pork and nappa okazu to accompany a New York strip steak...normally, I attribute such a large meal to my bottomless pit-of-a-husband (as my hairdresser says: "I wish I had his metabolism"), but I have to say that with such a nostalgic meal, I was the glutton tonight! For the recipe, read on.

Shishito PeppersJan 08, 2011

A few months ago, we ate a really...well, it was a meal -- at Hog & Rocks in the Mission (you can read about it in my Yelp review). But one of the really memorable items on the menu was their roasted shishito peppers. They were just spicy enough and just salty enough that I just...couldn't...stop...eating them. Kind of like those damned tortilla chips and salsa at Chevy's. I figured they must be easy to make, and they seemed to pair nicely with my izakaya-style meal tonight. With no room in oven (thanks to warming karaage), I did mine in a grill pan which still worked out quite nicely. For the recipe, read on.

Mac and CheeseOct 25, 2010

Another straight-from-Food Network find is this mac and cheese recipe, courtesy of Barefoot Contessa. I pretty much love anything Ina Garten concocts, but there are certain classics -- such as roasted chickens, salad dressings, soups, and baked pastas -- where you really can't go wrong with her recipes. This mac and cheese recipe is one such example. Aside from burning your roux, I don't think there is a single thing you can do to ruin this dish, and there are so many iterations: throw in some chicken, cooked broccoli or spinach, Spam (yes, I love the stuff), bacon, or anything else you have lying around your fridge, and you have a complete meal. Here, I prepared it as a side dish to sauteed pork chops, so I kept it simple with just a topping of tomatoes and bread crumbs.

Mapo DoufuOct 04, 2010

One of my favorite dishes of all time is mapo doufu.  A fiery hot tofu casserole that leaves your lips tingling hours later (think DuWop Lip Venom!), it's also richly flavored with many difficult-to-isolate flavors. After trying it for the first time at Spices in the Richmond District, I quickly researched recipes and added it to my early repertoire. But the flavors I was searching for eluded me. I could taste the ginger and garlic -- that part was easy. My next quest was for fermented, salted black beans which I found after scouring the aisles in Sunset Super. Many recipes also called for sichuan peppercorns, which were difficult to find, so I summarily dismissed that ingredient, assuming that I could recreate the flavor with regular black pepper. This assumption, I later realized, was terribly wrong.

On Sunday, after researching a few more recipes online, I headed out to Sunset Super to search for this spice. Finally, among the dried beans, fungus, and star anise, I found a one-pound bag of these curious-looking pods. I took my prize home. And now my mapo doufu is about 90% of the way there. I have noted my future adjustments after the recipe. For the recipe, read on.

Broccoli in Oyster SauceOct 04, 2010

I have been on a bit of a green veggie kick lately. As often as I cook, I never seem to have the time or energy to devote to adding a vegetable to the table. Even throwing together a basic arugula salad feels like one step too many right before we sit down to eat. So whether it's guilt, my new-found open schedule, or vegetable withdrawal, I have made a serious attempt to add some color to the plate. Last night, I offset the fiery hotness of some mapo doufu with a basic broccoli in oyster sauce stir-fry. The crispness of the broccoli and sweetness of the sauce helped extinguish the heat, even if my lips tingled for hours after the meal. Read on for the recipe.

Salted Fish and Chicken Fried RiceOct 03, 2010

My first job out of college, I got paid $28K a year to be an assistant media planner at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. They had been hiring like mad that year, so by the time I started, they had run out of cubicles, and my desk was relegated to the hallway just outside the fire exit. Within a few days, I had found this awesome Chinese restaurant that did a killer salted fish and chicken fried rice, so crunched for time one afternoon, I got it to go and eagerly sat down at my sad little desk in the hallway to chow down on one of the only delicacies that $28K a year could buy me. Within minutes, the occupants of the offices around me began sticking their heads out of their doors with looks of disgust scrawled across their faces. "What IS that??!!" one Account Director gasped. "It smells like FEET!" I knew at once that my career in advertising was coming to an abrupt and bitter end. Luckily, the lady next door to him was Chinese, and she ran to my aid, exclaiming "Salted fish? That's my favorite!" My thoughts exactly. So for this recipe, I pay homage to her for saving my career. Read on for the recipe.

Spaghettini with Cherry Tomatoes, Garlic, and ProsciuttoAug 31, 2010

In preparation for last night's dinner of our new favorite pasta, I asked Dave to stop by the grocery store on his way home to pick up prosciutto and cherry tomatoes. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), Molly Stone's ran out of the 4-oz. packs of deli meat and pint-sized containers of tomatoes, so we ended up with a pound and two pounds, respectively! So to make sure that it didn't go to waste, I whipped up another pasta using some of the leftovers. Now if I can just figure out what to do with the other 8 oz. of prosciutto...

For the recipe, keep reading.

Mul KimchiAug 25, 2010

Being Korean American, Dave loves his kimchi. I have learned to enjoy its sour-spiciness, but sometimes I just want a good pickled cabbage or radish to go with my kalbi. Enter mul kimchi. Literally "water kimchi," it's a refreshing, tangy, crunchy bite in between mouthfuls of charred meat and fluffy rice. It's also just slightly spicy, thanks to the seeded chiles that are sprinkled in with the other ingredients.

Read on for the recipe.

Miyuk Guk (Korean Seaweed Soup)Aug 02, 2010

My first encounter with miyuk guk dates back to about 2003: Dave and I were living in Mountain View, and we were fortunate to live near several great Korean restaurants, including Palace BBQ: an all-you-can-eat mecca of smoky-sweet kalbi, bulgolgi, dak gui...and virtually anything else you could wish for. One buffet line was devoted to the raw, marinated meat, another held roughly 30 types of banchan (side dishes), and the table in the back served the mundane -- but necessary -- rice and soup. The first few visits we focused our efforts primarily on the meats and banchan, but on the fourth visit, I wandered past the soup tureens to see if there was anything I was missing.

And then I found it: an enormous vat of dark green, rich-smelling broth imbued with undulating strands of wakame seaweed and bits of tender beef. I scooped up two bowls, and a love was born. Fortunately, it's incredibly easy to make, so on cold nights (as most are here in San Francisco), I can whip up a pot to serve alongside our favorite meats or even for a simple dinner with rice and the ubiquitous banchan. Read on for the recipe.


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