Girl + Fire = Food
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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fried Purple Baby Artichokes

Did you know that artichokes came in little purple packages? I didn't.

Every time I go to a farmers' market, I try to stick to a few items I know I'll use that week. But every time, I also find one item that I hadn't planned on. Sometimes they're the delicious strawberries I didn't think I needed (and then ended up on the Strawberry & Goat Cheese Pizza not too long after). Other times it's an item I have absolutely never used, but they look too beautiful to pass up.

That's the story with these artichokes.

I try to hit one of the West LA Farmers' Market on Sunday mornings, but I'm usually too lazy to get out of bed in time to nab the "good stuff." Last Sunday I broke with tradition and forced myself up and out to get to a market relatively early (only 2 hours after it opened!). And that's when I spied the purple chokes. Or chokies, since they're just wee little babies.

I walked past them, smiling. I wasn't really interested, even though I've been on a purple veggie kick lately (purple potatoes and purple eggplant...yesterday I even found purple bell peppers!). But a walk back through the same aisle proved too tempting. I gave in and brought them home.

Then I scoured the internet to find what to do with them. It turns out that Greg Henry has a wonderful recipe for fried chokies, and it appears about 17 thousand times on the front page of Google. So I took that as a sign that I should make them that way.

Greg recommends trimming the chokes and then pressing them down so the flowers open up and all the fried goodness gets down to the hearts. They'll look a little like this:

Trimmed, then pressed and opened, like a flower.

He also recommends using a combo of olive and peanut oil. Since I didn't have peanut, but pomace oil has an even higher smoke point, I used it. Plus, I had it on hand.

Using a deep fry thermometer is key. I winged it when I made it for my parents, and they didn't have the same crunch factor. For all I know, I was frying them at 300 degrees instead of 360 degrees the entire time. Don't do that to yourself. Get one of these.


From Sippity Sup:

Fried Purple Chokies
Serves 4

12 baby artichokes
enough olive (or pomace) oil and/or peanut oil to deep fry (depends on your fryer)
salt and pepper
lemon wedges (optional)

1. Trim away a few of the tough outer leaves of each artichoke, Then chop off about 1/3 of the top of the artichoke and trimmed the stem down so that the artichoke will sit flat. Use your fingers to pry and prod the leaves open some. Then invert the artichoke and gently flattened it a bit more using the palm of your hand. Gently is the key word here. They break easy. Drop each artichoke in acidulated water until ready to use.

2. The first fry is to blanch only so heat your oil to 300 degree F oil. Dry the artichokes off well before continuing. Drop a few at time into the oil for about 2 minutes. Remove them to a paper towel lined plate to drain (upside down). Work in batches so that you do not crowd the fryer.

3. When you are ready to serve the artichokes raise the temperature of the oil to 360 degrees F. They will sizzle and get brown and crunchy quickly; about 2 minutes total frying time should do it. Again, work in batches, and turn them over in the oil a few times while cooking.

4. Drain them well and give them a good sprinkle of excellent salt and a bit of pepper. A little spritz of lemon juice is good too. But you MUST eat them hot to fully enjoy their textures!
Mine appear a bit overdone in comparison to Greg's pictures. But they were still tender on the inside, and crispy like potato chips on the outside. I devoured these 4 in no time.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Jalapeños en Escabeche

Simply put this is a pickled jalapeño dish. Depending on what part of the world you are in, escabeche can mean a variety of things, and spelled the same way it is pronounced a variety of ways. For our purposes, it's a vinegar and oil concoction of jalapeños.

My education on the subject started when I procured a small bag of the hot peppers. My mom suggested I make "un escabeche." Since I'm half-Mexican I should have known what that was. Instead (because I'm also half-not Mexican, or Mexican't) I Googled. And found a mess of recipes that called for sugar and vinegar and oil in varying quantities and a variety of added vegetables. My mom laughed at me and gave me her very simple breakdown:

Note: even though I put these in a plastic jar for a quick bit, they should be stored in glass or ceramic containers. The acid will leech the icky stuff out of the plastic and cause a third eye or something equally bad.

Rosita's Jalapeño Escabeche 
Yields about 1-4 pints, depending on additional vegetables

1/2 pound jalapeños
1/3 cup oil
1/2 cup vinegar (apple cider is a good choice)
1 cup water
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed (but kept whole)
1 shallot, thinly sliced
5-10 leaves of fresh oregano
5-10 black peppercorns (This was my father's contribution to the recipe. He is also not-Mexican.)
Optional ingredients: 1-2 carrots, handful of cauliflower florets, a small onion, etc (I only wanted to concentrate on the jalapeños, so I left all these out.)

1. Prepare the jalapeños any which way you want to preserve them. If you opt to keep them whole, cut a small X in the bottom of the pepper to allow the liquid to penetrate the insides. (As you can see from the picture, I kept some intact, sliced others).

2. Do a self-assessment. If you're heat-intolerant, you may want to discard the seeds. I did not follow my own advice here. The half-Mexican part of me took over the half-not Mexican and left ALL the seeds in.

3. Put all the ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Open all the windows, and keep the hood fan running because boiled vinegar is pungent.

4. Once the boiling point is reached, simmer uncovered for an hour.

5. Enjoy the pungent smell of vinegar. Or go sit outside. This step is open to interpretation, but you do have an hour to kill. I chose to talk to my mom on the phone about how my Mexican side was showing itself. She was very proud.

6. Cool your concoction then store it in a glass or ceramic container. You can put in pickling jars and do a hot water bath. They'll supposedly last longer (about a month) in the fridge. Mine have been in the fridge for a week in a simple glass container and they're already half gone. So your mileage may vary.

The liquid from this recipe can also be used separately. I've used it on pizza dough to give it a golden brown crust with a spicy kick. Or as a simple spicy vinaigrette. The options are endless.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Caramelized Scallops on a Wonton Tostada

Today's dinner was courtesy of Food Gal's Thomas Keller "Ad Hoc at Home" preview, with some inspiration drawn from Brian Boitano's scallops with mango and avocado. Who knew Brian Boitano cooked, right?

I had no idea scallops could be caramelized. I'm always afraid of overcooking them. That happened to me once in a teppanyaki restaurant and it was so very disappointing. Rubber seafood is about as bad as it comes. Worse than rubber chicken.

Reading through Food Gal's comments I found that the original recipe of 10 total of water cups and the cup of salt could be halved, especially since I was only making a small test batch just for me. I pretty much followed the directions exactly, except for using table salt (at a ratio of 2/3 cup of table salt = 1 cup kosher salt) and only having the 4 scallops instead of a pound. I also cooked them in a cast iron skillet. They came out perfectly.

It's important to note that if you attempt this dish, you should definitely read Food Gal's post first. She does a great job explaining the entire recipe.

As for the mango/avocado/wonton piece of the puzzle, I upped the Mexican factor on this. Hence the "tostada" part of the title. Brian's recipe was a great start, but I didn't want to use coconut milk. It's super fatty and I wanted something a bit more savory. In keeping with the Mexican theme, I opted for Mexican crema, which is similar to sour cream, but more liquid-like. And instead of the recommended Sriracha, I subbed in adobo sauce. Adobo (not the brand name salt & pepper mix I also used) is the sauce that canned chipotles live in. Depending on your heat tolerance, a little goes a long way. (Both Adobo and canned chipotle are available in Hispanic markets.)

This was also my first time making clarified butter for the sear. It's readily available in southeast Asian stores, but it's so simple to make, and I only needed a small amount, that I tried my hand at it. For details on how to make it, see the Asia Recipe website.

Finally, I didn't see the point in cutting the wonton wrappers into circles, so I simply fried them as squares. Yes tostadas are circular, but that's just an unnecessary step.

The sear on the scallops was unreal. And they were perfectly cooked, no rubber!

The combined recipe below was scaled down for a single serving.

Caramelized Scallops with Mango Avocado Relish over a Wonton Tostada

1/3 cup table, plus more to taste
2 cups hot water
4 cups cold water
4 jumbo scallops, tough side muscle removed from each one
About 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) clarified butter
1/2 lemon (optional)
2 cups canola oil
4 wonton wrappers
Adobo salt & pepper mix, as needed
1/4 mango, small diced
1/4 avocado, small diced
2 tablespoons crema (Mexican sour cream)
1/2 teaspoon adobo sauce (aka chipotle sauce)
1/2 lime, juiced

1. Line a small baking sheet with paper towels. Combine the 1/3 cup salt with hot water in a large bowl, stirring to dissolve the salt. Add the cold water.

2. Add scallops to the brine and let stand for 10 minutes.

3. Drain the scallops, rinse under cold water, and arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet. Cover with more paper towels and refrigerate for 1 1/2 to 3 hours (no longer, or the quality of the scallops will be affected).

4. While scallops are resting in the fridge, work on the relish and tostadas. In a medium pot, bring 2 cups canola oil to 350 degrees F. Fry the wontons in small batches until they are brown and crispy, about 2 minutes. Drain on a plate lined with a paper towel and season each with a bit of salt.

5. In a medium bowl, combine the diced mango and avocado. In another smaller bowl, whisk together the crema, hot sauce, and lime juice, and adjust the seasoning with the salt and black pepper mix, to taste. Pour half of the creamy mixture over the mango and avocado and gently toss to coat.

6. After the 1 1/2 to 3 hour rest period, heat a generous film of clarified butter in a large cast iron frying pan over medium-high heat until it ripples and begins to smoke. Sprinkle scallops lightly with salt and add them to the pan. Cook, without moving the scallops, until bottoms are a rich golden brown, 3 to 3 1/2 minutes. Turn scallops and caramelize the second side.

7. To assemble, put 1 tablespoon of the mango and avocado mixture onto a fried wonton. Top with a caramelized scallop and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice (optional) and a drizzle of the crema sauce.

This looked like a LOT of food on the plate. But when I was done, I wanted more. I don't know if it was just too little food, or it was so good it left me wanting more. I'm going with the latter.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cork Bath Mat

One of the many things that goes oh so well with food is alcohol. You can cook with it, drink it while you cook, drink it after you cook, drink it when you're not cooking. Really, the possibilities are endless!

We, meaning me, here at G+F love our wine. Any wine really. Red, white, sweet, dry. I'm open to all.

Wine's slightly more socially acceptable than our, meaning my, other alcoholic vice, whiskey, which hearkens back to a time when such spirits were prohibited.

My family also loves the wine. We have a standing weekly wine & cheese night where we try out new varieties of both. There's a running list of yeas and nays somewhere. And a LOT of discarded corks. So finding Wine Harlots's Put a Cork In It series was a bit of kismet.

And now I really want to make this bath mat.


We are now saving corks.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sweet & Sour Sauce—Now with Brown Sugar!

Since I've confessed my secret egg roll obsession, it's only fair that I also share the condiment behind the addiction: the sweet & sour sauce.

It started on a dark night...I came home from my secret and shameful drive-thru run to find that I had no sweet & sour sauce for my beloved egg rolls. Now, I like my little fried snacks, but I just can't eat them dry. So I headed into the kitchen to fix this faux pas and finagled a little white sugar magic.

I knew it could be done with brown sugar too, and let's face it: sugar in any color may not be so great for you, but this homemade dip is probably way less artery-cloggingly bad for you than the pre-packaged high fructose corn syrup variety that comes with the drive-thru egg rolls.

This is really damn good. I now eschew the fast food sauce for my own personal stash, of which there is ALWAYS a container of in the fridge. And if I happen to run out—the horror!—this whips up in a mere 5 minutes. Cheap, fast AND easy. Who said you couldn't have all three?

There would be egg rolls in this picture, but they didn't survive the photo shoot.


This comes from the About.com Chinese Food section. You can play with the ratio of sugar to vinegar to up the sweet vs sour taste. I actually prefer mine a bit tangier, so I sometimes add a bit more rice vinegar.
Sweet & Sour Sauce
Yields about 1/2 cup

1/3 cup white or rice vinegar (Note: rice vinegar gives better results)
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 4 teaspoons water

Mix the vinegar, brown sugar, ketchup, and soy sauce together and bring to a boil in a small pot. Mix together the cornstarch and water, add to the other ingredients and stir to thicken.

(If desired, you can add 1 green pepper, cut into chunks, and pineapple chunks as desired after adding the cornstarch. For a thicker sauce, increase the cornstarch to 4 teaspoons while keeping the water constant.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hot & Sour Chinese Eggplant

Chinese eggplant is a fun vegetable. As I mentioned in a previous purple-hued post, they are less bitter than the American eggplant, have a lighter color and thinner skin, and also don't remind me of all those awful eggplant parmesan dishes I've had over the years. It's like there is no other way to cook an eggplant!

Thankfully Allrecipes has a fix for that. This hot and sour sauce for Chinese eggplant is delicious. I made it for my parents and served it alongside steak and brown rice. They loved it. The only changes I made to the original recipe were the omission of the chile (not on purpose, it was an oversight), using red chili paste instead of chili oil and the pomace for the vegetable oil, of course.

You also don't need to soak the vegetable for a full 30 minutes. 10 minutes and you'll be fine.

Mmm.


Hot & Sour Chinese Eggplant
2 long Chinese eggplants, cubed
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 green chile pepper, chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon chili oil or paste, or to taste
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons pomace oil

1. Place the eggplant cubes into a large bowl, and sprinkle with salt. Fill with enough water to cover, and let stand for 10 minutes. Rinse well, and drain on paper towels.

2. In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, red wine vinegar, sugar, chile pepper (if using), cornstarch and chili oil/paste. Set the sauce aside.

3. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Fry the eggplant until it is tender and begins to brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Pour in the sauce, and cook and stir until the sauce is thick and the eggplant is evenly coated. Serve immediately.

Yields approximately 4 servings.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Twitter, Foodies & Fun

I like Twitter a lot. I get all kinds of great info about photography, event planning, and, of course, ideas for kitchen experiments from it.

At some point, I connected with Melo, a funny and vibrant tweeter who is committed to eating 5 full servings of fruits and vegetables every day. I asked her how she managed this, since this lifestyle would severely cut into my egg roll obsession.

What, you didn't know I like egg rolls? Okay yeah, I admit it. Jack in the Box has great fried egg rolls. Yes, I've come to terms with the fact that I'm probably going to die of a heart attack because of this habit. But I am not ashamed!

One of these days I'll learn to make them myself. Till then, thank god for Jack in the Box. Nom nom nom.

So back to the point: instead of tweeting me back an answer, Melo wrote me an entire blog post. It's awesome. She is, in fact, enabling my obsession. Which I appreciate.

All kidding aside, I didn't know this was a movement. The whole reason behind my kitchen experimentation was to become more conscious of what I put in my mouth, so I can totally get behind this. With that, I'd like to thank Melo for turning me on to something new. In your honor, I ate a cutie, watermelon, half an apple, some fennel, and carrots today. Almost 5 full servings. Aren't you proud?

I know you are.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Moroccan-Inspired Braised Lamb Shank

I love lamb. I've never met a piece of lamb I didn't want to stuff directly into my mouth. I have friends who find it distasteful, because they think lambs are cute and cuddly. But lambs are not plush toys, there yummy goodness.

I've never made lamb myself. And I was in the mood for Moroccan spices, so I picked up a single shank and headed to the kitchen to experiment.

Google research led me to this recipe from the appropriately named Food & Wine Test Kitchen. I followed it almost exactly, except for a few minor substitutions: pomace oil for the olive oil, quinoa for couscous, and a deep cast-iron skillet in place of an enameled casserole. And even though the original recipe calls for 4 shanks and I was only making 1, I didn't mess with the amount of the spices. I certainly didn't want a bland dish.

Oh yeah, I also didn't chop the garden-fresh herbs. Not for any good reason, I just didn't. You can though.

The recipe looks long and complicated--it really isn't. Don't be overwhelmed by the ingredient list. The recipe is written in order for making the stew, then the quinoa as that is finishing up. I also separated the ingredient list so that it's a little easier to digest.

I like puns.


Moroccan-Inspired Braised Lamb Shank
Stew:
2 tablespoons pomace oil
1 boneless lamb shank (about 6 oz)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 baby carrots, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon harissa or other chile paste
2/3 cup dry red wine
One 14-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
1 cup chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth

Quinoa:
1/4 cup slivered almonds, chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
1 tablespoon pomace oil
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1/4 cup raisins

1. Preheat the oven to 325°. In a deep cast-iron skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Season the shank with salt and pepper and brown in the skillet, about 3-4 minutes each side. Transfer to a plate, leaving the fat in the skillet.
 
2. Add the onion, carrots and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg and cook, stirring until lightly toasted, about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and harissa/chile paste and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in the wine and boil until reduced to a thick syrup, about 4 minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes and 1 cup of the chicken stock to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Nestle the lamb shank in the liquid. Cover tightly and braise in the oven for about 2 hours, basting occasionally, until the meat is almost falling apart. Transfer the shank to a platter and cover with foil. Leave the oven on.
  
4. Spread the almonds in a pie pan in an even layer and toast for about 10 minutes, or until golden.
  
5. Strain the sauce into a bowl, pressing on the vegetables; skim any fat. Return the sauce to the skillet and boil over high heat until reduced to 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Return the vegetables and lamb to the sauce and keep warm.
  
6. In a small bowl, mix the mint with the cilantro and almonds and season lightly with salt and pepper.
  
7. Heat 1 tablespoon of pomace oil in a medium saucepan. Add the shallot and cook over moderately high heat until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the quinoa and cook until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup of chicken stock, the water and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Cover and let simmer until all water has been absorbed (about 10 minutes). Remove from the heat and add the raisins. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and stir in half of the herb-almond mixture.
  
8. Mound the quinoa in the center of a platter. Place the lamb shank next to the quinoa and spoon the sauce on top. Sprinkle with the remaining herb-almond mixture and serve.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Pesto-licious

Who said pesto has to be made a with basil, pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil? All right, so a "true" pesto follows somewhat along those guidelines. This is not one of those.

I've found that every time I buy a bag of greens from the supermarket, I hang on to it a little longer than is worth serving. Instead of throwing it out, I process it together with a few pantry staples and voila: something kind of like pesto! Pat it around a boneless chicken breast and voila: lunch!

Mmm, chicken.

Easy Peasy Pseudo Pesto
1 bag baby romaine lettuce (a bag of spinach, arugula, or any dark leafy greens should work, including the usual basil)
1 small onion
1 clove garlic (or use two, I'm just sensitive to the taste, so I try not to over-garlic anything)
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
1 small handful of almonds (about 1/3 a cup or so)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 cup of cheese (I've gotten good results from lots of different cheeses, from Parmesan to semi-soft goat cheese--I've also left it out completely)
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Throw everything in the food processor and blend on high. Stop after a bit, scrape down the sides, then start up again on low, drizzling the olive oil in as you go.

2. Stop when you get to the consistency of not-quite-yet-mushy-baby food. It should be slightly chunky (like the picture above).

3. Add it to your favorite dish: in pasta, crusted on chicken or fish, as a dip for crackers. Possibilities are endless.
Yields about 1.5 to 2 cups.