Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tommy Gomes' Broken Shrimp Stir Fry

You never know what you're going to find at Catalina Offshore Products. I mean, of course, besides the seafood. Usually, COP's Tommy Gomes is out on the floor schmoozing with chefs and other customers and friends. And if you time it right, he's in his little open kitchen cooking up simple delicious dishes that show off the product.

It had been awhile since I'd been in but I was in the neighborhood and figured he'd be around to say hi to and I could pick up some fish for dinner. In fact, he was and, yes, he was in the kitchen cooking. On a wok. That I hadn't seen before. Usually, he's grilling something on the flat cook top. Tommy stir frying was new. Then he gave me a taste of the dish--stir fried broken shrimp with vegetables. It was fabulous!

Tommy made another batch and showed me what he did. There's no strict recipe but that's because it's just so easy. And I love the broken shrimp; it's simply raw shrimp that was leftover from other uses, shelled and chopped up. If you don't need to have beautiful whole shrimp for a dish, this is terrific (and cheaper).

Tommy's Broken Shrimp Stir Fry

Peanut oil
Chopped vegetables (any combination you like)
Broken shrimp
Olive oil
Your favorite marinara (jarred or homemade; Shhh, Tommy actually uses Ragu)
Black ground pepper
Juice of half a lemon

Heat the wok and add peanut oil. Add the vegetables and stir fry until cooked through.

Add the shrimp and stir fry until the shrimp turns pink.

Toss in some olive oil. (Tommy says it offsets any bitterness from the peanut oil.) Then add your marinara sauce--enough to coat; don't drown the stir fry with it. Mix well and add pepper and lemon juice.

Cook for another minute or so to combine the flavors. Serve over rice.

FYI, I'll have another related post soon with a divine stir fry using the broken shrimp--and OH MOMO by World Curry, a line of curry pastes from the owner of Pacific Beach's World Curry. Here's a sneak peak:

Print Page

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Delicata and Carrot Soup

I always think that my preferences for fruits and vegetables leans toward spring and summer--peaches and plums, strawberries, asparagus and corn, and, of course, tomatoes. And yet when I roam through farmers markets or places like Specialty Produce starting around October and see all the gorgeous variations of winter squash, I just fill up with joy. They're all so extravagantly colored and shaped. And the flavors are so specific to the time of year.

One of my favorite winter squashes is delicata. I love the sweet flavor and the fact that I don't have to peel it. The skin is thin and perfectly edible. And, I love the seeds. My dad taught me how to prep and roast pumpkin seeds when I was a little girl and I do it on almost every winter squash I buy. It's such a waste not to!

Delicata squash on the left
On Halloween I had a long striped Delicata squash whose future I was contemplating and decided it was meant for soup. But which way to go? If I have a complaint about winter squash it's that it can be kind of challenging to bring flavors to it that won't be overshadowed by its own flavor. So I rummaged through my fridge and came up four ingredients that I thought could pull it off--even if they didn't seem to go together: carrots, mirin (rice wine), white miso, and fresh lemongrass. I had shichimi togarashi spice seasoning, a spicy multi-ingredient Japanese mix that contains chili pepper, black sesame, white sesame, orange peel, basil, and szechuan pepper. And I had onions and garlic.

Since soup is one of those wonderful dishes that don't require precision, I figured I'd just go for it. I sliced up the carrots and roughly cut the onion. I minced the garlic and peeled off the tougher layers of the lemongrass and then chopped that. Pretty soon, ingredients were going into the medium-size blue Le Creuset pot my mom gave me when she moved out of her house. I added a little water to the sauteeing onion, garlic, and carrots to keep them from burning while I dismembered the squash and pulled out the next of seeds. Once I added the squash and the rest of the ingredients, along with water (I didn't have any stock on hand but you could use chicken or vegetable stock to make it even richer) I brought the pot ingredients to the boil, the reduced the heat to simmer for about an hour until the squash softened. And, oh, the aroma. It turns out combining mirin, miso, and lemongrass is, well, inspired. Sweet and salty and full of umami.

Now you could enjoy the soup as it was--a loose vegetable soup. But I prefer creamy soups so I pulled out my stick blender and puréed it to a silky consistency. I had some pumpkin seed oil from Vom Fass I had been waiting to use, so I drizzled that on my soup once I poured a serving into a bowl. And sighed after the first bite. Lucky me. I had plenty to enjoy with a hank of warm sourdough bread for a few more meals!

Delicata and Carrot Soup
(printable recipe)
Serves 2 to 4

Olive oil for sautéing
½ large onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
5 carrots, sliced
1 large Delicata squash, cut into cubes
¼ cup fresh lemongrass, roughly chopped
1 cup mirin
2 tablespoons white miso
1 tablespoon shichimi togarashi spice mix
Water or chicken or vegetable stock
Pumpkin seed oil (optional)


1. In a medium size pot, sauté half an onion and five cloves minced garlic. Add carrot slices. Add a little water to prevent burning while cutting up the squash (save seeds for roasting).
2. Add squash pieces, chopped lemongrass, mirin, white miso, togarashi, and water to cover.
3. Bring to the boil then simmer for about an hour until squash is soft.
4. Use an immersion blender to purée. Drizzle with pumpkin seed oil from Vom Fass. Serve with crusty sourdough bread.

Print Page

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Himitsu Appetizers

Long ago and far away my parents introduced me to Japanese food. This actually would be in Los Angeles back in the '60s, when pretty much only the Japanese ate Japanese food, dining in Little Tokyo downtown. My folks, though, were into what at the time would be considered adventurous eating and wanted to expose us kids to foods and people of different cultures. There were no sushi bars back then; instead there were tempura bars--and that's where we went in Little Tokyo. The concept was similar. You'd sit at the counter and in the refrigerated cases in front of you would be vegetables and shrimp. You'd select what you wanted and your choices would be dipped in batter and then fried in what to me back then was a ginormous wok filled with oil. And then you'd be presented with your meal and the accompanying dipping sauce. It was so marvelous I remember it all these decades later.

Now, of course, L.A. and San Diego and cities and towns across the world are filled with sushi bars--and tempura (although tempura bars appear to be history). In San Diego, the most revered and traditional sushi bar is probably Sushi Ota in Pacific Beach. And that's where Japanese chef Mitsu Ahara went to work about 17 years ago. He grew up in a beachside town outside of Tokyo and came to San Diego in 1995 at age 18--not because he dreamed of cooking here but because he was a surfer. He eventually found his way to Sushi Ota and found a mentor in Mr. Ota, as he refers to him. Ahara began as a dishwasher and progressed to prepping vegetables, taking leftovers home to practice. Mr. Ota, he said, taught him everything--especially that quality was most important above all and that you had to take care of the food.

"If there's quality, people will come back," he recalled Mr. Ota telling him. And, while most of us think service and delivery of the food is most important because that's what we see, Ahara was emphatic that instead it's what happens before we get there that counts. "Seventy to eighty percent of what is most important in the process is prep," he told me.

And that's what I found him doing when I came for a visit to Himitsu, his month-old restaurant in La Jolla. That precious time in the afternoon is spent fabricating the fish. In this case, it was tuna. Ahara and his crew at any given time work with 15 varieties of seafood, including local species: lobster, live shrimp, sea bass, and sea urchin. About 60 percent of his fish comes from Japan. One of his cooks made sure to tell me that Ahara uses every last bit of every fish that comes in, not just for customers but also for family meals for the staff. Even the head and attached skeleton are fried and served as a garnish on one of his dishes. In fact, I saw that when I ate there a couple of weeks before.

At Sushi Ota, Ahara eventually progressed from vegetable prep to tempura making, and then, finally,  sushi. The skills he learned from 17 years with Mr. Ota he took with him--with Mr. Ota's encouragement and blessing--to his new place. Now he is the star behind the sushi bar, creating a finely honed show, filled with delicate finesse, for the eight guests at the bar (there are an additional 22 seats in the patio). The evening I was there, my friend and I had him prepare his omakase menu--chef's choice--and were fed sublimely fresh fish, both nigiri and sashimi--and had a delightful plate that reflects his interest in Mexican fusion: Braised Pork Belly over Miso Mole Sauce, Cauliflower, Asparagus. 

From left, bonito flakes, shichimi pepper, chile pepper threads
For me, a night out enjoying Japanese food wouldn't be complete without snacking on edamame or shishito peppers. Ahara shared with me his simple preparations of both. These are dishes you can easily make at home, along with sushi rolls. Now these aren't full recipes with measurements, just ingredients and directions, but you should be able to pull them off without a sweat. You can find the ingredients at markets like Mitsuwa, Nijiya, and Maruki--all in the Convoy District.

Spicy Edamame

Shichimi pepper (spicy, 7-ingredient Japanese seasoning blend)
Chile pepper threads
Slice of lime

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to the boil. Add edamame. When they start to float to the surface, remove and drain.

Place the edamame in a bowl. Toss with a sprinkling of shichimi pepper. Place in a serving bowl and top with chili pepper threads. Serve with a slice of lime.

Shishito Peppers

Shishito peppers
Sesame oil
Teriyaki sauce
Ponzu sauce
Bonito flakes

Turn on broiler. In an oven-proof skillet add shishito peppers and drizzle sesame oil over them. Put under the broiler to char. After about 2 minutes, pull out and flip the peppers. Put back under the broiler for another minute.

Mix together the teriyaki and ponzu sauces in 1-to-1 ratio. Pour sauce into the serving bowl. Place shishito peppers over the sauce. Top with a pinch of bonito flakes and serve.

Himitsu is located at 1030-G Torrey Pines Road in La Jolla. 

Print Page

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Herringbone's Sticky Toffee Pudding

I can just picture you right now, sitting at your patio table, thrilled to have a sweatshirt on because, you know, it's a little chilly in the shade right now, even with your cup of coffee. Even with your glass of pinot. You've got a notepad out with your favorite pen, because while you could do this on your iPad or phone, somehow it's just easier to think by writing. And what you're writing is your Thanksgiving menu and shopping list.

I'm still trying to find mine from last year, which I purposely kept because it was so hugely helpful to me--each dish with the ingredients listed and then a timetable for preparing everything. For an organized person I'm so annoyed with myself for not being able to find it--but I will! Unless puppy Casper ate it (nah, I can't blame him for it going missing).

Anyway, back to Thanksgiving list making. Along with the pies you're undoubtedly making, I have a suggestion for an alternative--or added--dessert: Sticky Toffee Pudding. I got to watch Herringbone's executive pastry chef Becky Kastelz make this last week and not only is it an easy dish to make, it is utterly sublime. Because, of course, I didn't just watch her make it, I ate a serving of it while chatting with her. The cake isn't dense like a fruit cake. It's soft and warmly sweet, thanks to brown sugar and honey dates that soaked with the baking soda, sugars, and butter in boiling water. And, yes, to the toffee sauce that soaked into the cake--more brown sugar and butter...and heavy cream. Pair it with the house-made orange almond ice cream and some candied almonds? Well, you shoulda been there.

Kastelz comes to San Diego from Texas, first near Dallas, where she was raised, and then Galveston, where she attended A&M University (yes, they also have a campus there), earning an education degree in marine science. When she figured out that marine science-type jobs were limited she decided to go to culinary school and studied European pastry at Houston Community College. Kastelz then launched her pastry career at local hotels before starting her own restaurant, Speculoos (named for the cookie). It was a breakfast and lunch cafe, but she also made wedding cakes. Unfortunately, Speculoos literally went under water--literally 10 feet under water--in 2008 with Hurricane Ike. So, she returned to hotel pastry jobs.

Four years ago, though, she moved to San Diego when her husband--also in hospitality--was transferred to a new job with Wyndham Hotels. And Kastelz eventually found her way to Herringbone. For the past year and a half, she's been supervising the dessert and pastry program at all the Herringbones and Searsucker. And, on occasion, still makes wedding cakes.

But right now, on the menu because it's such a perfect fall and winter dish, is this Sticky Toffee Pudding. One thing she does, which I've never seen, is plate it on a sweet potato puree, made with cinnamon, butter, and maple syrup. It's a family recipe that's so good she decided to include it in the dish.

One of the reasons why this dessert is such a great choice for a holiday meal is that so much of it can be made in advance and then plated when it's time to serve. You can even serve it family style on a platter.

Kastelz made this version gluten-free, using Cup4Cup gf flour (something you can purchase from  Amazon or Williams-Sonoma), but you can also go for the gluten with all-purpose flour. She also suggests making the cake batter at least a day in advance because, she said, it "settles down." You can also bake the cakes two to three days before you need them. And, you'll notice, Kastelz slices off the round top of the cake for serving (enjoying the scraps to snack on). You can bake them in conventional muffin tins or buy silicon cylinder molds, which is what Kastelz uses.
The sweet potato puree also isn't really time sensitive. It has a refrigerator shelf life of up to seven days. And toffee sauce, too, can be stored in the fridge for up to a week (but you'll have to reheat it before using). And, if you can resist noshing on the candied almonds, they, too, can hang out for awhile. To make them, just toss raw almonds in egg whites, then granulated sugar, spread on a sheet pan and toast at 300 degrees until just brown.

The recipes are straight forward. Plating is, too. First spread some sweet potato puree on a plate. Then place the cake on the puree. Pour the extra toffee sauce over and sprinkle the candied almonds. Kastelz also likes to add meringue kisses and the powder from crushed meringues. Then serve with ice cream.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
from Becky Kastelz of Herringbone
(printable recipe)
Serves 12

Date Toffee Cakes
Yield: 12 cakes

1 1/4 cups honey dates, pitted
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoon (packed) brown sugar
12 ounces boiling water
1 egg + 1 yolk
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup + 2 tablespoons Cup4Cup or all-purpose flour

1. Place the dates in a bowl, add baking soda, butter, and sugars.
2. Bring water to a boil, then pour over ingredients in bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit 20-30 minutes to soften the dates.
3. Place the mixture into a blender and blend on high speed until smooth. Pour into a bowl.
4. Whisk in the eggs followed by salt. Sift the flour and whisk well into the batter. For best results, refrigerate batter overnight.
5. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Spray a muffin tin well with non-stick spray. Divide batter evenly into 12 muffins, about 2/3-full.
6. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cakes cool in muffin tin for 5 minutes, then gently remove.
7. While cakes are baking, prepare Toffee Sauce. After baking, soak each warm cake in sauce for about 30 seconds.
8. Place cake on serving plate; top with more Toffee Sauce if desired. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Toffee Sauce

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (packed) brown sugar
2 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup + 2 tablespoons heavy cream
Pinch kosher salt

1. Combine butter, sugar, vanilla into a medium saucepot and bring to a boil.
2. Add cream and return to a boil for 30 seconds. Add a pinch of salt.
3. Use immediately, or store in refrigerator up to 1 week.  Reheat before use.

Sweet Potato Puree
Yield: about 1 1/2 pints

2  pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” chunks
2 teaspoons lemon juice
¾ teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup medium brown sugar, packed
½ cup maple syrup
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Place sweet potatoes and lemon juice in a medium/large saucepan.  Cover with water and bring to a boil.  Boil for 5-10 minutes, or until just barely fork tender.
2. Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Stir occasionally until butter and sugar are melted; set aside.
3. Once potatoes are done, remove from heat and drain potatoes; place in a 9x13” baking dish.  Pour sugar mixture over the potatoes and bake at 350°F for 30 minutes.
4. Let cool to room temperature, then puree in a food processor or blender for several minutes until completely smooth.  Scrape down occasionally as needed to ensure the entire mixture is smooth.

*Note: the sweet potato puree has a shelf life of seven days. Do not freeze.

Print Page