Friday, May 30, 2008

Salmon and Shrimp Teriyaki Skewers

I think I got this recipe for teriyaki marinade on, and I've modified it a little.
(serves one hungry cat)

Teriyaki sauce:

1/2 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp mirin
1 tsp Japanese (toasted) sesame oil
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 in ginger root, grated (I didn't have ginger but had galangal, so I used it instead; liked it better)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp chili paste
1 skinless salmon steak
3-4 large shrimps, peeled, tail on
1/2 small ripe papaya, peeled, cut into bite-size pieces
1 or 2 key limes, halved (after our recent quest for Peruvian food, I have a large bag of key limes, so I use them everywhere)

Mix all sauce ingredients. I didn't pass them through the blender - next time I will, to make it smooth. I didn't enjoy picking burnt woody pieces of galangal and garlic out of my dish.

Cut the salmon steak into 1 in cubes. Toss the salmon and shrimps with the sauce and marinate for 2 hours.

Soak bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes.

Thread salmon, shrimps, pieces of papaya and halves of key lime on the skewers.

Grill over hot grill about 5 minutes, turning frequently, brushing with the sauce.

Serve over green salad.
And yes, the wine! Margan 2001 Verdelho, from Australia. I was in love with it at the first sip. Similar to my beloved New Zealand Sauv Blancs, but more so. Crisp, with tropical fruits, herbs, and spices. Medium-light body. It's not just an elegant bottle, the content is elegant too. Serve chilled.

Comfort Food: Simple Cabbage Soup, with Belesh

I've been trying to recreate my grandma's pirozhki and beleshi for years. It looked so simple back then: grandma would wake up at 4 am to start the dough. By the time I'm up and finished watching the kids TV program, the dough is up and the filling is ready, so I would have my share of fun helping to shape the pirozhki, playing with the leftover dough, and generally messing up the kitchen. Now grandma is not here anymore, and I am far away, dealing with completely different ingredients, trying to keep the tradition of a distant place and a time long past. Not completely without success. But they don't come out the way I remember them!

So, here are the differences and substitutions:
The beef was all grass fed, poor quality, and previously frozen. This is something you just cannot get in California now - either it's corn fed frozen, or very fresh organic grass fed. I've tried both, they don't taste the same as the beef we had back in Russia. This time I had a package of organic grass fed ground beef from Safeway. Grandma would grind the meat together with the onions and garlic in an old-fashioned hand-operated Chech meat grinder. I have one of these, but since the meat came already ground, I pureed the vegetables in a blender.

The stock used to be made fresh, either with the bones from the same beef, or with an old hen.
I buy stewing hens in the Chinese grocery, make a lot of stock and freeze it in 1 and 2 cup containers (my "bouillon cubes"; I open the freezer and see a dozen containers labelled "chicken", "beef", "crab", "bunny and friends" - that one from leftover rabbit, chicken and duck bones).

We had frozen fresh yeast back in Russia, here I have dry.

The oil that grandma used for frying was refined sunflower oil. I use peanut oil.

I guess the flour and water are completely different too.

And I don't have a clan to feed, so the small scale of my cooking affects the technique.

So, this is what I make out of it.

Beleshi (makes 8)
for the dough:
2 cups bread flour
approx. 1 cup warm water
1/4 tsp dry yeast
1/4 tsp salt

for the filling:
1 lb ground beef, or use half beef, half lamb
2 medium yellow onions
2-3 large garlic cloves
salt and pepper

vegetable oil for frying

Mix the bread dough with the flour, water, yeast and salt, adjust the amount of water to make soft, but not wet, dough, knead for 5 minutes, place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place for 3-4 hours. Fold a few times, pressing the air out, and let rise the second time, 1-2 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling: chop onions and garlic, then coarsely puree in a blender. Mix with the beef, season well with salt and pepper, refrigerate until used.

Divide the dough into 8 equal parts, roll each into a ball, then roll out into a circle. Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling in the center, bring the edges up and seal almost closed, leaving a small opening. With you hand, press the belesh flat.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Place beleshi into the skillet open side down and fry until golden. Turn over, reduce the heat, and finish cooking until the juice runs clear. Remove to a plate covered with a towel, let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cabbage Soup (serves 2)
2 cups chicken or beef stock
1 tbsp olive oil
2 leeks, white part only, halved, cleaned and sliced
1 medium carrot, sliced
about 1/4 of a medium white cabbage, cut into large squares
salt, pepper
chopped dill or parsley, for serving
fried bacon bits, for serving

Heat oil in a deep sautee pan. Over low heat, sautee leeks and carrots until soft. Add stock, bring to boil, add cabbage and cook for a few minutes until the cabbage is ready.

Garnish with dill or parsley and bacon bits.

Just like this! I should make more of these bouillon cubes, they are treasures, save so much work.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Note on my herb garden

So the only herbs in small pots that survived the recent heat wave are basil and tarragon. Lattuces, chervil, cilantro and parsley all dried. The herbs that I transplanted into the soil, as well as tomato seedlings in small pots did fine, with plenty of water.

The hardy herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano and fennel seemed to actually enjoy the heat. Tomatoes and peppers in large boxes did great and grew a lot.

Learn, cat, learn, and watch the weather!

Cooking a Peruvian Meal in California

The long weekend is past, and the idiot cats, instead of going to some sunny place, spent it in the dismal weather of the beatiful San Francisco Bay Area, on a mission.

When many years ago my boyfriend, then a young and skinny student, was leaving home for a dangerous adventure in the universities of North America, one of the things that his mom gave him was a Peruvian cookbook. Yes, one of the first things that hits a hungry and homesick foreign student is a food nostalgia - moms know this. Now, after all these years, countries, and extra pounds, R., a.k.a. the FatCat, still has the book.

So our mission was to find all needed ingredients and to cook as authentic Peruvian dishes as we could. Specifically, we needed a beef heart for anticuchos de corazon, and key limes and panca chili that are used for most sauces and marinades in the Peru Pacific Coast cooking. So we went combing the Bay Area for the exotic stuff.

The limes were easy - most Mexican markets have them. The heart turned out to be a real problem. I had an impression that the big Oriental supermarkets carry it, and if they don't, sure Dittmer's would have it. It's a meat, after all, and if it's meat, Dittmer's has it! So we checked several Chinese markets, they had pork and chicken hearts and beef everything, from hooves to ears to tails - but no beef hearts! Finally in Dittmer's they told us what's going on: everyone who can fish is gone fishing for the long weekend, and beef heart is the fishermen's favorite bait! Dittmer's could order it, frozen, for the next week.

Exhausted by the quest, we stopped for a light lunch in Las Americas, a little Peruvian restaurant on B Street in San Mateo. And there, they not just served us the most authentic, tasty, homestyle food, but also pointed us to a market a couple of blocks away that has all our ingredients!

A few words of praise and a word of caution about Las Americas: it may not look like much (no white linens - no crystal wine decaunters), but it's excellent food and it tastes real - and I had a native to judge this. However, if you don't work on a farm or in the construction business, come very hungry and order carefully, one dish at a time. Most main dishes and even some appetizers are very filling. The people who develop this homestyle cooking do work on farms, and yes, they serve potatoes over rice and eat them with bread. That being said, Las Americas is the best place for Peruvian food on the Peninsula. Not counting my boyfriend's home, of course, when he's in a mood for cooking.

So here's the place where Las Americas owner sent us for ingredients: Mi Rancho market, with three locations on the Peninsula, and one of them happened to be just three blocks down on B Street. It's so clean and well stocked it's hard to believe it's an ethnic market. Mollie Stone's can envy it's neat display of fresh produce. This is why I really don't understand why the manager was so nervious of my taking pictures there. She was just following me around the store, and even when I showed her the pictures I've taken and promised that I won't photograph the customers, just the groceries, she relaxed just a little bit. Well, since the harm is done and these photographs already made the good woman worry, I guess I have to show them here, just to prove that the only thing she had to worry about was too many new customers.

This is where we found the elusive panca chili, and not only dried peppers but also a paste, that is easier to use (now we have both dried and paste, and I am going to extract the seeds from the dried peppers and try to grow fresh). And the good-looking butcher, being asked whether he has heart, put a hand on his chest, then turned around and brought from the back a fresh trimmed 2lb beef heart, at $2/lb!

Now, the quest was almost over, we just had to cook our finds. The beef heart was so clean, I didn't even have to call my brother the vascular surgeon to ask how to trim it. We just cut almost all the fat from the outside and the sinew in the inside.
There is a youtube video from a cooking school that teaches how to make anticuchos:
It's fun to watch, and it has music. Since the video is in Spanish, and doesn't give measures for the ingredients, I am including our version in English. The measures are approximate, as always.

Anticuchos de corazon, beef heart skewers (serves 8 as an appetizer or 4 as a main dish)

2 lb beef heart, trimmed, sliced against the grain about 1/4 in thick

for the marinade:
2-3 tbsp panca chili paste, or substitute a mix of spanish paprika and chili powder - but the taste is not the same!
1 cup red wine vinegar
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp groung cumin
1 tsp fresh oregano, minced, or substitute 1/2 tsp dried
salt, pepper to taste

Combine all marinade ingredients and mix well. Place beef heart slices in a glass dish, cover with marinade and mix. Cover and marinate, refrigerated, for at least two hours, preferrably overnight. Remove the slices from marinade and thread them on skewers. Cook on a preheated griddle or fajitas skillet with a little oil, over high heat, either on the stovetop or on the grill, about 2-3 minutes per side, brushing with the marinade.

Traditionally served with boiled potatoes, but I guess we had all the potatoes we needed to eat this weekend the day before, so we served them with a tomato salad instead.

Choritos a la Chalaca, mussels Callao style (one dozen serves 3-4 as an appetizer)

12 mussels, cleaned

for the salsa:
1 large red onion, finely chopped and rinsed with cold water
1 firm red tomato, chopped
1 cup key lime juice
small bunch of cilantro, chopped
1/2 tsp panca chili paste
1/4 fresh jalapeno pepper, very finely chopped (this was a very brave thing for me, I cannot eat spicy foods and am scared of jalapenos, so he had to convience me to add it. The salsa wasn't very hot, but I still think that I couldn't handle more than 1/4 pepper)

Mix all salsa ingredients and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.

Place the mussels in a pan with a little water added, cook covered until they open, about 2 minutes, discard the ones that didn't open. Remove top half of the shell, place still warm mussels on half-shells on the serving dish and top with cold salsa.

This dish is very much like ceviche, in fact, all the salsa ingredients except the tomato are also used for the ceviche marinade. It's sharp, hot and strong tasting, goes well with a tarter, cool-grown Sauvignon Blank.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fast food, kind of

Garlic and lemon marinated pork loin, grilled vegetables, fire roasted bell peppers, chimichurri sauce.

In the local Safeway they have several kinds of ready-to-cook marinated pork loins on sale for half the price, and this is one of the few processed foods that I don't mind buying when in a hurry, cooking just for myself or making sandwiches to take on a trip. From the list of ingredients in the "Garlic and Lemon" marinade I know it's not very good for me, but it does taste fine and is ready to go on the grill. With the weather changing as it was recently, I don't feel like marinating my own for two days - by the time it's ready it may be so cold and windy that I won't feel like going out and grilling.

So here it is, prepared almost according to the directions on the package: take it out of the plastic, wipe most of the marinade off, you may want to wash and dry it because, at least to my taste, the marinade is very salty, and grill it on a hot grill for about 30 minutes turning four times. Remove from the grill and let sit for a few minutes. Slice against the grain and serve. This pork is also very good cold, so save some to slice for lunch salad or sandwiches the next day.

While it's grilling, prepare the vegetables: wash the carrots, scrubbing them with a sponge, don't peel; quater a small squash; halve a tomato. Brush on some EVOO with salt and pepper. Grill on all sides for 5-10 minutes.

Fire roasted red peppers, done the day before: grill the peppers on a very hot grill, turning to blacken almost all the skin. Remove to a bowl, cover with a plate or plastic wrap, and set aside for 20-30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove the burnt skin, working over the bowl to catch the juices, remove the center with as many seeds as possible, cut into strips; put peppers and the juice in a covered glass jar, season with salt, pepper, EVOO and balsamic vinegar. Can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days.

Chimichurri sauce: in a blender or a food processor, combine a bunch of flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped, 4-5 large garlic cloves, chopped, 3-4 sprigs fresh oregano or a teaspoon dry oregano, a teaspoon of Spanish (toasted) paprika, a little over 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt to taste. Blend until almost smooth, leaving some chunks for texture. Can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator, for a couple of weeks. It looks scary, with green dots of parsley in the light brown paste, but it's so good over any grilled meat or vegetable!

I had this with a glass of California Sauvignon Blanc, the acidic and herbal flavors in the wine and sauce balance very well, and the warm grown CA wine has enough body to support the pork.

As to the last weekend's paella, the pictures didn't come out well again.
So we'll have to make another one before I write about it. We keep practicing.

I think we got the dish right, now it's time to learn to photograph it. Check this blog often, it's coming.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Vegetable soup, update for the previous post

We won't call it minestrone, just a vegetable soup, OK? I was actually able to eat it when it was 95F outside. May be it's because this soup is so colorful, and even now, 15 years out of the bartenders school I still feel that "presentation is everything".

This recipe calls for a lot of engredients, but it's actually very flexible. Anything except the stock, tomatoes, and pasta can left out or substituted.

In my case, I had frozen beef stock made with a ham bone, but regular beef or even good chicken stock should be fine.

For approximately 4 servings:
3-4 cups of beef stock (frozen is fine)
3 slices of bacon
1 large red onion
3 garlic cloves
2 leeks
2 carrots
1 fennel bulb
2-3 selery stalks
1 bell pepper
2-3 small zuccini
3-5 spears of asparagus
a handfull of small pasta, I used aneletti, the little rings; orzo is good; spagetti or any flat pasta can be broken into small pieces; or use rice instead
a handful of fresh fava beans, shelled and skinned

1 large tomato, or use canned
a little olive oil
a few sprigs of oregano and rosemary
salt, pepper
grated parmesan and basil leaves for serving

I know that it's a shame to use this tomato for cooking, but it was huge and overripe, it couldn't wait another day. So I ate half of it in a salad with fresh mozarella, basil, sea salt, pepper, EVOO and just a touch of balsamico, and sacrificed the other half for the soup. In any other situation I would open a can of whole tomatoes, eat one or two, and use the rest, with juice.

Cut bacon into small squares. Peel and chop the onion, mince garlic, cut leeks, celery, fennel and carrots into thin half-rounds, remove seeds from the bell pepper and cut it into 1/2-inch squares, slice the tomato, asparagus and zuccini.
In a large soup pot or deep sautee pan with little olive oil, fry the bacon until crisp. Remove andset aside to dry on a paper towel. In the same oil, sautee the onion and garlic. Add rosemary, oregano, carrots, fennel, celery and leek, cover and cook on low until tender, about 10-15 minutes.

Add stock (if using frozen stock, thaw it and bring to boil first!), pasta, peppers and asparagus, simmer for a few minutes, then add tomatoes, zuccini and beans, simmer for a few more minutes.
The soup is ready whenever the pasta is cooked.
Add bacon, stir, and adjust salt and pepper.
Remove rosemary and oregano, unless you want additional herbal flavor.
Serve garnished with grated parmesan and torn basil leaves, out in the garden.
Wine: BV Coastal Pinot Grigio

Thursday, May 15, 2008

More vegetables from the market

Guys, it's hot here! When the temperature hit 100F, I hit the AC button. Didn't help much, not in a convertible. Well, what's good for my heirloom tomatoes must be good for me, right?
The tomato plants seem to love this.

Thanks to the dry air and the wind, this temperature doesn't make you completely miserable, as it did on the East Coast, with it's summer heat and humidity; here, it's a nice hot day to go check out the market.

The reason why I just cannot miss a week and not go to the market is that, at least this time of the year, there is something new every time.

Last week the first cherries and heirloom tomatoes appeared.

Now we have various kinds of zuccini and other summer squashes.
On the other hand, apples are almost gone by now, and oranges are about to follow. It's good that citrus fruits never really get out of season here, but the peak is past.

So, here is today's catch. Leeks, carrots, asparagus, fava beans, tomatoes, zuccini, onion.
I didn't want the onion, but the vendor literally pushed it on me: you already got onions? Not THIS kind of onions! And it's $1! - it was 30 minuted till the end of the market.

This looks like a minestrone. Or does it?Something's missing here. Well, I guess the heat did get to me to a degree. I forgot my market bag, so when I got to the stall selling beautiful cauliflowers, my hands were full of slippery plastic bags, and I just couldn't carry anything else.
So I'll have to compromize my organic fresh local seasonal cooking and buy cabbage in the supermarket. Or just make a light summery version without cabbage? To be updated...