Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ginger-Garlic Flavor Bomb Cornish Game Hens

I'm an admitted garlic fanatic. I just love the stuff. I also love ginger. In early September I wrote about grating and freezing ginger so it would always be on hand and I wouldn't have shriveled roots that would inevitably be tossed. It's been a great kitchen short cut. Then about a month ago I came across a piece in Bon Appétit extolling garlic season. Test kitchen manager Brad Leone offered up a wonderful garlic and ginger paste that combines the two with olive oil. He puts the paste in ice cube trays to freeze and then store in plastic freezer bags. Well, I was on it. Only instead of the ice cube trays, I used a small cookie scoop and froze the little flavor bombs on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, then popped them into a freezer bag. They're remarkably versatile and so handy. You can use them to do a stir fry, make a vinaigrette, or add to soup or stew.

I happened to have bought a Cornish game hen last week and now that the weather has--for now--cooled, I defrosted it and was going to just roast it with garlic salt, smoked paprika, lemon juice, and olive oil. It's sort of a lazy go-to for me for poultry. Then I recalled my ginger-garlic flavor bombs. Eureka! I took out half a dozen of them to let thaw and considered what else would work. I remembered the most marvelous chicken recipe in Deborah Schneider's book, Baja! Cooking on the Edge. I love her marinade of garlic, chipotles in adobo, salt, and oil. So, I modeled a very different sauce on the concept. This one is made up of ginger, garlic, shichimi togarashi (a vibrant Japanese seasoning containing chili pepper, black and white sesame seeds, orange peel, basil, and Szechuan pepper), lime zest and juice, salt, and olive oil. It's just a bit chunky, even pureed. Slather it all over the hens and let it penetrate the birds for at least a couple of hours but up to overnight.

In the past I've grilled Deb's garlic chipotle birds and you can do that with this recipe, of course. But on this Sunday night I chose to roast the hen in my oven. I enjoyed it with small red, purple, and white potatoes rubbed in olive oil and garlic salt, with the hen resting on a pile of fresh baby spinach, dressed with its juices and a good squeeze of lime. The hen burst with bright ginger and citrus flavors and each bite ended with a bit of a kick of heat from the togarashi. After marinating for five hours, the flesh was moist, but the skin was perfectly crisp. And with the leftover marinade I gave a punch of flavor to a salmon fillet.

Ginger-Garlic Flavor Bomb Cornish Game Hens
(printable recipe)
Serves 2


6 ginger-garlic flavor bombs (directions on Bon Appétit), thawed
1/4 teaspoon shichimi togarashi
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of half a lime
Pinch of kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Cornish game hens, trimmed and halved or quartered


In a small prep food processor or a blender, combine the first six ingredients and puree. You should have about a half a cup of marinade.

Slather ginger-garlic mixture all over Cornish game hen halves. Place in sealable plastic bag and refrigerate for 2 hours or up to overnight.

You can grill the hens or roast them in the oven. To roast, pre-heat oven to 375˚. Roast hens skin side up for an hour or until the skin is brown and juices flow clear.

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Monday, October 19, 2015

A Blessing on Saffron

I've been eating at Saffron since I moved to San Diego in 1988. I was living in Hillcrest and once I discovered the little place on India Street just down the hill, where I could bring home a feast of Thai crispy roasted chicken, fragrant rice, and my favorite peanut sauce, I was hooked. Years later I met owner Su-Mei Yu. I took one of her cooking classes, held in the serene patio above Saffron, and appeared last season on her series, Savor San Diego. I've long regarded her as a community treasure.

So, I was honored to be invited to a very special occasion held Monday afternoon at Saffron. To celebrate its 30th anniversary, she organized a gathering of friends for a blessing ceremony and lunch. The ceremony was led by her teacher, Chodon Samtem Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist monk from Drikung Kyobpa Choling Monastery in Escondido. The main dining area was cleared and in the place of tables and chairs was a temporary altar with a statue of Buddha, offerings, foods, flowers, incense, and candles.

Mats were placed on the floor for guests to sit on during the ceremony and each of us was given a simple white scarf, or kata, which is used by Tibetan Buddhists as an offering and was to be blessed by Rinpoche, then draped over each person as a protective and blessing symbol.

Saffron's Su-Mei Yu

It was a moving ceremony, with chanting, the anointment of each of us with saffron water, then the tossing of rose petals.

Following the ceremony, we were treated to a spectacular vegetarian buffet that included:
  • Kanom Cheen Nam Ya – Rice vermicelli served with a curry sauce made with mushrooms, spices, herbs and coconut cream. The accompaniments include sliced cucumber, long beans, and beansprouts. 
  • Yum Woon Sen – Glass noodle salad with radish, cherry tomato, lotus root, pineapple and cashew nuts
  • Pad Jay – Vegetarian stir-fry of cauliflower and peas
  • Jab Chai – Vegetarian stew
  • Saku Fuk Tong – Tapioca with pumpkin sauce
  • Kanom Thom – Auspicious Thai sweets used since ancient times as an offering to Buddhist monks made with rice flour, fresh grated coconut and palm sugar. 

To celebrate this auspicious anniversary, Su-Mei is offering customers 30 percent off select daily specials from Oct. 19 to the 25. You can see a full list of the specials on Saffron's website.

Among the specials are these dishes, her Go Green Stir-Fry with Organic Thai Red Rice and Brain Food. Su-Mei gave me the recipes to share with you. Happy anniversary, Su-Mei, and thank you for all you do in our community!

photo courtesy of Su-Mei Yu

Go Green Stir-fry with Organic Thai Red Rice

Go Green Paste: 
Makes about 1 1Ž2 cups

1/2 cup organic carrot tops, chopped
1/4 cup minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped arugula
1/4 cup chopped cilantro stems
2 large green Serrano chilies, sliced
1 cup spinach 
3/4 cup Thai basil leaves
1/4 or more rice bran oil or grape seed oil

Put all the ingredients in the food processor except for the oil and turn the machine on to mince. While the machine is running and the ingredients begin to puree and mince, slowly add the oil to puree into a smooth paste. Transfer to a container with a lid and refrigerate in the refrigerator. It will keep for several weeks. 

Makes one serving

1 tablespoon rice bran or grape seed oil
2 tablespoons Go Green Paste
1/4 cup diced firm tofu
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cups cooked red rice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon or more gluten free soy sauce
1 cup shredded kale
1/2 cup shredded cabbage
Pinches white pepper powder
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Sliced lime

1.    Heat the oil in a skillet over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, add the paste, lower the heat to medium and stir to mix. 
2.    In a couple of seconds, add the tofu and chopped onion, stir to mix. 
3.    When the onion turn translucent, add the rice and stir to mix. 
4.    Season with salt, soy sauce and stir, before adding the kale and cabbage. 
5.    Stir to mix until the colors of vegetables brighten. Once they turn limp, remove from heat and transfer to a serving plate. 
6.    Garnish with white pepper powder, cilantro and lime slice.

photo courtesy of Su-Mei Yu
Brain Food 
Makes 4 servings

Anti-inflammatory Paste
Makes about 1/3 cup
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
1-inch peeled ginger, minced
1-inch peeled turmeric, minced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro stems
1/2 teaspoon white pepper powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

In a mortar, pound the salt and garlic together to puree, before adding the next ingredient to puree. Repeat the process with the remaining ingredients. If making ahead, store in a container with a lid and refrigerate. It will keep for several weeks. 

Brain Food
2 cups sweet potato cubes – approximately 3/4-inch cubed
1/4 cup minced sage
Pinches of salt
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon rice brain or grape seed oil
2 tablespoon anti-inflammatory paste 
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 cups cubed firm tofu 
3 tablespoons gluten free soy sauce
3 cups or more thinly sliced kale

1.    Turn the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the sweet potato with sage, salt and olive oil. Spread over the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Cool and set aside.
2.    Heat the oil in skillet. Add the paste and stir fry till fragrant. Add the onion and tofu and continue to stir-fry until the onion turn limp and translucent. Season with soy sauce and add the kale. Continue to stir fry until the color brighten and it starts to wilt. Add the sweet potato cubes and mix and stir until warm. Transfer to a serving plate. 

Saffron is located in Mission Hills at 3731 India St.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Heart & Soul of Jacques Pépin

I spent last weekend with an old friend. Hanging out on the couch with me, he reminisced about old friends, bringing back a rush of memories--of wonderful meals and new ways to think about food.

I wasn't actually with anyone. I was curled up with Jacques Pépin: Heart & Soul in the Kitchen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/$35). Like many of you, Pépin has been a part of my life for decades. I have several of his previous books, have watched his many PBS series over the years, and dined at L'Ecole, the restaurant of the International Culinary Center (formerly the French Culinary Institute) in lower Manhattan, where he has long been Dean of Special Programs. In a sense, he has long been the heart and soul of my culinary journey.

So, here we are with this big, beautifully illustrated (by Pépin, who is also an artist) and lushly photographed book that he claims will be his last. As such, it is filled with the joy of 80 years of a life well lived--with his wife Gloria, his daughter Claudine and her husband, and granddaughter Shorey. Chapters bursting with recipes are interspersed with chatty little reminisces of his best friend Jean-Claude Szurdak, a renowned chef in his own right, his second home on the Mexican coast, travels with his mother, and, of course, meeting and working with his dear friends Julia Child, James Beard, Craig Claiborne, and Pierre Franey. He explains how he develops recipes, what he keeps as pantry staples (canned beans, flour tortillas, frozen baby peas and artichoke hearts, assorted olives, and pepperoncini are just some), and, of course, the joys of cooking with young Shorey.

Then there are the recipes. Now, remember, this book accompanies his new PBS series so if you tune in you'll get to watch Pépin in action--and see clips of times past. Last weekend's episode was a tribute to Julia Child so the recipes revolved around what he felt she would enjoy and there were clips of their times together on air that made me a little teary.

The book, though, can stand alone on its own merit. And you'll certainly find yourself dipping into it to create what are essentially very accessible dishes based on quality ingredients that Pépin smartly lets shine without a lot of fuss. The book is divided into the usual chapters: Hors d'Oeuvres; Soups and Salads; Eggs, Cheese, and Bread; Poultry and Meat, etc. He also includes a chapter on organ meats, hoping to win doubters over. And, at the end, he's created menus out of the dishes.

The dishes are often familiar--tabbouleh, omelets, broiled salmon with miso glaze, broiled maple sweet potatoes. Certainly there are a gazillion recipes for each of these that we could google, but what comfort in learning how Pépin creates them. And every once in awhile you'll get a nice surprise that inspires, like Pork Neck and Bean Stew, Stew of Radishes, or Escargot in Baked Potatoes. I'm looking forward to when the weather cools and I can dig into these recipes.

You'll also have no trouble finding ingredients. Pépin has been at this long enough to feel comfortable taking appropriate shortcuts--hence using canned beans, pre-made pizza dough, Asian sauces off the shelf, V8 juice, and Tabasco or Sriracha sauce. But these are offset by local, seasonal produce and the best meats and seafood available. A simple dish can only succeed if the ingredients are sublime.

I've picked a couple of recipes as teasers that would appeal particularly to SoCal readers. This Cannellini Bean Dip is no fuss and reminiscent of hummus--and enjoyable with good tortilla chips. In San Diego we're all about the peppers, so this Eggs in Pepper Boats immediately appealed to me. I even think Pépin would approve of a splash of Tabasco or Sriracha when served.

Cannellini Bean Dip
Serves 4

I like to offer guests a little treat when I’m serving drinks, and this dip is always welcome. My pantry is never without canned beans, from cannellini to black beans to large butter beans. The garnishes make the dish look more attractive—and more like a classic hummus made with chickpeas.

One 1-pound can cannellini beans, drained (about 1 ¾ cups)
1 large garlic clove, crushed
½ cup diced bread
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon water
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce

1/3 cup reserved beans (from above)
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon poppy seeds
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
3 or 4 tostadas or hard taco shells, broken into wedges, or toasts or rice crackers

For the dip: Reserve 1/3 cup of the beans for garnish. Put the remaining beans in a blender or food processor. Add all the remaining ingredients and process until very smooth, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula a few times if need be to help combine the ingredients.
Transfer the dip (you should have about 2 cups) to a shallow serving dish and create a well in the center.

For the garnishes: Put the reserved beans in the well in the dip and pour in the olive oil. Sprinkle with the paprika, poppy seeds, and parsley. Serve surrounded by the tostadas or tacos, toasts, or crackers.

Eggs in Pepper Boats
Serves 4

One day I decided to cook eggs in sweet peppers with a bit of cheese and cilantro. It made a great lunch dish. I used the long, pale green peppers sometimes called banana peppers. Poblano and cubanelle peppers also work, especially if you want to add a little heat.

2 cubanelle, poblano, or banana peppers (about
4 ounces each)
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons grated cheddar cheese
4 extra-large eggs, preferably organic
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
About 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves

Split the peppers lengthwise in half and remove the seeds and the stems if you want. Arrange them cut side down in a large skillet and add the oil, water, and . teaspoon of the salt and cook, covered, over medium heat, turning occasionally, for about 4 minutes, or until the peppers are softened somewhat but still firm.
Remove the skillet from the heat and, if necessary, turn the peppers over so they are hollow side up. Place the cheese in the peppers. Break an egg into each one and sprinkle the eggs with the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and the pepper.
Return the skillet to the stove, cover, and cook over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still runny. Transfer to plates, sprinkle with the cilantro, and serve immediately.

Note: Recipes and photos courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Flat-Out Fabulous Macaroni and Cheese

Given that I have diabetes, macaroni and cheese isn't on my list of dishes to make. I love it--who doesn't--but like pizza it's the poster dish for all I shouldn't eat. But in August my neighbors decided to have a potluck alley party and I was in need of a dish that adults and kids would love. What better than mac 'n cheese?

Because I'm not an old hand with a favorite dish, I consulted various people in my circle and was told that Chef Flor Franco had made a stunning one recently. She's a good friend so I texted her, asking what her key ingredients were. Her answer? Heavy whipping cream, sharp white cheddar and manchego cheese. Oh, and bacon.

I was with her up till the bacon. I love bacon but I felt it was just one ingredient too many for what I wanted to do, especially if kids were going to eat it. After all, they were likely fans of the blue box. I went shopping for ingredients and found that heavy whipping cream--at least at Trader Joe's was ridiculously expensive. Since most people use milk, I compromised with half and half.

Then there was the actual how-to. You'd be surprised at how many techniques there are for making mac 'n cheese. I know, your mom or grandma's is the best, but I have to say there are a lot of contenders out there. I was drawn to two approaches: Alton Brown and Martha Stewart. It was easy enough to sort out the basics and create my own version using the best of what I found. A little less cooking of the pasta here, the spice combo there, tempering eggs, panko topping. 

Well, it all came together in a bubbling, rich, creamy casserole with a crusty top and lots of flavor. And, friends, I had very little left over to take home. I'll remember it fondly when I munch on a green salad.

Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 12 to 16

1 pound elbow macaroni
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
6 cups half and half
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup yellow onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
2 large eggs, beaten
12 ounces sharp white cheddar, shredded
12 ounces manchego cheese, shredded

3 tablespoons butter
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish and set aside.

Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook 2 to 3 minutes less than the package directions. (The pasta will finish cooking while it bakes.) Transfer to a colander, rinse under cold water, and drain well. Set aside while making the sauce.

While the pasta is cooking, in another pot, melt the butter. When it bubbles, whisk in the flour and stir for 1 minute. Stir in half and half, salt, nutmeg, ground pepper, cayenne pepper, onion, and bay leaf. Temper in the eggs by stirring in a little of the milk mixture to the eggs and then adding that mixture to the sauce. Slowly stir in ¾ of the cheese. Whisk constantly until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick. Remove from heat and remove bay leaves.

Stir the macaroni into the sauce. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Mix together the remaining cheeses and sprinkle evenly over the mixture. 

Melt the 3 tablespoons of butter for the topping in a sauté pan and add the panko crumbs. Stir until coated. Top the cheese-covered macaroni with the bread crumbs.

Bake for 45 minutes uncovered or until brown on top. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

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