Sunday, December 6, 2009

Traditional Chilli Crab (without the chillis!)

Hello folks! This is a traditionally spicy Malaysian dish that combines the natural sweetness of the crab with the tartness of tamarind juice and the saltiness of fermented soy bean paste. The result is a mouth-watering delight like no other! Now this dish is usually made spicy with fresh red jalapeño peppers or dried Thai bird chillis. However, this time I've decided to tone down the spiciness by not including any of those peppers due to my children's aversion to spicy food (for now!).

Start with fresh blue crabs from Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. They can vary in sizes but most of them weight less than a pound each, between maybe 8 - 10 oz. Start off by cleaning the crabs under running cold water and (this is not for the faint of heart) chopping the all crabs into half. Save all the juices and bits and pieces of the crab guts that may have accidentally fallen out. These are the yummy parts that will bring the entire dish together when cooked.

Next, prepare the spice mix by grinding them in a food processor. The mix include:

1 TBP fermented soy bean paste
2 inches fresh ginger (grated or chopped fine)
3 - 5 cloves of garlic
2 stalks of lemongrass
5 oz. shallots
Chillis (if you so choose)

Also, at this point, prepare some tamarind juice by soaking the tamarind pulp in hot water for about 10 minutes and straining it to remove all the impurities.

Now let's get the wok going and heat up about 2 TBPs of canola oil. Add the spice mix into the wok and stir-fry until fragrant. Add 1 teaspoon of coriander powder together with 1 TBP sugar. Next, add the chopped crabs along with 1/4 cups of water and 3 TBP of the tamarind juice that was prepared earlier. Stir, bring the heat down to a simmer and cover the wok for 3 - 5 minutes in order to cook the crabs, juices and all. Taste the sauce and adjust by adding salt and pepper or more sugar. Just before serving, add in chopped Chinese chives or scallions (either will do) and continue stirring. It is now ready to eat. Dig in!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Spinach, Roasted Red Pepper & Chèvre Stuffed Chicken Breast

I recently discovered the wickedly delicious flavor combination of goat's milk cheese or chèvre, roasted red pepper and spinach. And the best part is, it is so simple to make, you can whip up a delicious meal in less than 30 minutes. All you need are those 3 ingredients I mentioned above and a chicken breast cutlet to make a meal that may look complex but is really super easy to prep and cook.

Start off by sauteing some spinach. Now, spinach is very delicate and can shrivel down to almost nothing when heated. So, always cook more than you think you need. For 2 servings, I used 2 big bunches of spinach, which is simply saute with salt and pepper. This process takes not even 2 -3 minutes, depending on how hot your pan is. After that is done, remove the spinach from the pan and chill it in your fridge. This is a restaurant trick, which will prevent the spinach from cooking further even when it is out of the pan.

As for the roasted red pepper, you can buy them from any grocery store and they usually come in a glass bottle jar. As they are already cooked, the only prep you need to do is simply dicing them. As for the goat's milk cheese or chèvre, just make sure that they are somewhat soft and pliable before adding the other 2 ingredients. When you add the spinach and roasted red pepper, make sure that you gently fold them into the cheese so as not to turn them into cheese mush. When all the ingredients are thoroughly combined, set it aside in the fridge as you prepare the chicken breast cutlet for stuffing.

Try to remove as much fat from the cutlet and cut a slit down the middle. Spread out the cutlet and drape a piece of saran wrap on top and pound it with the back of a frying pan to flatten it for easier cooking. The next thing you do is stuff the chicken with the cheese stuffing that you just made and bake it in the oven. Oh, remember to season the chicken first with salt and pepper and if you want, brush it with some melted butter as well. And that's it really. Super easy to make and trust me, even more delicious to partake.

As for the sauce, I usually make a chicken velouté (one of the French mother sauces). Start off by melting 2 tablespoons of butter and sweating some shallots and garlic in it. Add 2 tablespoons of flour and incorporate with the rest of the ingredients and saute until it becomes lightly brown. Next, add about 1.5 cups of chicken stock (I make my own but you can buy them off the shelf) and start stirring. At this point I also add some fresh thyme and a bay leaf. Bring the sauce to a boil and you'll notice that it starts to thicken up. Turn down the heat and simmer. Continue stirring until it comes to the right consistency for a sauce (not too thick or thin like a soup). If it is too thick, add more chicken stock. Too thin and you need to reduce it slightly by continuing to simmer the sauce. Next, season it to your taste with salt and pepper and you are done.

Silver Pomfret/Dollarfish 2 Ways - Steamed and Miso-glazed

There have been plenty of misrepresentations about the butterfish. I've heard many people mistakenly refer to sablefish, Chilean seabass or black cod as butterfish even though they don't look remotely alike. Searching through Google's vast internet search would confuse you even more. One article states that the butterfish is also known as skipjack or dollarfish and is flat in appearance like flounder but swims vertically like a regular fish and another has it connected to cod. Huh?!

I recently spotted some fresh diamond-shaped fish that was labeled as "butterfish", for the first time at my local grocery store. I highly doubt that they were butterfish; they look more like the Chinese silver pomfret or even dollarfish. First of all, they are quite small in size, maybe 4-5 oz. each (with the head, tail and fins intact). Having not prepared this type of fish before, I decided to try cooking them using 2 methods, steamed and baked in the oven with a miso-sake glaze. Mind you, the pomfret is such a delicate fish, the meat will fall apart on you easily if not handled properly. Considering that the fish is relatively quite small, there is hardly much meat to begin with.

First, let's talk about the steamed pomfret dish. I started by marinating the fish in a mix of fish sauce and yuzu for about an hour or so, letting the tart flavors seep ever so slightly into the fish. Before steaming, I added a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil and scallions to the dish together with about 1/2 a cup of water to lessen the saltiness from the fish sauce. Steam it in the wok for approximately 20 - 30 minutes. It doesn't take long to cook as the fish is small and delicate.

Next is the baked miso-sake-glazed pomfret. Normally, a miso-sake-glazed fish should be grilled but at the time that I was preparing this dish, it was too late (and much too dark) to get the outdoor grill going. Also, this fish is so delicate and might fasll apart easily, I was afraid that grilling might not be the best cooking method for it. To prepare the glaze, you need:

3 TBP red/yellow miso
2 TBP sugar
3 TBP sake
2 TBP mirin

All the above ingredients together in a pot, bring to a boil and immediately take it off the heat and stir. Let it cool and glaze both sides of the fish with it. Turn on the oven to 350F and line your sheet pan with aluminium foil before laying the fish on it. Let it cook for approximately 30 minutes. Check often to make sure that the surface of the fish do not start to burn because of the sugar in the glaze. When it is ready, serve the fish with a side of white rice and stir-fried vegetables.

And there you have it, 2 preparations for pomfret. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Braised Pork Spare Ribs

Pork spare ribs is a very delicious cut of meat when braised until it turns fall-off-the-bone tender. There is just simply nothing better than the melt-in-your-mouth sensation of chewing into a mouthful of juicy and tender spare ribs (except maybe juicy and tender short ribs!). And the best thing is, it's really not that complicated to make.

Here's what you need:
Bone-in spare ribs - 1-1.5 lbs
Tomato paste - 2 tablespoons
Korean chili paste (gochujang) - 1 tablespoon
Red wine (Merlot) - 2 cups (or enough liquid to barely cover the spare ribs in your pot)
Mirepoix (onions, celery, carrots - rough dice) - 2 cups onions, 1 cup each celery & carrots
Bouquet garni - bay leaf, parsley stems and fresh thyme
Beef/veal stock - 2 cups
Coriander, Salt & pepper

First, clean the spare ribs by removing some of the fat (not all). Season with some oil, salt, pepper and coriander powder. Heat up a pot with 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil and start searing the spare ribs until they turn slightly brown on all sides. Now, remove the ribs and set aside for now. Add the mirepoix vegetables and saute them for a minute or two. Then deglaze the pot with the stock, scraping the bottom of the pot to remove the delicious bits and pieces of the ribs that were left behind from the earlier searing. Put the seared spare ribs back into the pot, arranging them above the mirepoix. Add tomato paste, gochujang and the red wine, together with the bouquet garni. At this point, fill up the pot until it barely covers the ribs.

Now, you can just let the pot simmer, bubbling a little bit but not boiling. Cover the pot with a lid but not entirely. It should take about 2-3 hours of low simmering for the braise to complete. Check the ribs for tenderness after 90 minutes to 2 hours. When it turns fall-off-the-bone tender, it is done. Add some stock or water if the level of the liquid gets too low. Now, remove the ribs gently, careful not to have the meat fall apart on you as you transfer it to a plate. Strain the braising liquid to remove the mirepoix. Pour the braising liquid back into the pot and season with salt and pepper. If it is not of a saucy consistency, reduce the liquid by turning the heat back on. Check the final seasoning and you are done.

Nothing to it, right?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Chicken Penne Alfredo - Made Easy

Fettuccine alfredo is a mainstay of most Italian restaurants. The secret to this dish is of course, the alfredo sauce, a delicious mix of cream, butter and cheese. According to legend, it was created by Italian restaurateur, Alfredo di Lelio, at his restaurant in Rome in the early part of the last century. The dish eventually gained fame when legendary actors, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks had it at di Lelio's restaurant and because they liked it so much, brought it home to serve to their own friends. Word quickly spread about this extraordinary pasta dish and the fettuccine alfredo was born.

Of course, in the original version, the pasta used is fettuccine but nowadays, any type of pasta is acceptable. For my version, I am using penne, a cylindrically-shaped pasta. As always, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente, undercooking it just a little bit. Remember that pasta can go from undercooked to overcooked very quickly. As soon as you think it is done, strain it out of the boiling water and run cold water over it immediately, which will help to stop the carryover cooking process. Do the same thing with the broccoli, boiling it quickly to just soften it up just a little. Overcooking will result in unappetizing and mushy broccoli. Yuck! As for the chicken, cut it into small slices. You can use either dark or white chicken meat for this application. Now, you can cook it in two ways. You can either season and then bake it in the oven or you can saute it when you are making the sauce. Either way is fine but I chose the former.

Now lets work on the sauce. At the basic level, you need heavy cream, unsalted butter and shredded parmesan cheese. Start off by melting 3-4 TBPs of butter and sauteing julienned onions and garlic in it until they are soft and lightly brown. Deglaze the pan with heavy cream, about 1 - 1.5 cups, and add the shredded parmesan cheese. Keep stirring to melt the cheese. Parmesan is a very hardy cheese and will melt well when cooked. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper. I also like to add half a teaspoon of coriander powder and some fresh thyme to add an extra dimension to the sauce. Reduce the sauce a little so that it will thicken up. The cheese will also help with the thickening process. When you've gotten the sauce to the right taste and consistency, add the chicken, pasta, the broccoli and also some chopped roasted red pepper for color and taste. You can even add mushrooms and other types of vegetables.

And that's it. All done! Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Buffalo Chicken Wrap

A staple of most bars and other fine drinking establishments, the ubiquitous buffalo wing appetizer basket is as common as dollar beers during happy hour. Featuring deep fried chicken wing drummettes that are seasoned with a hot sauce and butter concoction, it is traditionally served with raw celery and carrot sticks and a blue cheese dipping sauce. As the name reveals, buffalo-style chicken first originated from Buffalo, New York. There are several versions of how it was created but everyone agreed on the fact that it first appeared at the Anchor Bar back in 1964. While the original is made from chicken wings, there are other variants made with shrimp or chicken breast cutlets but all with the same sauce.

Speaking of the sauce, it's as easy as buying a bottle of hot sauce (preferably Frank's), some vinegar (if the hot sauce is not already laden with it) and butter and mixing them all together. However, if you want to get fancy, then you can certainly make the taste of the sauce more intricate by adding honey, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, lime/lemon juice, onions and garlic. As you can see, the sauce can be as complicated as you want it to be. But the base should be the 3 ingredients I mentioned earlier. Everything else is just extra gravy for taste. If you are adding onions and garlic, do saute them first.

As for the poultry, the traditionalist would do chicken wings, which usually comes in 3 connected pieces of meat. Cut the tip off and discard (or save it later for making chicken stock) and separate the other 2 drummette pieces as well with a cleaver. Prepare some egg wash and flour and get ready to deep fry. You can choose to season the flour but I think that the sauce is pretty intense and salty enough that you don't need extra seasoning in your flour. Egg wash first and the flour and right into your pot of hot oil. Fry for about 5 minutes or so or until it starts to turn slightly brown. Remove the drummettes at this time because it will continue to cook as it sits on a paper towel-lined plate.

If you are making buffalo chicken for a wrap, a drummette with bones will definitely not do. So for this particular application, I used chicken breast cutlets, cut into thin and small pieces. and perform the same process with the egg wash and flour. Now it is just a matter of tossing the fried chicken with the sauce that you prepared earlier. I would use a deep dish mixing bowl big enough to hold all the chicken and the sauce.

As for the dipping sauce, I mixed equal parts sour cream and mayonnaise together with crumbled Gorgonzola blue cheese and a touch of white wine vinegar and lemon juice. To assemble the wrap (I used sun-dried tomato wraps), warm them up first. Spread the blue cheese sauce on half of the wrap, add lettuce, small diced celery and tomatoes and the buffalo chicken breasts.

As my daughters are still quite averse to spicy food, I also prepared some honey BBQ wings for them, together with the buffalo wings. The sauce is as simple as taking off the shelf smoked BBQ sauce and adding honey to it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ginger & Lemongrass Salmon with Sweet Potato Hash

This dish is a meld of East and West flavors: a Western sweet potato hash is paired with distinctly Asian flavors of ginger and lemongrass and unified by a delicious fillet of pan-fried Atlantic salmon.

First, let's talk about the hash. A hash is a simple side dish that can easily be made on the fly. I used regular Russert and also sweet potatoes for my hash. Dice them up small together with onions, garlic and mushrooms. Start off by sweating the onions and then cook the garlic. Next, add both kinds of potatoes and keep frying them until they soften. To add some Asian flavors to the hash, I sprinkle some coriander and cumin and instead of salt, I used soy sauce instead. Add pepper and the mushrooms and cook for another minute and set aside. Have some scallions and parsley chopped and ready to fold into the hash when you are ready to serve. Do not add them now as they will soften with the heat and turn to mush.

Now let's get on to the salmon. Before cooking it, finely chop onions, garlic and ginger. I used lemongrass to add a citrus flavor. As you can't eat the lemongrass, cut the stalk into about an inch in length (so that they can be easily removed later) and crush them with the side of your knife to release its flavors. Remove the skin from the salmon and season both sides with salt and pepper. Get a pan of oil hot and pan fry the salmon, starting with the skin side up. You can also sprinkle some flour onto the salmon if you so choose before frying. As soon as the frying side of the fish turns a little crispy, turn it over to fry the other side. Depending on the thickness of the fillet, the fish may not be cooked all the way through even though the external flesh is slightly crispy. If this is the case, turn on your oven to 400F and bake the salmon for 5 - 10 minutes or until it is cooked. Remember not to overcook the salmon or it will dry out.

Let's move to making the sauce. When the salmon is out of the pan, pour some of the excess oil out and saute the onions, lemongrass, ginger and garlic (in that order), all the while scraping the pan to get the delicious bits and pieces of the salmon to mix in with the other ingredients. Deglaze the pan with 1 tablespoon each of fish sauce and kicap manis. Add 1 cup of water and continue to simmer in order to concentrate the flavors. When you get the flavors to your liking, remove the stalks of lemongrass before serving. At this point, reheat your hash and fold in the chopped scallions and parsley. Leave some scallions to garnish the salmon with. Plate it up like you see in the pictures and you have yourself a delicious salmon dinner with sweet potato hash.

Baked Butterscotch Pear Anise

Here's a delicious and simple dessert that you can try at home. It is oven-baked butterscotch pears with a star anise, cinnamon and molasses cream sauce, finished with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. There are literally 3000+ varieties of pears grown all over the world. The biggest producers of pears in the U.S. are Oregon and Washington state, growing 4 of the most common varieties of pears: Bartlett, Anjou, Bosc and Comice. For this application, I used Bosc pears, which are perfect for baking.

Start off by peeling the skins off the pears, halving them and removing the core and the seeds. Melt a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter and brush it onto the pears. Then sprinkle some sugar onto the buttered pears halves. At this point, you should have your oven pre-heated to 375F. As soon as it is ready, arrange the pear halves onto a buttered baking sheet and pop them into the oven. Depending on how ripe the pears are, baking should take between 30 -90 minutes. Test to see if the pears are soft to the touch. You can also use a toothpick to prick the pears. If it goes in easily, then they are done.

Remove the pears from the baking sheet and set aside. You should notice some caramelized sugar together with some melted butter on the bottom of the baking sheet. Heat up the baking sheet a little to loosen up the butter and sugar and pour it into a small pot. Add 1 stick of cinnamon and a star anise into the pot. Next, pour in about 1 cup of heavy cream and 2- 3 tablespoons of molasses and bring the pot to a simmer. Molasses is a byproduct in the processing of sugar cane or sugar beets into sugar. It is sweet like honey but imparts a distinct smoky flavor. It can also be used as a sauce for savory meat dishes.

Let the pot simmer to draw the flavor of the cinnamon and star anise out. If need be, add more cream if it becomes too thick. The taste of the sauce should not be too sweet with a liquorice-like flavor (from the star anise). To plate it, spoon the sauce onto the bottom of a shallow bowl, and arrange 2 pear halves as you see in the pictures. Add a dollop of whipped cream and sprinkle chocolate sprinkles and top it off with a fresh sprig of mint. To add originality to the overall presentation of this dessert, you can also arrange the star anise and cinnamon on the plate as you see in the pictures.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

From Leftovers To.....Restaurant-Quality Fried Noodles!

Oftentimes, I have plenty of leftovers in my fridge just because, well, I cook too much! :) So here's a tip on how you can turn leftovers into a delicious fried noodle dish fit for a restaurant. OK, here's what I had in my fridge:
  • Shrimp stir-fry with broccoli and carrots
  • 5-Spice roasted pork belly (sliced into thin pieces)
What I added are rice noodle sticks (the same ones used for Pad Thai), mushrooms, onions and garlic. That's all, very simple. To add a little bulk to the dish, I also cut up a piece of chicken breast cutlet that was sitting in the freezer.

OK, let's get to it. First, soak the noodles in hot water for about 30 minutes. You don't want to boil the noodles and make too soft as you'll be frying it in a little while. Get a wok or pan hot with vegetable oil in it. Start by sauteing the onions first, sweating them before adding the garlic. Now add the raw protein, in this case, it is only the chicken meat as the shrimp and pork belly are already cooked. Add some seasonings like fish sauce and pepper. Make sure that the chicken is cooked before adding the noodles. I would normally cook the vegetables at this point but as they are already cooked, there is no need to. Use a pair of tongs to stir up the ingredients together with the noodles. Add soy sauce and sweet soy sauce (or Kicap Manis) to get the darker color that you see on the noodles and keep stirring. Now, add the leftovers and the mushrooms and stir it up some more. Taste and add more soy sauce if needed. I also like to add a teaspoon of sugar and a dash of sesame oil to my noodles. So, keep mixing and frying until the noodles become soft.

And there you have it. Delicious fried noodles made from leftovers. Yummy!

12-Minute Pizza From Start To Finish

How many times have you wished that you had something in your kitchen that is not only fresh and delicious but quick to prepare as well? Well, I'm here to tell you about how you can whip out a delicious pepperoni pizza in 12 minutes flat from scratch, start to finish. Nope, I'm not kidding. And it's not the frozen kind either.

Here's what you need:

Naan flatbread
Marinara sauce
Mozzarella cheese (shredded)

OK, let's start the clock. Tick-tock!
Turn on your oven and pre-heat it to 425F. This is when you start working on assembling your pizza. Spread marinara sauce onto the flatbread and sprinkle some mozzarella cheese, covering the entire flatbread. Tick-tock. Now, arrange pieces of pepperoni onto the cheese-covered flatbread. Cover that with more cheese. Tick-tock. It's only been less than 5 minutes and your pepperoni is already assembled and ready to start baking. At about this point, you'll probably hear your oven beeping, signaling that it is ready.

Well, what are you waiting for? The clock's ticking (literally)! Tick-tock......quickly shove the pizza into the oven, my friend! it is just a waiting game. Tick-tock. 5-7 minutes is all you need in the oven for the cheese to melt into a gooey delicious mess. Tick-tock.

Ding! Pizza's ready!

Time to dig in, folks! It'll probably take you longer to eat the pizza than to assemble and bake this fresh pizza pie from scratch. Unbelievable!

NOTE: To jazz up your pizza just a little, try adding fresh basil (or dry basil flakes) together with garlic powder and fresh ground black pepper to the sauce. You can even think about different toppings. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Simple Sushi - Oxymoron? I Think Not!

The term "simple sushi" may sound like an oxymoron but is it really that hard to make? I mean, we can all agree that sushi chefs are masters of their art and it takes years of training to be good at making this Japanese dish. Can a home cook without any kind of training or experience bang out some nice sushi rolls? Well, let's find out.

First of all, let's lower our own expectations, shall we? We are never going to be able to produce sushi that looks like a work of art overnight. So let's not even think that. Just keep it simple. The key to making good sushi is a belief in yourself, know what you need and be organized. However, before we get to that, let's just review what is it that we are actually making. Sushi is very different from sashimi. The term sushi has become such commonplace that it has been used interchangeably with sashimi. A lot of times, sushi gets confused with sashimi, which is just slices of raw fish, served as-is. On the other hand, sushi refers to the Japanese snack food that comprises vinegared rice that is rolled with dried seaweed sheets (better known as nori) together with vegetables or cooked seafood ingredients.

Here are the things that you'll need to make sushi:

Sushi rice (any short grain variety will do)
Nori (seaweed sheets)
Sesame seeds
Rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt
Sushi-rolling mat made from bamboo (covered in plastic saran wrap)

For this application, we'll be making maki-sushi, which is rice and seaweed rolled with vegetables or seafood. This is the most common type of sushi. Let's do a vegetarian one, starting with basic ingredients like avocado, carrots and cucumber. Simple enough, right? Now, let's get ourselves organized by doing a mise en place of whatever ingredients and tools that we are going to need.

First off, let's make the sushi rice. Wash the rice until the water is clear, which eliminates most of the starch. Drain the water and let the rice sit for about 30 minutes. Cook the rice with a tad less water than you would normally add, to make sure that the rice will not get too mushy when the vinegar mix is added. While the rice is cooking, let's make the vinegar mix. Now, every sushi chef have their own secret recipe for this but let's just make do with a standard recipe:

2.5 - 3 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 - 3 tablespoon sugar
1.5 teaspoon salt

Heat up these ingredients in a small pot until the sugar dissolves. Do not let the mixture boil. Let it cool down. When the rice is done, transfer it out of the pot and start adding the vinegar mix, folding it thoroughly and gently into the rice with a wooden ladle. As you do this, you are supposed to fan the rice to cool it down but that's up to you. I personally don't think it is necessary. As you add the vinegar mix, taste the rice to make sure that you've not added too much. After you've made rice, you should use it immediately and not let it sit. At most, sushi should be consumed a couple of hours after it is made.

Before the rice is done, you should get the vegetable ingredients ready. Cut the carrots and cucumber (remove the seeds first) into thin matchstick-like portions. As for the avocado, cut them into thin slices as well. Now you are ready to roll your sushi. Before using the bamboo mat, wrap it in saran wrap to make sure that the rice doesn't stick to the mat.

Let's make sushi, shall we?

Lay down a nori sheet onto the mat. Now, spread the rice on 2/3 of the nori, starting from the bottom, covering it with rice all the way to the sides. Add your vegetables in the middle of the rice from one side end to the other. Make sure you don't add too much as it will be hard to roll. Now, lift the end of the mat closest to you and fold it over the filling, all the while making sure you are rolling instead of just folding. As you do this, tuck the end of your fold into the rice, closing the fold, applying even pressure throughout. Now, lift the end of the mat that you were rolling and continue rolling the rest of the nori, making sure you keep the roll tight.

Congratulations, you've just made maki-sushi! Serve the sushi with either soy sauce or ponzu (Japanese citrus soy sauce) and wasabi.

NOTE: For a more awesome-tasting sushi, I like to add a miso sauce together with the ingredients before you start rolling the sushi. It gives the sushi a sweeter taste that you'll never find anywhere else. Here's the recipe for the sauce:

3 tablespoon red/yellow miso
2 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoon sake
2 tablespoon mirin

Bring this mix to a simmer and keep stirring until you get a pasty consistency.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala is a classic Italian dish that, in its traditional form, consists of chicken breast cutlets, mushrooms and Marsala wine. Of course, my philosophy is, as always, you can make any dish your own by adding extra ingredients that you like to eat (as long as the ingredients do not clash with one another) but keeping the basic form of the dish intact. For instance, in my chicken marsala dish, I like to add asparagus spears and garnish with finely chopped scallions instead of parsley. The main ingredient, the Marsala wine originates from the Sicilan city of Marsala. It is a fortified wine similar to Port and is traditionally served as an aperitif. Now it is used more as a cooking wine.

Here are the ingredients that you'll need to make this version of chicken marsala:

Chicken breast (or dark meat if you prefer)
Mushroom (crimini, shiitake) cut into slices
Marsala wine
Chicken stock
Flour (seasoned with salt and pepper)
Asparagus (cut into an inch in length)
Onions or shallots (chopped small)
Dried herbs (thyme/oregano)

To prepare the chicken meat, I prefer to slice it into thin cutlets. You can also choose to pound the meat with a tenderizer but be careful cause over-beating the meat will turn it into mush. Season the chicken meat with salt and pepper. Heat up a pan while you coat the chicken cutlets with the seasoned flour. The flour provides a nice coating for the meat and also prevents it from sticking to the pan. If you slice the chicken thin enough, the cutlets will cook in no time, before the outer coating turns too brown or burnt. Remove the cutlets when they are done and move them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain the excess oil.

At this point, do not wash the pan yet. You'll need it to make the sauce. First, drain away the excess oil and melt 2 TBS of butter and start sweating the onions. Add the mushrooms and cook out the liquid. Deglaze the pan with the Marsala wine, chicken stock, add the herbs and let it reduce to an almost syrupy consistency. Taste and season the sauce with salt and pepper. For the asparagus, cut off the bottom ends (about 2 inches) and discard. Cut the remaining asparagus into one-inch sticks and saute with salt and pepper until they are slightly soft. As for the pasta, cook the spaghetti until al dente and add some melted butter so that the pasta doesn't stick together.

Now you are ready to serve. Plate the pasta first, arrange the chicken cutlets around the plate, sprinkle the asparagus spears around the plate and finally, spoon the sauce over the everything and garnish with the scallions.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lobster Vindaloo with Basmati Coconut Rice

Vindaloo is a traditional Goan dish originating from Portugal. Usually paired with pork and red wine, this Portuguese dish was transformed into an Indian curry dish when various spices were added and cooked with chicken or lamb. Vindaloo has become pretty popular overseas (UK, Europe, U.S.), with many Indian restaurants in those countries offering a variant of the dish. Rather than having a hard time deciphering recipes and hunting for the various spices that go into a vindaloo, you can actually buy a bottle of vindaloo paste from your local Indian grocery store or any other supermarkets that has an international food aisle. Cooking it is as easy as just adding onions, tomato and othe vegetables to the vindaloo paste together with some water. As for me, I like to amp it up with a few extra spices of my own like star anise, a bay leaf, cumin, coriander and cinnamon.

For this dish I picked lobster because it so happened that the day that I wanted to make vindaloo with shrimp, I stopped by my local supermarket and they had fresh live lobsters going for $3.49/lb. Yes, you read that right: $3.49/lb! Lobsters have never been this cheap before. Isn't it great living in New England? So I went home with 2 lobsters for less than $9. Anyway, I started off by sauteing some yellow onions and garlic. I cut the lobsters into half right down the middle. Pan frying them like this ensures that the flavorful parts of the lobster that reside in the head is not wasted. Also, you should crack the claws with the back of your knife to make sure that it cooks properly. So now, go ahead and pan fry the lobsters flesh side down together with the onions and garlic that was cooking earlier. Cover the pan to simmer the lobster, making sure they cook all the way through. Now, add a tablespoon of the vndaloo paste together with half a cup of water. Add all the extra spices that I mentioned earlier and mix well. Simmer again to let all the nice flavors develop.

I decided to add carrots and sweet potatoes to this vindaloo dish. To make sure that everything cooks properly, I boiled these root vegetables first as they would take a much longer time to cook than the other ingredients in the pot. Now, add the cooked root vegetables to the pot and simmer some more. Just before finishing, I cut up some fresh spinach and add it into the pot, making sure that it wilts slightly just before turning off the heat and serving. To accompany this vindaloo, I cooked some basmati rice together with coconut milk and a pinch or two of salt. When the rice is cooked, I fold in a cup of raisins. Now the dish is ready to be served.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Deep-Fried Spring Rolls

In an earlier blog, I demonstrated how to make a delicious and refreshing Vietnamese spring roll. Now I would like to show you how to make a version that is deep fried and just as yummy! With the previous spring roll, I utilized a translucent rice paper wrapper made from what else, rice flour. For this fried version, I am using a spring roll pastry wrapper made from wheat flour instead. It can be found in the frozen section of most oriental grocery stores.

One of the most important ingredient found in this spring roll is the root vegetable, jicama (pronounced hee-kha-ma), also known as Mexican turnip. Here's a picture of a jicama (on left). As you can see, the exterior is papery brown while the inside is white and has the texture almost like a cross between a daikon and an apple. Like daikon, it tastes refreshing but just not as bitter. While the jicama can be eaten raw (like in salads), it can also be cooked them and it is an integral part of this deep-fried spring roll's filling.

For the filling, I julienned jicama, carrots, Chinese chives, garlic and onions. If you are making a vegetarian version, you can also add tofu and broccoli. I made this one with the addition of chicken and broccoli because I had some leftover chicken stir fry from the day before. The best thing about these types of spring roll fillings is you can add most anything you like. You can make a seafood version with shrimp and scallops or a vegetarian version that I just mentioned earlier. Cook the filling like you would a stir fry with a little bit of soy sauce and oyster sauce. Just make sure that the final product does not contain too much gravy. Too soupy and the filling has a bad habit of leaking out from the wrapper and you'll have a hard time when deep-frying. In the following sequence of photos, I'll show you how to wrap the spring roll.

Pretty easy, huh? When you are wrapping these puppies, make sure that the rest of the wrappers are not fully exposed to the air as they would dry out pretty quickly. Make sure you keep them inside the bag that they came in and covered on the outside with a damp cloth. Also, after wrapping a bunch of these spring rolls, make sure that you do not stack them together or make contact with one another as the wrappers will stick together and tear when you try to pry them apart. When you deep-fry, make sure that the oil is really hot (at least 350F) before dropping them in. My favorite dipping sauce for this deep-fried spring roll is Worcestershire sauce, spiced up with some Thai bird chillies. Totally yummy!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Beets & Goat Cheese Spinach Salad

Here's a simple and seasonal salad idea. Beets are a root vegetable that are available all year round but is most prominent in the Fall season. You see it on most dinner tables during Thanksgiving. To cook it, some people will tell you to boil it but I usually roast it in the oven. Remember to oil the beets first before roasting it covered with tin foil. It usually takes about 90 minutes to 2 hours at 400F. Use a fork to poke the flesh to see if it has soften enough. If you meet resistance, continue roasting. When it is done cooking, let it cool for a few minutes and start peeling the skin off while it is still hot. It is easier to get the skin off when you peel it in a pot of water. When done, just cut it into half inch cubes.

The next ingredient is goat cheese, which is made from......drumroll.....goat's milk! It is slightly tart and very creamy, easily spreadable. Goat's milk is also an ingredient used in Greek feta cheese. Goat's cheese is very popular in Europe and also the Mediterranean. For this salad, just use your fingers and crumble the cheese or pinch them into pea-sized balls.

For the rest of this salad, I used spinach as the base but a more appropriate vegetable would be using the spring mix of frisée or arugula. Also in this salad are dried cranberries, which I reconstituted by boiling them briefly in sugared water. In fact you can use any other kinds of dried fruit for this application, like apricots or figs. The addition of candied walnuts or pecans should also add some texture and crunch to this salad (which, sadly I don't have on hand for this salad). As for the dressing, you can go with a basic balsamic vinegraitte or a sweet/tart combination like honey ginger or honey lemon.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fig, Blue Cheese and Prosciutto Appetizer idea

Now, here's a simple appetizer idea that should wow your friends at dinner parties. It not only looks sophisticated and upscale but it tastes great as well. The key to this appetizer is the delicate balance between the natural sweetness of the fig and the saltiness of the blue cheese and prosciutto.

The common fig is a popular fruit grown in parts of the Middle-East like Iran, the Mediterranean and also northern India. Here in the United States, figs are grown in California, Texas, Oregon and Washington state. I love fresh figs because they impart a natural sweetness that is unique in both taste and texture.

To prep this appetizer, start off by buying thinly sliced prosciutto, fresh figs and a small block of blue cheese. You don't need to use much of the cheese because it is pungent and can easily overwhelm the other two ingredients. Cut the figs into slices, making sure they are not too thin or the slice will easily fall apart on you. Also, you want more of the sweetness of the figs to come through to counter the pungency of the blue cheese and the saltiness of the prosciutto. Break off a small piece of blue cheese, place it on top of the fig and roll a small slice of prosciutto around the cheese and sliced fig.

Voila! Very easy and no cooking required! Have fun!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Miso & Wasabi-Crusted Filet Mignon

Filet mignon is usually prepared with just simple seasoning of salt and pepper and seared to a medium rare temperature. Very simple yet delicious. For this dish, I decided to put an Asian twist on the filet mignon by adding traditional Japanese flavors to it. Here we have 2 petite 5oz. filets crusted with miso and wasabi paste and topped with black and white sesame seeds. Let me take you through the steps on how to prepare this dish.

Start off by preparing the paste. Mix a tablespoon of miso paste (red or yellow are both acceptable) with half a teaspoon of wasabi powder (or paste) and a teaspoon each of mirin and sake and a dash of sugar. The amount of wasabi depends on how "up-you-nose-spicy" you want to get with the filets. Mix thoroughly and set aside for the moment. Make sure that the mixture is not too liquidy. It must have a pasty consistency in order to stick onto the filet's surface.

Next, season the filets ever so slightly with just a little salt and pepper. Remember that the miso is already salty. Heat up a skillet and sear the top and bottom surfaces of the filets just enough to lightly brown them. At this point, the temp of the filets are probably more to the rare than medium rare side. Remove the filets from the skillet and generously lather both surfaces of the filets with the miso mixture paste. Set your oven to 350F and start cooking the filets for about 5 minutes or so, checking the doneness of the meat every 2 minutes or so. Remember, you don't want to overcook your filets. As soon as they get to a medium rare temp, put the filets under a broiler to brown the miso paste and create a crust. At this point, you can also sprinkle the sesame seeds onto the top surface of the filets. As soon a the miso start to brown, remove the filets immediately. Let the meat rest for 5 minutes or so.

For the sauce, I pureed roasted red peppers, shallots, ginger and garlic and cook the puree with a couple of tablespoons of worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper and you are ready to go. Simple. For the rest of the dish, I grilled some asparagus spears, cooked some sliced mushrooms with garlic and shallots and made some sushi rice. You can garnish the plate with chopped scallions.

As you can see, it's not that hard to cook this dish even though it may look and sound pretty intimidating. You just need the right ingredients and some organization and planning. Good luck!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Japanese Egg Molds: How-To

How do you turn an ordinary oval-shaped chicken egg into a fun food item that'll be the talk of your child's kindergarten? Turn it into a bunny-shaped hard-boiled egg, that's how! In another what-will-they-think-of-next segment of "Those Crazy Japanese," the Land of the Rising have given us the--drum-roll--Egg Mold! Although it's been around for years, I've just recently discovered it through my 'net surfing for the latest food trends. In the competitive world of bento preparation, mothers all over Japan compete against each other to decorate their children's lunch (bento) boxes with the most unique and and most colorful food items. Star-shaped carrots, meat patties decorated like Mickey Mouse's face, Hello Kitty-shaped hard-boild eggs, you name it and it's been done. And yes, I'm pretty serious.

So I decided to seek out these unique egg molds, in the hope that it might help my youngest daughter to finally get eggs onto her very limited food likes. After hunting around for a while, I found these molds (2 per pack) on Ebay for less than $5 each (see below).

So how does one get these egg molds to work? Well, here are step-by-step instructions:

Step 1: Buy molds!

Step 2: You'll need eggs, specifically extra-large eggs. The large ones would work as well but the shapes won't be as defined. So get that egg into a pot of boiling water and make yourself a hard-boiled egg.

Step 3: When the egg is done, remove the shell cleanly, making sure not to tear the outside egg white. Place the egg onto the mold and gently press down and shut the mold.

Step 4: Place the egg mold (with the boiled egg in it) into the refrigerator for about 15 -30 minutes for it to cool down and take its shape. When it's done, you'll get..........TADA! A bunny-shaped egg!

Step 5: You are done! Now you can remove the molded egg and either leave it whole (3-D bunny head) or cut it in half and have 2 bunny faced eggs!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Quiche Florentine

If you are ever in the mood for eggs, try making a quiche. It's easy and pretty darn delicious too. Quiche is of French origin, it is a baked egg custard served on a pastry shell. The best thing about this dish is you can add most anything you want as a filling. You are only limited by your imagination and how the flavors go together. Most quiche are savory and this one is filled with chopped spinach and artichokes, onions, ham and shredded cheese.

Start off with a pie crust. You can either get a pre-made pie shell (as shown above) or buy pie dough and cut it to fit any baking dish. To fill up one of these pie shells, you need approximately 8 large eggs and half a cup of light cream. Remember to season the eggs and cream mix with salt and pepper. To put the quiche together, first sprinkle some shredded cheese (Cheddar or Monterey Jack) on the bottom of the shell (be generous). Next, add your filling, which in this case are chopped fresh spinach and artichokes plus onions and shredded ham. Now, fill the pie crust up with the eggs and cream mixture right up to the top. Sprinkle more shredded cheese over the top surface of the quiche and you are ready to bake. Pre-heat your oven to 350F and bake for 40 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the middle of the quiche and make sure it comes out clean. Oh, one more thing. When you bake the quiche, make sure that you place it on a sheet tray in case the eggs boil over and make a mess out of your oven.

And that's it. You got yourself the perfect breakfast.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Braised Spare Ribs with Mushroom, Leek & Green Beans and Garlic Mashed Potato

The term spare ribs actually originates from the German word rippenspeer or "spear ribs" as this cut of meat was usually skewered through a spear and roasted over fire. BBQ spareribs are a staple of Chinese restaurants but for this dish, I decided to braise it with coconut milk, ginger, honey (or molasses) , onions, garlic, lime juice and fresh jalapenos.

I started off by first searing the spare ribs (seasoned with salt and pepper) to get a slight browning on the outside. Then I added all the ingredients together and marinated the spare ribs in it for a few hours in the refrigerator. After that, all you have to do is cover the spare ribs and its marinate with a tin foil and pop it into the oven for between one to two hours at a relatively low temperature of 350F. Remember to baste the spare ribs every 15 minutes or so to keep the meat moist. Check for tenderness towards the end and the spare ribs should be done when the meat falls of the bone easily.

As for the side dishes, I have steamed green beans topped with sauteed mushrooms and leeks and homemade mashed garlic and parmesan potatoes, garnished with chives.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Top Chef Sin City (Episode 4): à double problème (Double Trouble)

How do you keep Sin City's Top Chef contestants on the edge of their knives? Change the rules in the middle of the game, that's how. I love it when the show mixes it up and catches everyone off guard and that's exactly what happened this week. "Survivor" does it all the time (not that I watch it anymore) but Top Chef has been pretty much on the straight and narrow path, providing very little surprises. For eg., when Padma comes in to call the first group of contestants to the judges' table, you already know, without a doubt, that they are the winners of the challenge. I just wished that maybe once, Padma would switch it up and stun everybody by calling the losers first.

So, for episode 4, the rules are tweaked a little. First, the show decided to eliminate 2 chefs instead of the usual single elimination. Not only that, it is the episode where everything is all French, all the time. You've got your snails (it's escargot, monsieur and madame!), your French classic sauces, your classic French chefs, poussin and at the end of it all, "lè guillotine" to the contestant with the worse dish! Sounds so delectable and so French!

First, the Quickfire. This one is held in French chef and restaurateur extraordinaire Daniel Boulud's brasserie at the Wynn Las Vegas casino and hotel. The chefs are asked to create a dish based on the VERY French ingredient,, escargot. Of course, this particular episode seem to favor none other than Frenchie himself, Mattin, the only French-born chef in the competition. Or so you would think. You could see Frenchie grinning from ear to ear when they are first introduced to Boulud and when escargot was announced as the secret ingredient, he would've peed in his pants and passed out (in no particular order) if not for decorum in the presence of master Boulud. OK...........moving on!

When judge Tom C. announced that it was going to be another high-stakes challenge, the contestants' eyes lit up, expecting another big $15K payday for the winner. (Cue the sound of tires screeching to an unexpected halt!) Not so fast, people! Nope, this time high-stakes mean just the opposite. Instead of the winner walking away with cash, the loser walks away. Literally! Yup, a chef would be eliminated at the end of the challenge. Snails....I mean....escargot would be someone's downfall. So, off they go, 45 minutes to come up with, as Boulud states in his very French accent, "sumtheeng I 'ave naver tisted before." Cut to the end and voila! what's her face, the one with the tats and piercings, gets "lè guillotine". No surprise there. It was only a matter of time, no? Jesse's been consistently bad in the past few challenges, always ending up in the bottom of the heap. And now she finally gets the chop! Oui!

The winner? Amish fat boy. Kevin (you could just see Frenchie sneering uncontrollably into the camera!), who is not only safe from elimination, he doesn't even need to take part in it. Instead, he'll be dining with la creme de la creme of French cuisine: big daddy Joël Robuchon voted French Chef of the Century (how's that for intimidating!), Hubert Keller, Boulud and a few other names that I don't recognize (just like Asians, all Frenchmen look and sound alike to me!) The other contestants were then asked to pick knives that had the name of a sauce or a protein printed on them. The chefs are then asked to pair up according to what sauce goes with which protein. As luck would have it, two of the strongest chefs, younger brother, Little V and Jennifer got paired up, while the older Voltaggio brother paired up with annoying Mike I. for the challenge. Again, Frenchie is in a confident mood, even after pairing up with dazed and confused Ashley.

The outcome is more or less a done deal at this point with only the bottom teams yet to be determined. As expected, little V brother Mike, Jennifer, Big V Bryan and Mike I. are declared the two winning teams of this challenge. The winner? Big V with his (ho-hum) cured trout dish which came with Mike I.'s deconstructed bearnaise sauce (actually, if I'm not mistaken, the deconstructed bearnaise was Big V's idea and Mike I was just executing on his direction). Actually, I thought Little V's and Jen's dish of rabbit chasseur with mustard noodle and shiso was a more exciting dining experience. But hey, what do I know, I'm not even from the same continent as these French masters.

The bottom teams turned out to be Ash's and Hector's Chateaubriand and Sauce Au Poivre and Ashley's and Mattin's dish of Seared Poussin and Ravioli with Sauce Veloute. Frenchie screwed up one of the mother sauces, an unforgivable sin in any Frenchman's eye and I was sure he was gonna get "lè guillotine." Fortunately for Frenchie, Hector's Chateaubriand, which was a bloody mess (literally!), was deemed a far worse sin for a Top Chef. It took 4 episodes but the first male contestant was finally guillotined from the show.

Wouldn't it have been a perfect and poetic end to an all-French episode if Frenchie would've gotten the boot? Oo-la-la!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Top Chef Season 6 Sin City: Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel

Three episodes in and the show's right on track in weeding out the few contestants who have no business being on the show in the first place. I say that because this particular season is pretty top heavy with some creative and skilled chef contestants as well as some really bad ones. The disparity is unfortunately quite apparent, especially among the women. About the only one who can stand toe to toe with the guys in the top half is Jennifer (Ripert's chef). I've mentioned how good she was in the past two weeks and she has not disappointed me yet. If she does well (and I think she will), we probably won't see Eric Ripert show up as a guest judge like he has in the past seasons.

OK, I know it is early but based on what I've seen so far, I'll go out on a limb here and declare my pick for the top 4 chefs who will be in the season finale: brothers Michael and Bryan V., Kevin and Jennifer. Not a big stretch really considering that these four are pretty formidable contestants. Three episodes in and the brothers have each won an elimination challenge, Kevin won the first one and Jennifer had won two Quickfire challenges. Unless one of these guys really stumble or if someone emerges as a dark horse, these four are pretty much a lock for the finale showdown. In the darkhorse category, the possibilities include the annoying Mike I., Puerto Rican Hector or possibly even French poodle Mattin. Even Vegas agees with me. The Sin City oddmakers have pegged Mike V. to win with 7-2 odds, Jennifer at 9-2, Kevin at 5-1 and Bryan at 6-1.

So what happened in this episode? The guest judge this week was Chef Mark Peel, chef and owner of Campagnile restaurant and a former protege of Wolfgang Puck. The Quickfire challenge was to create an "out-of-this-world" dish based on the humble potato in 45 minutes. This spud challenge was won by Jennifer with her mussells in potato sauce. Once again playing to her seafood background and strengths, Jennifer comes through for her second Quickfire win. There was a little drama during the challenge when Preeti accidentally poached her vegetables in a pot of water set aside by Ashley for her gnocchi. Ashley managd to overcome the setback and wound up as one of the top three dishes.

For the Elimination Challenge, the contestants were asked to cook for US Air Force soldiers at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, either returning from their tour of duty or getting ready to be shipped out. Obviously, this challenge brought out the patriotism quotient and some of them mentioned how proud they were to cook for these soldiers. Instead of creating a dish by themselves, the chefs decided to make teams of two and collaborate on a dish. Also, they appointed Jennifer to oversee the entire operation, essentially to make sure everyone gets what they needed and to keep everyone on track. She was the de facto Executive Chef in this challenge and didn't cook as she already had immunity from her earlier win in the Quickfire. This made sense but was it a good decision in the overall big picture? Only time will tell.

The camera showed the judges arriving at the large hanger where the event was to be held, with Padma slinking out of a military jeep in an inappropriately short dress. The airman opening the door of the jeep must've had an eyeful of those legs! Anyway, the challenge went very well, with some pretty successful dishes and some really lame ones. Kevin's and Eli's Southern style pulled pork and potato salad was a hit and so was Mike V.'s and Mike I.'s braised "pork belly" which actually originated as a slab of bacon! Hector's spicy chicken chili was also praised even though the temperature was in the 90's at the event.

At Judge's Table, the pork brothers, Kevin and Eli, together with Mike and Mike were judged to have created the best two dishes of the day. Finally, it was Mike V. with his braised pork belly dish, that was declared the winner. Now each brother has an Elimination win under their belt. Talk about competitiveness! As for judge's least favorie, the judges asked for Preeti and Laurine and--gasp!--Mike I.! It's rare for a contestant to wind up in the favorite and least favorite category but Mike I. did it! And he had his weak Greek salad to thank for. Although he didn't need to create another dish after collaborating with his partner on the braised pork belly dish, Mike I. decided to make one anyway (for the troops, he said). But it was a bad interpretation of a Greek salad, which had nothing Greek in it! The dish was bland, underseasoned and the shrimp, undercooked. Fortunately, the other team at the bottom did even worse. Preeti and Laurine's pasta salad was so ameteurish and weak, either of them would not cop out to coming up with the idea in the first place. Preeti insisted that the dish tasted good (???) while Laurine said that she forgot this was a competition and wanted to make something for the troops. What the??!!

In the end, Preeti got the boot for her insistence that the dish was good. And the Vegas odds on Miss Preeti? 50-1. 'Nuff said!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tuna Sashimi 2 Ways

Here are two smashing ideas for a tuna sashimi appetizer. First, you need to buy Grade A (sashimi-grade) tuna and not the lesser quality ones that are not suitable for consuming rare. The top most picture, is a pan-seared pepper tuna with wasabi and ginger aioli. The tuna is first seasoned with salt and fresh ground pepper and lightly pan seared to a medium rare to rare temperature. On a hot skillet, this should take less than two minutes. Try to cut the tuna steak into a symmetrical rectangle block. You can either season and sear all four sides or just the top and bottom. I prefer to do all four sides but it's all up to you. Once the tuna is done (which should take no time at all), set it aside and let it rest. To create the aioli topping, I start with regular mayonnaise and add wasabi powder (or paste), ginger powder and fresh garlic that has been mashed into a paste-like consistency. Season with salt and the aioli is ready to go. Now to add some crunchy texture and color to the presentation, cut some chives and red radish into tiny cubes and sprinkle on top of the aioli. And there you have it. pepper-seared tuna with wasabi and ginger aioli.

For our next appetizer, this time, slice the tuna into thin slices. Lay it down on a plate and top it with finely chopped fresh ginger and scallions (or chives). Simply season it with soy sauce and a dash of lemon juice. Now, let's heat up a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil or sesame oil until it starts to smoke. Sesame oil has a low smokepoint, so it should start smoking rather quickly. Just spoon some of the oil over the tuna slices and see it sizzle and cook just a little, perfect for a bite-size tuna sashimi appetizer. This technique was invented by famed Japanese chef, Nobu Matsuhisa, owner of his chain of Nobu Restaurants around the world. And like most inventions, it came by accident. When a customer returned a sashimi dish because he/she didn't like raw fish, this was Chef Nobu's perfect solution to the problem. He called it New Style Sashimi. I prefer to call it Nobu Style Sashimi.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Top Chef Season 6 Sin City: The One About Sibling Rivalry

Episode 2 came and went yesterday and the producers thought it might be fun to put an emphasis on one of the contestants' rant on the inequality found in the institution of marriage pertaining to the gay community. All this because the contestants were asked to--horrors!--cater food for a poolside bachelor and bachelorette party. Come on! Gay contestants on Top Chef are certainly not a new phenomenon but Ashley's passionate but slightly overplayed rant grated on my nerves a little. All I was interested in was to see what kinds of unique dishes the chefs on the show came up with and not listen to some holier-than-thou socio-political statement from someone who already knew a wedding challenge was in the cards coming into the show. I believe in equality and all that but this is a show about chefs and cooking. Let's try to keep politics to a minimum, shall we, Mr. Producer?

OK, that's the end of my own rant! And I do apologize. Let's just move on to what I love about the show--the preparation of food and the interesting personalities.

It might still be early but this episode unfortunately shone the spotlight on how weak the female contestants are compared to their male counterparts. I came to this conclusion not because the guys won the elimination challenge but the overall ideas, creativity and execution of most of the guys' dishes were much superior. The women stuck to tiresome tried and true appetizer ideas while the guys managed to push the envelope just a little further. About the only woman with any sort of talent is Jennifer.

But I digress. Let me backpedal a little and talk about the Quickfire Challenge. Each contestant was asked to roll two dice at a craps table and the total sum of both dice would represent the number of ingredients that each of them would have to use for their dishes. In this case, it would be better to roll a smaller number due to the complexity of marrying the flavors of too many ingredients. And to jack up the stakes even further, the winner walks away with $15K. This being Sin City, I'm sure we'll be seeing more and more gambling props used in future challenges.

The Quickfire was won by Mike V., one half of the Voltaggio brothers, essentially one-upping his older and more successful brother, Bryan. However, the tables were turned later on when Bryan notched up a win of his own in the Elimination challenge. Hector, sans a deep-fried steak, redeemed himself with a unique take on tofu, although his tofu ceviche dish didn't really made any sense to me. Kevin made another good impression but not enough to land him in the top 4. Ashley created a nice watermelon appetizer that the judges liked but made the mistake of adding an extra, unneeded panna cotta dessert that fell flat, dropping her into the bottom 4. And for the second week in a row, both Jesse and Eve went up for elimination again. Jesse escaped elimination last week because she knew what she did wrong with her chicken and admitted it. This time, she also knew that she made a mistake but can admitting her faults save her yet again? Well, just by the skin of her heavily tattooed arm, Jesse gets to stay for another week and Eve and her knives were sent packing.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Top Chef Season 6 Las Vegas: Let the Games Begin!

Welcome to Sin City and the new Top Chef kitchen is already heating up fast! Season 6 of the popular Bravo TV series, "Top Chef" is finally here and the first episode premiered last night. This season promises to be very interesting as the collection of chef contestants include James Beard Award nominees like Michael Voltaggio (Best New Restaurant, also winner of a Michelin Star), Kevin "I turned down a scholarship from MIT" Gillespie (Rising Star Chef of the Year semi-finalist), Hector Santiago (Best Chef, Southeast nominee) and plenty of restaurant executive chefs.

Of course, the title Executive Chef is pretty subjective when it comes to experience and knowledge. Take for instance, Preeti Mistry, an executive chef working at Google's HQ in San Francisco. At the first Quickfire Challenge, the always exciting mise en place relay race, Ms. Mistry chose to open 15 clams when she didn't even know the difference between an oyster and a clam! Can you believe that? She even tried to open the clams like it was an oyster! Hello! You work in San Francisco where there is seafood aplenty! Why don't you know this?

Then there is Jesse Sandlin, a self-proclaimed, self-taught (read: not a culinary school student) executive chef of Abacrombie Fine Foods in Baltimore, MD, who in the challenge to win $10K, proudly declared that she hasn't cooked shrimp in decades! What the??!! So, what DOES Ms. Executive Chef cook then? And what's up with judge Colicchio choosing Eric Ripert's protégé Jennifer Carroll's extremely simple dish of clam ceviche to win $10K in that same challenge? She didn't even have to turn on the stove for that! Were her other 3 competitors (including Ms. Sandlin) that bad?

This season, there appears to be several changes to the challenges including the just-revealed prize money for particular challenges. Usually, you try to win challenges to get an edge over your opponents but there is an extra incentive this season. After winning the mise en place challenge, the 4-person Blue team got to compete among themselves to come up with a winning dish using the ingredient that they just mise en placed for $10K.

For the elimination challenge, and in keeping with the Sin City theme, the contestants were asked to create a dish based on their own personal vices. As usual, some were more successful than others. This first challenge was won by the Amish-looking Kevin with his arctic char dish, which I thought was not that impressive to begin with. Colicchio did mention that arctic char was his favorite fish so that might have tipped the scale (no pun intended) for Kevin. The loser and unfortunately the title of the being the first person eliminated from the show was hot tamale Jennifer Zavala, who tried to stand out from the rest by using--horrors!--seitan, the wheat gluten meat alternative to stuff her chilies rellenos. Yuck! Jennifer wanted the dish to represent her hot temper but unfortunately the seitan put a hose to that idea.

Note to self: Don't break out the seitan in the opening challenge of Top Chef!

Although the seitan rellenos was nasty, my pick for elimination was Eve with her badly cooked scallops and her unfocused interpretation of the personal vice theme. And what's with Puerto Rican Hector's interpretation of a smoked steak that he deep-fried....for Wolfgang Puck of all people! This coming from a James Beard nominee? Every season has a villain and this year's is Mike Isabella who is so obnoxious and cocky, he'll probably stay for the duration of the show so that the producers can create some drama (remember Stefan?). Another interesting side story to watch out for is the ultra-competitive intensity of the Voltaggio brothers, Mike and Bryan. Another one that might be interesting to watch is French poodle Mattin Noblia, who seems so out of place with his red scarf/neckerchief. I bet Mike makes him cry in an upcoming episode! As for frontrunners, it has to be Jennifer (Ripert's chef) and Kevin and I hope a Carla-like (season 5) underdog emerges from one of these other chefs.

There are some hits and misses so far this season but it is still early and let's hope that there is no repeat of a Hosea-like winner this year. Talk about a letdown.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Garlic Chives in a Stir-Fry

A stir-fry is an essential Chinese dish and the use of garlic chives in the dish only helps to strengthen that notion. Known in my native tongue as ku chai, garlic chives are used in a Malaysian fried flat noodle dish called char koay teow. Essentially, the green stem, albeit much thicker than regular chives, gives it the chive appearance but the addition of a flowering bud at the top tells you that this is a different species. As the name suggests, garlic chives exudes a more garlicky flavor than regular chives, which taste more like a less intense onion.

Here, I am pairing the garlic chives with cauliflower, shiitake mushroom, shallots, shrimp and grape tomatoes. Be sure to blanch the cauliflower first before stir frying because it takes a much longer time to cook than the rest of the vegetables.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Vietnamese Spring/Summer Roll

Here is a refreshing idea for a quick appetizer. Known as gỏi cuốn in Vietnamese, this vegetarian version of a spring roll (or summer roll depending on the time of the year that it is served and its ingredients) takes very little time to prepare and best of all, you can add most anything you want to it. In short, you can come up with your very own version of a spring roll and wow your friends.

Generally, a Vietnamese spring roll contains cooked shrimp (or pork), rice vermicelli, lettuce, Thai basil and cilantro all wrapped up in an almost-transparent rice paper and served cold with a Hoisin-based dipping sauce. As you know, one is not limited to those ingredients alone. The rice paper wrapper is quite unique. In its initial condition, it looks like a round plastic disc and almost translucent. Quickly dip it in water (2 seconds will do) on both sides and you'll see the hard plastic-like disc transform in front of your eyes into an almost transparent, pliable wrapper.

Now, to construct the roll, lay the now soft wrapper onto a plate or another flat surface. Scoop all your ingredients (vegetables, shrimp, Thai basil, cilantro) onto the lower third of the wrapper. Be careful not to overload the wrapper. Experiment until you get the right amount to put on. I usually go vegetables on the bottom, followed by the shrimp and topped with Thai basil, cilantro and crushed roasted peanuts. From the bottom, roll the lower edge over the ingredients and then fold the two sides over and continue rolling until you get to the other end. Make sure you keep the roll tight around the ingredients.

As for the dipping sauce, I use Hoisin (a Chinese dipping sauce) as the base and thin it out slightly with some rice wine vinegar and to add a little heat, I also add a touch of chili and garlic (or sambal) sauce. Note that Hoisin is pretty salty all by itself and you don't really need that much of it to start. To remedy the saltiness, add some sugar. And there you have it, a Vietnamese Spring (or Summer) Roll with dipping sauce.