Thursday, May 27, 2010

More Adventurous - Daikon Radish Salad with Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette

When it comes to how we see ourselves, there's always the possibility of a disconnect between who we are, and who we would like to be. I would like to be a more adventurous, spontaneous person. I am in awe of people who are both of those things nearly all the time. But in reality, I know myself to be a person that is terrified of many things that might be considered adventurous. Jumping out of airplanes for example. Bungie Jumping. Anything having to do with the combination of great heights and jumping from them. Even scuba diving, which in all honesty, I would love to try someday, but the truth is, it scares me to death. I have only recently conquered my fear of snorkeling (I had issues with the idea of fish getting too close, or rather, me getting to close to them) so I'm taking this fear step by step.

When it comes to sushi, I have learned it pays to be adventurous. I know this. I've known it since I moved to the Bay Area in 2004 and my friend Derek introduced me to Uni, Sea Urchin. It took two vodka tonics to even get anywhere near the briny, alien looking form on the plate, but with the help of some liquid courage, I conquered my fear, and learned that I in fact, LOVE uni. The taste, both salty and mild, the strangely unfamiliar texture? Love. It.

After having been in a sushi rut at the delightfully cozy sushi place, Mitama, which sits exactly 1/2 block from my apartment (bliss.) I ended up there one evening after work with Leah and Lauren, and was introduced to my new favorite. I went for my usual (always 2 pieces of hamachi nigiri and one roll with maguro) and Leah ordered a Daikon Radish Salad that I had never tried. One taste and I was hooked. I spent the rest of the evening doing my best to restrain my chopsticks from bogarting her entire salad.

It struck me how easy it would be to make at home. And so that's exactly what I did. Thinly sliced daikon radish and cucumber, combined with carrot and yellow bell pepper, drenched in a sesame ginger vinaigrette. It's love between this salad and I. I'm quite sure of it.

This is not to say that I've entirely broken out of my sushi rut. This past weekend I had only added the salad to my usual. Oh well. Next time. Next time I'll find my next new favorite.

Daikon Radish Salad with Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette

1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1 1/2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp canola oil or grapeseed oil
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 large daikon radish, peeled and thinly sliced into matchsticks
1/2 carrot, peeled and sliced into thin matchsticks
1/2 cucumber, sliced into thin matchsticks
1/4 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 tsp or so toasted sesame seeds for garnish
salt and pepper to taste

In a bowl, whisk together the ginger, oils, vinegar and soy sauce. Peel the radish and carrot, and slice all the vegetables into thin matchsicks. Toss all the vegetables in the bowl with the vinaigrette, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with toasted sesame seeds.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Reinvention - Asparagus Salad - Raw & Roasted

I was talking with a friend recently about reinvention, and how often and unexpectedly it happens. Like that song you've heard so many times...the one that takes on a whole new light when it happens to be the one playing in the background when you have your first kiss with someone you eventually grow to love. The last dish you make for your Grandfather. The stretch of beach where a dear friend is married.

Those things become the maps to our inner-lives. The markers of where and who we were, until something happens to change the way we see or think about something.

It's funny, how those things happen so unexpectedly. All it takes is one memory associated with a previously innocuous thing, and suddenly it's endowed with meaning and memory. It's why I never skip a certain Pearl Jam or Elliott Smith song when they make their way through my headphones, and why just seeing the words "Shrimp Louie" on a menu can make me tear up. It's both lovely, and bittersweet. You never know what that unsuspecting object, song or dish might become to you in the future.

It's spring in the Bay Area, and that means asparagus at the farmer's market. Last year I was all about the thick purple stocks, this year, I'm leaning towards the pencil-thin green ones. The normal go-to recipe is to roast the whole bunch, but I was feeling adventurous. I decided to try a salad of asparagus two ways: roasted and raw, tossed with lemon and olive oil, and shaved Parmesan mixed in. Skeptical of raw asparagus? So was I. But don't pass it up. I used a vegetable peeler to peel off long, thin strips. The combination is surprising and delicious. Asparagus...but reinvented.

Asparagus Salad - Raw & Roasted

1 bunch asparagus
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces or so shaved Parmesan
sea salt & freshly ground pepper
fresh lemon zest for garnish

Pre-heat the oven to 425. Roast about 2/3 of the bunch of asparagus for about 20 minutes, until the ends are crispy and brown. Peel the other 1/3 of the bunch into long strips using a vegetable peeler. Whisk the lemon juice and olive oil together with a fork. Once the roasted asparagus is done, toss both roasted and raw together in a bowl with the vinaigrette. Plate, and top with shaved Parmesan, sea salt, pepper and lemon zest.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Transformation - Roasted Radishes

Lately I've been thinking about transformations. Specifically, about how to make them occur. Can change really occur with a simple shift in attitude? And if that doesn't work, what do you do next? What do you do when you feel like you are more than ready to make big changes in your life, and you take what feels like the necessary steps to do that, and the universe simply won't seem to throw you a bone? Do you take that as some sort of sign? Do you press on and double your efforts? Change tactics? And what about people, and that age old question...can people really change?

I admit, I feel like I'm in a rut. I'm out of ideas and I don't know what the next step is. I need something to work out. One thing. Something to encourage me, and maybe point me in the right direction.

I need a change for the better. I want the good things to start happening for the people I love, and for myself. 2010 has been rough so far. Enough is enough for one year.

I joked with a friend today about finding someone who can change your aura, and by that I mean someone to aid in some kind of subconscious shift in mentality. The power of suggestion. Maybe I'll burn some sage??? Learn to meditate for world peace like the dude from the Beastie Boys?

Obviously, I'm getting desperate. But the point is, I feel like I'm open to ideas. Change is good. Change is desired by this girl. Now, any suggestions?

But enough whining (it's my blog, I can do that) if I can't change my immediate situation, I can sure as hell change the state of a bunch of radishes. From bright and hard with a sharp taste to tender, muted and nutty. I am a master of transformation in my kitchen.

I was so intrigued by the idea of roasting radishes. The thought had never occurred to me before. It seemed like such a new and novel idea. They came out of the oven, onto my fork and had been magically transformed into something very much like a roasted turnip. Buttery and soft, with charred and crispy edges. I was impressed. It may sound a little crazy, but that's crazy as in delicious.

If only such a complete transformation was so easy for everything else, eh?

Roasted Radishes
adapted from Saveur

3 bunches mixed radishes
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 425. Mix the radishes in a bowl with oil, salt and pepper. If you have some fresh herbs (such as thyme) throw a few sprigs in. I had some scapes (fancy garlic) so I chopped those up and threw them in. Roast for 40-50 minutes, shaking the pan during roasting once or twice. Serve hot.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Nostalgia - Beef & Sugar Snap Pea Stir Fry

This has been a weekend packed with nostalgia. Everywhere I went, every event I attended, every song on the radio seemed to yank me back to my teenage self. Starting with Mortified on Friday at the Makeout Room in San Francisco. It's amazing how compelling it is to hear people read their junior high and high school diaries onstage in front of hundreds of people. How hilarious and poignant the angst of those torturous years becomes over time. If you've never seen Mortified before (the events are hosted all over the country) I highly recommend that you go. It's totally cathartic. If only I'd held onto my ridiculous teenage scrawling and not destroyed it in a fit of...well...catharsis. I'm sure I could read those pages now and laugh. Crushes, homework, arch-nemesis's and radio dedications.

I think the only thing I miss is the radio dedications. I wish we still had those. And mix tapes! Actual mix tapes that you have to re-wind and flip over. Is there anything better than a well-crafted mix tape that follows a theme and tone from end to end? That is an absolute art in itself, and I personally am sorry that they've gone the way of the VHS tape. An ipod playlist just isn't the same. I wish I'd saved the tapes I made. The ones I listened to over and over again. I wish I had the ones I sheepishly gave to whomever I was crushing on at the time, hoping they'd listen and pick up on the hidden meaning behind the order of songs.

Junior high. The age when spoken words are so insignificant that communication must be channeled via music and notes passed in 6th period. Le sigh. Ok, so maybe I miss the 6th period notes as well. E-mail never quite does the trick. Nothing like a hand-written note passed in secret.

I'd like to pass Melissa Clark of the NY Times a congratulatory note for publishing this recipe for Beef Stir-Fry with Sugar Snap Peas. Berkeley and Oakland are seriously lacking in decent Chinese food establishments, and forget all about trying to have it delivered. When I saw this recipe while pursuing the paper this morning, it was a like gift from above. I literally tore out of the house and down to the farmers market to grab some good ingredients. Once back at home, it all came together in about half-an-hour, and totally satisfied my Chinese food craving. I have no complaints! And I'm feeling very smug about being able to cook my own healthy version of takeout. Nothing wrong with that!

Beef & Sugar Snap Pea Stir Fry
adapted from Melissa Clark's NY Times recipe

1/2 lb lean grass-fed beef, cut into 1/2 inch strips
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp dark sesame oil
pinch of kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 lb sugar snap peas, trimmed (snow peas would also work)
3 good-size green onions, chopped
3 green garlic bulbs, chopped (or 3-4 cloves regular garlic)
2/3 cups chicken broth
2 1/2 tbsp Madiera or sweet sherry
1 tbsp cornstarch
3 tbsp peanut or olive oil
toasted sesame seeds for garnish

In a medium bowl, mix beef, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Thinly slice sugar snap peas crosswise into disks. Thinly slice green onions and green garlic, reserving dark green parts for garnish.

In a small bowl, mix chicken broth, Madeira, 2 tablespoons water, remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce and cornstarch.

Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil. When pan is hot, stir-fry beef until browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer beef and any liquid to a plate.

Add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and when hot, add garlic and white and light green scallion parts until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add sugar snap peas and chicken broth mixture, lower heat to medium and cover. Let cook for 2 minutes. Transfer beef and juices to skillet and stir-fry 2 minutes. Serve over rice, garnished with more sesame oil, sesame seeds, and dark parts of scallions.

Painted Peach This Time Last Year - Popovers!

Friday, May 14, 2010

What it Takes - Roasted Mushroom & Bread Salad

I think one of the milestones of growing up must be when you choose to do the right thing, even when that is the hardest thing to do. To follow your heart, because you hold onto the belief that if you do that, you cannot be steered in the wrong direction. To do your best to handle disappointment with as much grace as you can muster. To keep looking forward, believing in possibility and opportunity and to be ready to greet those things with a heart that is wide open.

It takes a lot of strength to do those things. It takes confidence, and peace of mind in knowing that you've learned from your past, and that those lessons weren't wasted.

It takes knowing that the possibility for change only happens when you let go. Clear the decks and open up. Letting go of the control you only think you have. Nothing changes when you hold on too tight. It's a scary thing to let yourself fall. To jump into the wide open of change and possibility without a net in sight.

It's scary. But I can't help but think I'd rather grow, and change, and learn. Even when it hurts. Maybe especially when it hurts. Another opportunity to make myself stronger.

How's that for a positive attitude?

It took years before I could look a mushroom dead on. Fungus. I hated the musty little things. I would never even think of eating one. There was something so creepy about them. I couldn't really put my finger on it, but I had an extremely healthy distrust of mushrooms.

Thank goodness for change and growth. Now I can't get enough of them. Especially when they're roasted with a bit of sherry, torn off pieces of bread, tossed together with loads of herbs and topped with a dollop of creme fraiche. It's a delicious dinner that comes together in a snap. I could eat this stuff for days.

Roasted Mushroom & Bread Salad

1 lb crimini mushrooms (a blend of mushrooms would be fantastic in this)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tbsp
salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp dry sherry
1/2 lb chunky breadcrumbs
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
creme fraiche (or plain yogurt) for garnish

Pre-heat the oven to 475. Put the mushrooms into a baking dish and toss with 1/4 cup olive oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the mushrooms. Roast the mushrooms for about 20 minutes on the upper rack of the oven, toss the mushrooms once and de-glaze the dish with the 2 tbsp of sherry. Put back in the oven and roast for an additional 10 minutes, until the mushrooms have darkened and shrunk significantly.

Meanwhile, coat the breadcrumbs with the 2 tbsp of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Toast in the oven or a toaster oven. When the mushrooms and breadcrumbs are done, toss together with the herbs. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with creme fraiche and serve.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Possibility - English Pea & Pecorino Crostini with Mint

I am a planner at heart: A menu, a road trip, an evening out. When you need someone to book a reservation a month ahead of time, I am your girl. I live for that kind of thing. A hard-to-book table, the most affordable airline ticket, a unique date, an out-of-the-way beer garden in the next county or the best sandwich on Interstate 5. When it comes to planning, I am up to the task.

If only I were so confident when it comes to mapping out my life.

But I suppose that's the point of it all. I mean where's the fun in knowing everything that comes next? I'd love to meet the person who's life has gone according to plan. To be honest, it sounds fairly boring. Although I guess it would remove the sometimes anxiety-inducing uncertainty...which I admit, does sometimes sound appealing...

Uncertainty is just possibility in disguise. Isn't that what they say? I'm trying to keep that in mind as I get ready to spring into a week that has the potential to bring great change, or not. When I think about uncertainty, it tends to bring up negative connotations. But the same isn't true for possibility. Possibility, in my mind, is about the future, about looking forward to great success and happy events.

And I'll try to remember; if it's not this week that brings great change, it may be the next. Anything is possible. You just never know. Those are my positive thoughts for the day. Let's see if I can keep 'em going.

This week has already brought a ton of great scores from the Temescal Farmer's Market. I have a ton of things up my sleeve and a kitchen counter full of asparagus, fava beans, radishes and strawberries.

Also, one of my favorites, english peas.

I've got a Tarragon Chicken roasting in the oven, and I've invited Amber over for dinner, with clear instructions to bring the wine. While the chicken rests, these English Pea & Pecorino Crostini with Mint will be just the thing.

And then we'll toast to all the future possibilities.

English Pea & Pecorino Crostini with Mint

adapted from Molly Watson

2 lbs english peas, shelled
3 tbsp good quality extra-virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic
1 fresh baguette, sliced on the diagonal
Pecorino for shredding
salt & freshly ground black pepper
mint for garnish
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Bring a saucepan of water to boil and add the shelled peas. Boil for about 1 minute until slightly tender. Drain and rinse with cold water to cool the peas. Dry as best you can, and set them in a bowl. Mash peas with a fork with a touch of salt, the lemon juice and 2 tbsp of the olive oil.

Toast the bread and rub with the garlic. Discard the clove. Spread the pea-mash generously over each toast. Sprinkle with pecorino, mint and black pepper and drizzle the remaining tbsp of olive oil over the toasts. Add more salt to taste and serve.