Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sherried Lobster with Penne

It's not often that I get a gift of lobster, but last Chanukah that's what my sister gave me--specifically two well-wrapped frozen lobster tails. I put them in my freezer and, I'm embarrassed to say, kind of forgot about them. Whenever I had to move the package to get something else I would make a mental note to take them out soon and figure out a way to enjoy them, but days turned into weeks, then months.

But then, finally, I did just that. I let them defrost in the refrigerator overnight, then unwrapped them. To say there were well preserved is an understatement. It must have taken an engineering degree to get them this well protected and I wish I'd had that same degree to extricate them. Finally, I got the wrapping removed and there were these two gorgeous red-and-black lobster tails. I'm going to guess that each was about half a pound.

I already had some ideas of what to do with them. The weather was hot so I wasn't keen on turning on the broiler. Boiling? Nah. So, I thought I'd remove the meat from the shell, chop it into large chunks, then saute it all in olive oil, minced garlic, sherry, and a knob of butter for flavor at the end. Then I'd toss the meat with this sauce with whole wheat penne.

I found, though, that the lobster meat had ideas of its own. Namely that it didn't want to separate from the shell. While I was searching around for some kind of tip to accomplish this, the lobster sat on the counter for perhaps five minutes. I couldn't find anything useful so went back to the tails to try again. And, surprisingly, this time they easily yielded. So, my guess is that when you try this in your kitchen let the lobster rest at room temperature for about five minutes before removing the meat from the shell. And, don't toss the shells. Put them in a freezer bag and add other shells like those from shrimp and store in the freezer to make a seafood broth later.

After that, it was all pretty easy. First, put the water for the pasta to boil and when ready, add the pasta. Then turn to cooking the lobster. Saute the garlic in oil until it's fragrant. Then add the lobster pieces. After a couple of minutes add enough sherry to make a sauce. Let the lobster cook in the liquid until it's just cooked through. Add the butter and stir well. You can also add red pepper flakes and/or herbs and spices to make it your own--but not so much that you overpower the lobster. By this time the pasta should be cooked through. Drain and add it to the lobster and sauce. Mix well, then divide into a couple of bowls.

I also added some chopped cherry peppers to the dish. You could add chopped sugar snap peas or other vegetables. The big chunks of lobster were sweet and decadent, elevated by the luxuriousness of butter and sherry and the fragrant garlic. The penne sopped up the rich sauce. Be sure to have a hank of sourdough bread so you don't leave a drop.

Sherried Lobster with Penne
(printable recipe)
Serves 2

2 meaty lobster tails (about 8 ounces each), removed from the shell and chopped into bite-size pieces
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/3 to 1/2 cup sherry
1 tablespoon butter
salt to taste
red pepper flakes (optional)
4 ounces whole wheat penne

Fill a large pot with cold water and bring to a boil. Add the penne and a tablespoon or so of salt. Cook per directions.

While the penne is cooking, heat oil in a saute pan. Add garlic and saute until fragrant--about a minute. Add the lobster and after a couple of minutes add the sherry and red pepper flakes and any vegetables. Reduce the temperature to low, add the butter and stir well. Add salt to taste.

When the penne is finished cooking, drain and add the pasta to the lobster and sauce. Stir well and plate.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Curing the Heat Wave Blues: Favorite No Cook Summer Recipes

I know I'll just get rolled eyes and the tiny violin playing gesture from those in other parts of the country, but, hey, it's been hot and humid in San Diego, especially inland where I live. Sticky, sweaty, can't get your sports bra off weather. I don't want to cook. I don't want to eat foods above room temperature.

Fortunately, I have a bunch of recipes to turn to that require little effort and no oven. So, I thought I'd do a round-up of some of my favorites and share them with you in case you've got the summer kitchen blues as well.

Evie's Chunky Gazpacho
Okay, you knew this recipe of my mom's would be included. It's the most wonderful combination of flavors and textures. It's healthy. It's cold. Add some cooked shrimp or crab, a hank of crusty sourdough bread, and a cold beer and you've got a great meal.

(printable recipe)
Serves 8 – 10

5 - 8 large tomatoes, quartered
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
½ English cucumber, roughly chopped
1 or 2 red peppers, roughly chopped
6 – 8 scallions, roughly chopped
6 - 8 radishes, roughly chopped
½ medium onion, peeled and quartered
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
½ bunch parsley with major stems removed and/or 1 bunch cilantro
2 tablespoons lime juice
2-6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
A few dashes of your favorite hot sauce
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
1 regular-sized can beef broth
1 can low-salt V-8 juice
1 cup corn kernels (fresh, frozen or canned – if fresh is unavailable, I like the frozen roasted corn kernels from Trader Joe’s)
1 pound pre-cooked bay shrimp, lump crab (optional)
Sour cream or Mexican crema

Pull out the food processor and a very large bowl. Process each of the vegetables until the pieces are small -- but before they're pureed -- and add to the bowl, then add the rest of the ingredients, except for the proteins and dairy, which I keep on the table separately for guests to add as they wish. Refrigerate until cold and then adjust seasonings to taste. Top when serving with sour cream or Mexican crema. Serve with fresh tortillas or even hearty sourdough bread.

Spicy Kale, Corn, and Mango Salad
I came up with this about a year ago during a killer heat wave. It was so refreshing. Add cheese or some other protein like roasted chicken from the market to bulk it up a bit, but it's a great base for some serious eating.

(printable recipe)
Serves 4

1 ear of corn, shucked with kernels sliced off
1/2 slightly ripe mango, peeled and diced
1 large tomato, diced
1 jalapeño, diced
1/2 medium onion, red or white, diced
4 large kale leaves, spine removed, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed and soaked

1/2 cup of Country French Vinaigrette made from Penzeys' mix -- or your own vinaigrette

Combine vegetables, add dressing. Marinate for about an hour. Serve.

Cucumber and Radish Confetti Soup
For at least 30 years I've been making a cucumber soup with yogurt and tomatoes that's been a go to on hot summer days. But one day I found myself with radishes as well and thought that I'd change things up a bit. This is still a classic for me, but I now also add a bit of low-fat buttermilk to the soup.

(printable recipe)
Serves 4

1 large English cucumber or 3 good-sized Persian cucumbers (about 6 inches long)
1 dozen radishes
1 1/2 cups unflavored yogurt
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fenugreek (for a different flavor, try dill or mint -- they're all equally good)
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Slice the cucumbers in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and discard. (If you're using a conventional cucumber first peel the skin; for the other types, leave the thin skin on for color.) Cut into chunks and put in the bowl of a food processor. Trim all the radishes and cut all but one into chunks and add to the food processor. Save the remaining radish for garnish. Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor and blend thoroughly. Remove to a bowl, cover, and chill at least two hours or overnight. Just before serving, slice the remaining radish very thinly, again with the little mandoline, and use it to top the soup. Feel free to add a little hot sauce when serving.

Stone Fruit Salsa
And now for dessert! Yes, you could use this on a taco or pork tenderloin--but it's so fabulous over a couple of scoops of ice cream!

(printable recipe)
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

2 dozen cherries, pitted
2 plums
1 large, firm peach
1/2 serrano or whole jalapeño pepper
1/4 medium red onion, diced
1 1/2 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
juice of 1 lime
pinch of salt
freshly ground pepper to taste

Chop the fruit and the pepper (removing the seeds if you want to reduce the heat intensity). Add to a bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and refrigerate for an hour. Adjust the seasonings. If you want it sweeter, add a little honey to taste.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Chocolate Cream Pie with Tough Culinary Love on the Side from Pastry Chef/Instructor Tina Luu

I first met Tina Luu in 2008, when I was researching a roundup of holiday sweets for an appearance on KPBS, which I then turned into a post for San Diego Foodstuff. At the time she was the chef at Heaven Sent in North Park and, no surprise to those who know her, she plied me with taste after taste of remarkable, decadent holiday pastries. In the years since we've become good friends. Going out for a meal with Tina is an experience in extravagance. Typically, at a meal at Bankers Hill not long after it opened, we had our savory dishes and then, with a wink, Tina ordered the entire dessert menu for us to try. Delicious insanity.

You see nothing of that impishness in the classes she teaches at The International Culinary Schools at The Art Institute in Mission Valley. There she's all business and sharp-eyed focus. I've been trying to wrangle an invitation for years to see what she does and finally got to attend her Pies and Tarts class last week. The four-hour class begins with a quiz from the previous lesson and then Tina begins a short lecture to her 25 students on the topic at hand. On that day, she launched into the differences between tart and pie doughs, how to create a flaky pie crust, the three ways to use pie dough, types of fillings, the three types of tart dough, and where puff pastry fits in with all this. She worked in French terminology, health issues related to ingredients like Crisco and lard, and environmental concerns.

Then she began the demos, simultaneously working on a pie crust and pastry cream. Sure, you may have recipes. But the nuggets and gems of information--and corresponding tastes--make these sessions the essence of education--like using a combination of vanillas, both bean and extract, to create layers of flavor; like using other extract flavors such as coffee; like making sure to use just your fingertips when cutting in the butter and shortening so as not to melt the fats; like how to temper the pastry cream; like being sure to always strain pastry cream to get rid of particles; like placing plastic wrap on top of the finished pastry cream before refrigerating it to avoid forming a skin.

Pastry chefs are, of course, the epitome of precision. She circled around the classroom as her students got to work on their pie and tart doughs correcting technique, nudging them where needed, praising where deserved. And the students seem to thrive on this tough love. I was getting off on it, too. Sure, I knew Tina as a gifted pastry chef, but seeing her teach was something else. These students and I were in the hands of a consummate professional--one who lives up to an impressive resume that includes working with world-class chefs like Michael Mina and Jeremiah Tower, working in Asia with the Stars Restaurant group, lecturing at the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at the University of Hawaii, and contributing as a writer and photographer at Gusto Magazine.

As part of my mini class experience I also got a couple of recipes--one for pie dough and another for chocolate pastry cream so you can make a chocolate cream pie. The dough recipe will make six patons--or 10-ounce pie crusts. Tina came to this measurement as a way to avoid waste. You'll have just enough to create a crust for an aluminum pie tin that will shouldn't need to be trimmed. Making six will allow you to freeze whatever you don't need. I've got two in my freezer now, thanks to one of her very sweet and charming students. Want to make a pie? Just pull out a paton or two and defrost overnight in the fridge or for 20 minutes at room temperature.

Flaky Pie Dough
Tina Luu
(printable recipe)
Yield: 6 patons

1 pound, 8 ounces all purpose flour
10 ounces pastry flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 pound cold butter, cut into big chunks
7 ounces Crisco
1 3/4 cup ice water

Sift together dry ingredients. By hand, cut in cold butter and shortening until they are a mix of fava bean and pea size.

Add water, starting with 1 1/2 cups and only adding more as necessary. Add too much water and you'll have dense dough that won't rise and will look a little gray. Mix until the dough just comes together. It should be rough with striations of butter.

Scale (measure each piece so it weighs 10 ounces) and form patons into a short square that will make it easier to roll out later. Wrap individually in plastic wrap and chill at least two hours but preferably overnight. Or put them in the freezer.

When you're ready to make the pie, flour your surface and roll out the paton until it's 1/6th of an inch thick. If you're making a cream pie, you'll do a blind bake--meaning you'll place the dough into the pie tin and add weights like beans. Bake at 350˚ for 15 minutes or until golden. Remove the weights and bake for another 10 minutes. Let cool, then fill with the pastry cream.

Tina's Crème Patissiere/Pastry Cream
Tina Luu
(printable recipe)
Yield: 2 pies

We're adding unsweetened chocolate here to make a chocolate cream pie, but you can leave out the chocolate for a basic pastry cream that you can use for all sorts of applications, including fruit tarts.

1 quart whole milk
12 ounces granulated sugar
1/4 vanilla bean, seeds scraped (use both seeds and bean)
6 eggs
3.5 ounces granulated sugar
3.5 ounces cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3.5 ounces cold butter
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate

Create a slurry by combining eggs, 3.5 ounces sugar, 1 cup of milk, and cornstarch. Bring to a boil remaining milk, sugar, and vanilla bean, then lower the heat. Temper in egg mixture by adding five ladle fulls of the hot liquid to the cold and then adding the now warmed up mixture to the hot liquid, constantly stirring. This prevents the eggs from curdling.

Bring the mixture back to a boil, stirring constantly but gently as the mixture thickens to a cream. Be sure the bottom doesn't burn. You'll feel it coagulating. Keep stirring to smooth it out. Once it first bubbles (at 212˚), cook for an additional three minutes. Add butter, vanilla extract, and chocolate and mix well. Strain through a sieve. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

To put the pie together, gently fill the baked crust with the pastry cream. You can then pipe whipped cream on top and garnish with shaved chocolate. To make whipped cream, whip together two cups heavy cream, 1/4 cup powder sugar, and 1 tablespoon vanilla.

*Bottom two photos courtesy Tina Luu

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Your New Summer App: Thyme-Infused Steamed, Marinated Eggplant

Everyone has their fallback technique in the kitchen. Mine is roasting, especially vegetables. I love how the extreme heat   coaxes out the sugars and creates a whole new flavor profile for squash, tomatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, asparagus... You name it; I roast it.

But with the current heat wave in San Diego, turning on the oven is a total turn off. So, what was I to do with these beautiful Choryoku and Gretel eggplants grown by Weiser Family Farms that I had picked up at Specialty Produce? Choryokus are a light green reminiscent of a Granny Smith apple, in a long body with sweet, white flesh. The Gretels are the white sister of a Hansel variety. They have a spongy flesh that makes them perfect for absorbing

Earlier in the week I had made a spice rub from a large finger of Buddha's Hand, some red toch garlic--also from Specialty Produce--sea salt, and thyme from my garden.

The Buddha's Hand is a marvelous citron that has all the flavor of lemon zest with none of the bitterness or the juice, for that matter. The red toch garlic is a soft neck variety with a lot of moisture.

It's got a powerful flavor without being too spicy. The blend hadn't completely dried yet but that would be fine if I created a vinaigrette with it. I noodled around online and was inspired by a recipe I found on Epicurious that steamed and then marinated eggplant to serve as an appetizer. Perfect!

I trimmed and sliced the slender green and white eggplants in half lengthwise, then put them in a steamer, skin side down and sprinkled them with a little kosher salt. While they steamed for about 10 minutes, I quickly whisked together a couple of tablespoons of the rub with aged sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. By then, the eggplant were tender. I let them drain for a couple of minutes, then arranged them in a dish and spooned the vinaigrette over them. There they sat at room temperature for the next two hours and I periodically basted them with the vinaigrette they were soaking in.

At the end of the two hours, without breaking a sweat, I had a fragrant dish, each bite packed with a sensational combination of the vinegar, garlic, and thyme. It was salty and herbaceous, oily and acidic. The eggplant's texture was soft and creamy from the steaming. Pair this dish with a bowl of briny olives, oil marinated roasted red peppers, Manchego cheese, a crusty loaf of bread, and refreshing glass of Cava or Proseco and you've got a perfect light summer meal.

Thyme-Infused Steamed, Marinated Eggplant
Adapted from Epicurious
(printable recipe)

Serves 4 as an appetizer

4 long eggplants, trimmed and sliced in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons aged sherry vinegar
Kosher salt

For marinade
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (look for Red Toch variety but any will work)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Zest of one finger of Buddha's Hand (or one conventional lemon)
2 tablespoons aged sherry vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper
Fresh thyme leaves for garnish

Place the eggplant skin side down in a steamer basket. Sprinkle with a little kosher salt. Fill the pot with one inch of cold water, add two tablespoons of the sherry vinegar, then cover with the steamer tray and lid. Turn the heat to medium high and steam the eggplant for about 10 minutes, until soft. Remove the steamer tray and let the eggplant drain for five minutes.

In a small food processor, blend the first four ingredients for the marinade. You can do this days ahead of time and spread the mixture on a tray to air dry. It makes a terrific rub for poultry, lamb, and vegetables--or, mixed with olive oil, a lovely dip for bread. Here you use a couple of tablespoons and whisk in the sherry vinegar and then the olive oil.

Arrange the warm eggplant on a small platter with sides and spoon the marinade over each half. Let sit on the counter for two hours, basting periodically. When you're ready to serve it, add a grind of black pepper and a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Chef Sara Polczynski's Three Refreshing Mexican Dishes for Hot Weather Dining

Chef Sara Polczynski is a global traveler who digs in deep, volunteering with her young daughter and mother, most recently in Guatemala with the organization Globe Aware to help lay concrete floors in the home of a resident of the small village of El Remate. (She's also volunteered with Globe Aware in Cusco, Peru and Surin, Thailand doing various humanitarian and animal efforts.) And, of course, throughout her travels, she's picking up recipes and invaluable cooking techniques that she's taken back to San Diego, where she's the consultant executive chef at downtown's The Blind Burro restaurant and associate professor in the San Diego Community College system where she teaches baking and culinary arts classes.

I've known Sara for years. The two of us annually bake pecan pies together with other friends at Just Call Us Volunteers for Mama's Kitchen. In fact, I've really thought of her primarily as an expert baker, but as she showed me last week in her home kitchen, she's remarkably versatile--and a terrific teacher.

The three recipes she demonstrated for me below are perfect examples of coastal Mexico's influence on her--which is, of course, perfect for neighboring San Diego. The day was just as hot and steamy as today--yet she didn't break a sweat and the results were truly refreshing for lunch.

She also gave me several great tips. Most are incorporated in the recipes, but one stands out. That is to "deflame" onions that are to be eaten raw. White onions, which are typically the variety used in Mexican cooking, can be harsh in their raw state. Deflaming simply means running the diced onion under cold water for 30 seconds to eliminate the bite. You'll see this instruction in her guacamole recipe, which is actually a base for other recipes--although you can, of course, eat it plain.

So, what did she make? As I mentioned, there's guacamole, but instead of your run of the mill smashed avocado dip this is a bright and flavor-packed Mango and Shrimp Guacamole. She starts with a basic guacamole, then makes a refreshing mango salsa that, again, you can serve on its own as a sauce over proteins or to top tacos. To this combo she adds chopped shrimp that she quickly poached, cooled, then marinated with olive oil, lime juice, and sea salt.

Then there was her Moon Scallop Aguachiles Tostada. Yes, you can use any other type of scallop but moon scallops, which you can find locally at Catalina Offshore Products, are so sweet and have such a nice firm texture that they stand out in each bite. Aguachile is a puree of serrano chiles, lime juice, and salt. That's your spicy, acidic marinade for the scallops, which are then chopped and combined with cucumbers, sea salt, and cilanto, then bedded onto a crispy flat corn tortilla (you can find them at Mexican markets) smothered in smashed avocado and topped with pickled onions and cilantro.

Finally, there was her unique and cooling Shaved Baby Squash and Blossom Salad. This colorful dish is so easy to make and really takes advantage of the bounty of summer squash we're enjoying now. All you need is a mandoline or hand slicer to get long thin strips of the squash that you'll add to the delicate yellow squash blossoms, diced red pepper, and greens like arugula. Add a terrific vinaigrette and you're set--although you could also add beans, shrimp, roasted corns, beets, nuts, seeds, cheese, or berries. The squash ribbons will soften slightly as they absorb the dressing, but still have an enjoyable crunch. Yes, it's quite versatile, not to mention brilliantly colorful.

In fact, Sara says that color is one of her greatest influences in her cooking. "Why wouldn't it be?," she laughs. "It makes you happy when you eat!"

Mango and Shrimp Guacamole
from Sara Polcyznski
(printable recipe)
Yield: 2 cups 

Both the salsa and the guacamole can be served separately but combine them and add shrimp and you've got a uniquely flavored dish. For the salsa, Sara says the key is a small dice to make it pretty.

Mango Salsa
1/3 red bell pepper, small dice
1 mango, small dice (Tip, to slice the mango meat from the large seed, cut off the base, peel off the skin, the set on the counter and slice down.)
1/2 green onion, minced
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1/2 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
Salt to taste

Mix together all of the ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste.

Plain Guacamole Base
2 pounds avocado
3/4 ounce cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 ounces diced white onion, deflamed (run under cold water for 30 seconds after dicing)

Lightly mash the avocado with a potato masher and blend with the remaining ingredients (keeping the mixture slightly chunky for better texture).

1 pound raw shrimp, deveined and with tails removed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Fill a bowl with water and ice. Set aside. Bring water in a medium-size saucepan to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook briefly, just until the shrimp turn a light pink. Scoop out and place in the ice water bath to shock and stop the shrimp from cooking. Remove, drain, and loosely chop (Set several whole ones aside to garnish the dish). Then add olive oil, lime juice, and sea salt. Mix well.

When the salsa, guacamole, and shrimp are made, combine them and mix well. Plate and serve with chips.

Moon Scallop Aguachiles Tostadas
from Sara Polcyznski
(printable recipe)
Serves 8

1 1/4 cups fresh lime juice
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh serrano chiles, stemmed
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 pound moon scallops
1 Persian cucumber, sliced thin
3 tablespoons cilantro, minced
1 avocado, peeled, seeded, and smashed with salt and lime juice
8 flat crispy corn tostadas (available at Mexican markets)
1/4 cup pickled onions
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves for garnish

To prepare the moon scallop marinade, combine the lime juice, chiles, and salt in a blender and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings. Poor over the scallops and marinate for up to an hour.

Chop the scallops, and add the cucumbers, sea salt, and minced cilantro.

Top each tostada with some smashed, seasoned avocado. The add the aguachile moon scallop mixture. Top with pickled onions and cilantro.

Shaved Baby Squash and Blossom Salad
from Sara Polczynski
(printable recipe)
Yield: 1 quart

1 pound baby squash (the smaller, the sweeter), sliced thin lengthwise to better absorb the dressing
2 cups greens, like arugula
1/4 diced shallot
1/3 (or 1/4 cup) red bell pepper, small dice
Salt and pepper to taste
8 squash blossoms, stamen removed
Vinaigrette of your choice

Toss the heavy vegetables with the dressing first. Let sit so that the squash softens slightly. Add sea salt and pepper to taste.

Add greens and carefully tear apart and add the blossoms. Add more vinaigrette to taste. Marinate five to 10 minutes and serve.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lemon Thyme Garlic Paste

I goofed up. I decided to make a batch of dill pickles last week and in my exuberance broke up more heads of garlic than I ended up needing. No big deal really, but I wanted to use up that garlic while it was still fresh.

So, I pulled out my stone mortar and pestle, a bottle of Greek extra virgin olive oil, a lemon, and some dried thyme--and made a small batch of flavored garlic paste.

Now while you could certainly blend these ingredients together in a small food processor, using a mortar and pestle really releases the oils of the garlic, with the olive oil, and transforms into a beautifully smooth and creamy spread.

You can use any combination of flavors--herbs like thyme, oregano, and rosemary or spices like cumin, smoked paprika, chipotle, or a curry powder mix. Add some salt, of course. And you can add zest from lemon, lime, or other citrus, plus some of the juice. What you create can be used to coat chicken or pork, toss with shrimp, spread on vegetables or on a baguette--all before roasting, grilling, or baking. You can add it to a pasta dish or add vinegar and create a dressing or marinade. And, you can blend it with sour cream and cream cheese to make a dip for crudites.

So, this is a very versatile little paste to have on hand. It's also extremely potent. But if you're a garlic lover, this is for you.

Lemon Thyme Garlic Paste
(printable recipe)

Yield: 1/4 cup

12 medium garlic cloves, peeled
4 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced or 1/4 teaspoon dried leaves
zest of half a lemon
juice from half a lemon
salt to taste

*several Altoids for after consuming (optional)

Add garlic cloves to a mortar bowl and use the pestle to crush them. Add one teaspoon of oil and mash with the garlic to create a paste. Gradually add two more teaspoons and continue mashing.

Add the thyme, zest, and salt to the garlic and oil. Work them into the mash, pressing against the wall of the mortar to crush the herbs and zest and bring out the oils. Add the rest of the oil and the lemon juice. Stir, taste, and adjust seasonings and oil to get the flavor and texture you want.

I used my paste to coat a chicken thigh and two halves of a Japanese eggplant from my garden. I sprinkled grated Parmesan cheese on the eggplant as well. Then I baked the chicken and eggplant at 375˚ for about an hour, until they were beautifully browned. Both were oh so tender and while the flavor of the garlic, sweet and mellowed from cooking, predominated, I loved the undertones of lemon and bright thyme.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Taking a Virtual Trip to the Islands with Monchong

Every once in a while I'll get a message from Tommy Gomes of Catalina Offshore Products that reads something like this:  If you have time, come by the shop this afternoon, I got a piece of fish that will knock your socks off!

Photo by Rebecca Gardon
Well, who can resist that? Not I! This time Tommy wanted to introduce me to a Hawaiian treasure, Monchong--also known as Sickle Pomfret. This beautiful fish with large scales and fork-shaped fins was line caught in Hawaii, where it's a delicacy, costing up to $45 a pound. Usually ranging from 18 to 22 pounds, the Monchong live in what Tommy calls the "twilight zone" of the ocean at depths 800 to 1,200 feet. Like salmon and mackerel it has a high oil content (and high Omega-3 fatty acids), making it great for grilling, broiling, baking, or sauteing--or to use for tempura. 

The fish came in recently with a catch of big eye tuna--another fish we'll talk about soon. This particular shipment is gone, but Tommy assures me that more will be coming in. He had one last half-pound piece that he gave me, slicing off a filet to saute for me at the warehouse so I could get a taste of what I was in for. His minimalist approach gave me the full flavor of the fish--all he did was put some oil in the skillet then add salt, lemon juice, black balsamic vinegar, and the Salt Farm 73, a smoky custom salt for Catalina Offshore Products made by Salt Farm. 

Back home I sliced 3/4-inch pieces, slathered on some olive oil, and added lemon juice and seven-spice shichimi togarashi seasoning. Then I put it on my stovetop grill. It took about three minutes or so to cook. 

The flavor of the Monchong is sweet and rich. Once cooked it has a white flaky flesh that seems impossible to overcook--a forgiving fish, not unlike black cod only not as oily. And, like black cod, I envision marinating Monchong in a mixture of miso and rice vinegar to broil in my next go-round.

Since I couldn't eat it all at one meal, I've saved a couple of slices to add to a salad or perhaps cut up and use for fish tacos.

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