Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Seafood Diet

I just got back from Fish King,
the popular fish market in Glendale. I was a little concerned when I pulled the number 24 and looked up to see they were serving customer number 150. Just 75 more customers to go.

But the ultra-efficient employees called my number in less than 40 minutes and it took less than ten minutes for them to crack my two fresh dungennes crabs and two Alaskan king crab legs.

While I waited, I got to chat up other customers to find out what they were buying and what they planned to make. I'm nosy that way.

- One lady was purchasing fresh crab for crab cakes. She first made these as an appetizer for a fund raising dinner for PAWS-LA, and her 24 guests raved about them. The recipe is from the Williams and Sonoma recipe site. I love crab cakes (or crab anything) but have never made them at home. This goes on my list of what's cookin' in 2009.

- The same lady purchased a pound of herring because she's Norwegian. I got so excited. I almost told her that my cat is also Norwegian, but managed to restrain myself. I think I'll skip the herring in 2009.

- Another couple, who I had met at a party last Saturday, was purchasing several quarts of the ready-made lobster bisque. They were also purchasing fresh lobster to add to the soup and planned on adding a touch of sherry. Now that's my kind of recipe - easy, rich and boozy.

- A well heeled couple was purchasing several lobster tails ($59.95 a pound) for their Christmas Eve dinner. They also planned to serve fresh cioppinno. I wish I could finagle an invitation to that party.

Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday filled with all of your favorite family, friends and food!

Fish King Seafood & Poultry

722 N Glendale Ave
Glendale, CA 91206
(818) 244-2161

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cookies and sprinkles and icings, oh my!

Tools of the trade - brightly colored buttercream frosting and a set of inexpensive paint brushes

Sometimes baking and decorating Christmas cutout cookies can be a bit overwhelming - the mixing, the chilling, the rolling, the cutting, the baking, the glazing, the icing, the sprinkling, the cleaning . . . the collapsing.

But this time I rolled with the dough, provided the tools and sat back and watched a little magic happen.

My daughter, 19, is responsible for the "pretty in pink" doll on the left. Her boyfriend's little sis, 10, made the adorable little "beach boy," complete with eye lashes on the right. Both used paint brushes to apply food coloring or buttercream frosting.

Little Sis created this masterful Christmas tree with a simple technique: Glaze the cookie in a concoction of powdered sugar and water and then add the fine strokes with food coloring and a paint brush. She sprinkled on a little sugar glitter for pizazz.

Granny's Sugar Cookies
(From a 32-year-old Tupperware recipe I found in my box.)

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg

1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups flour, sifted

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

- Cream together butter and sugar.

- Blend in egg.
- Sift together salt, baking powder and flour. Add to mixture.
- Blend vanilla into mixture.
- Chill dough approximately one hour.
- Roll dough to desired thickness (about 1/8") and cut out shapes.
Bake on lightly greased cookie sheet (or cookie sheet with parchment paper) in 375 degree preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes.

Easy Glaze
2 cups confectioners' sugar
4 tablespoons water

Combine ingredients until lumps disappear. Spoon on cookies or dip cookie directly into the glaze.

Buttercream Frosting
(Will post this later.)

I like the minimalist look in decorating. My contributions are the red-nosed reindeer in the back of the plate.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hate to make it, love to eat it - Butternut squash and sweet potato gratin

Butternut squash and sweet potato gratin - irresistibly delicious

Let me count the reasons why I shouldn't make this dish.
  • I love butternut squash, but hate working with it. Am I the only wimp who feels like peeling a butternut squash is as much work as whittling an oak branch? And slicing the dense veggie is as taxing as chopping wood.
I feel like a lumberjack when I work with butternut squash. Here is the first of two layers of the dense veggie.
  • The ingredients - machengo or gruy√®re cheese and heavy cream - make it a bit expensive for this frugal cook.
  • Those same ingredients - oodles of cheese and heavy cream - make it a bit high fat for this health-conscious cook.
Let me count the reason that, in spite of all the negatives, I've made this dish twice in the last two weeks.
  • It is irresistibly delicious. The sweetness of the sweet potatoes. The nuttiness of the butternut squash. The richness of the cream and cheeses. The savory goodness of the thyme. Who could ask for anything more?
Pinch My Salt provides the recipe and excellent photographic instructions for this tasty dish.

Do you have a dish that you hate to make but love to eat?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Tradition - Caramel Popcorn

Caramel corn is good any time of year, but a must at Christmas time.

The other day I was reflecting on our family holiday food traditions and, quite frankly, I felt like a failure. When our daughter, now 19, came into our lives, I decided to pay tribute to her Mexican roots by making and eating tamales on Christmas morning. I asked a Mexican family if I could join them for tamale making and found the process so labor intensive that I vowed that I would never make them on my own. It was just as well. As it turned out, I'm the only family member who likes tamales. I ate them alone on Christmas morning while thinking, "This tradition sucks."

I experimented with other traditional Christmas morning breakfasts, but hubby preferred his yogurt and cereal and Cynthia only cared about opening presents. Sigh. When Cynthia was little, we created and decorated houses from graham crackers, icing and candy, but never graduated to a more sophisticated gingerbread house. I experiment with new cookies every year, but haven't developed a traditional favorite.

Where did I go wrong? Just when I was about to throw in the food flag, Cynthia came to me and asked, "Mom, when are you going to make the caramel popcorn?"

Yes! We do have a tradition - the caramel popcorn that she and her friends devour by the bowlful. The caramel corn that I mix with nuts and give as gifts. Feeling like less of a failure, I found I had the three main ingredients - butter, sugar and light corn syrup - on hand and ran out to purchase the mixed nuts.

The Best (and Easiest) Ever Caramel Corn

2 quarts popped corn (I use microwave popcorn)
1 to 2 cups nuts (salted, roasted mixed nuts, any kind you like)
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 t. vanilla
1/2 cup light corn syrup

- Combine sugar, butter and corn syrup in large pot. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.

- Continue boiling until light brown color (like the color of peanut butter), about 10 minutes.

- Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Mix in popcorn and nuts. (It's easiest to do this in the same container that you use to prepare the caramel.)

This is the perfect "peanut butter" color. Be careful. At this point, the candy goes from "just right" to "overcooked" in seconds. I ruined the first batch.

- Spread on cookie sheet. Let cool slightly and break into pieces. Store in air-tight container.

The popcorn on the left is the proper color. The batch on the right, slightly overcooked, looks good, but tastes bitter and burnt. It ended up in the trash can.

It seems that I always overcook the first batch. It's part of my holiday tradition.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nomo Ate Here - Udon at Sanuki No Sato

Since I'm a Hapa Hillbilly (half Japanese, half Scottish from West Virginia), I'm frequently asked two questions. "Where do I go for good Japanese food?" and "Where can I find some decent biscuits and gravy?" (Well, actually, nobody in California has ever asked for a b&g recommendation, but I'm ready for them.)

Alas, I can't recommend any Japanese restaurants in Pasadena. Most, like the ever-popular but mediocre Kabuki, seem more Japanesque than Japanese. For the real thing, I like to head to the South Bay. This area has a large Japanese American population in Torrance and Gardena and a thriving Japanese national segment because several major Japanese corporations (Toyota, Honda, Epson) have American headquarters in Torrance.

My japanese American friend Carol introduced me to Sanuki No Sato in Gardena about 15 years ago. We went to the show/sale of a Japanese American silver jeweler twice a year in Torrance, but the show was just a thinly veiled excuse to head to Sanuki for a steaming bowl of chubby udon noodles.

Carol always drove to the corner restaurant in a Gardena mini mall. It wasn't until years later that I realized that most of the signage was in Japanese. You have to look hard to find the small, unobtrusive sign in English.

A trio of oversized "Sanuki No Sato" signs are in Japanese, but only one small, easy-to-miss sign is in English.

Yesterday I justified the long drive for lunch at Sanuki because I needed to purchase osembe (Japanese rice crackers) at the Mitsuwa Market in Torrance for my dad's Christmas package. They have the best, daddy-pleasing selection and, believe it or not, you still can't find a decent rice cracker in Ravenswood, West Virginia.

Giant Japanese paper lanterns, Christmas lights and . . . Spider Man decorate the restaurant.

Mitsuwa is a 45-minute drive from Altadena, but Sanuki is just another five minutes down the street. I ordered the Nabeyaki, a rustic iron pot filled with perfect udon noodles and topped with shrimp tempura, soft poached egg, chicken, fish cake, shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, and sansai vegetables (such as bamboo shoots).

I think my Japanese cooking class has taught me to appreciate this restaurant and this dish more than ever. The soup base was a rich dashi stock with a touch of soy sauce. And as soon as I bit into the vegetables, I recognized that they had been cooked in dashi, then soy sauce and sugar, like the onishime vegetables we prepared in class. After one bite, you're likely to yell out, "Oh, mama," or at least "umami," the rich, elusive "fifth taste" that's found in many Japanese foods.

With a glass of ice cold Sapporo draft beer, this lunch was the perfect antidote to holiday fatigue.

Vegetables, shrimp tempura, fish cakes and egg top the steaming pot of udon.

Jonathan Gold has consistently included Sanuki No Sato on his annual list of "Essential LA Restaurants." And Hideo Nomo, the popular pitcher for the Dodgers, was/is a regular when he's in town. But I don't think it shows that you're trendy or hip if you eat at Sanuki No Sato. It just shows good taste for traditional Japanese food. And once you've had it, you may never want to go back to Kabuki again.

Sanuki No Sato

18206 S. Western Ave.

Gardena, CA 90248

(310) 324-9184

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Winter Delight Salad - Pears, Candied Pecans & Blue Cheese Make This a Winner

Winter Delight Salad - elegant enough for the Limoges china, popular enough for a potluck.

If you're looking for a winter salad that's both bold and beautiful, simple and satisfying, look no further.

We developed this salad when I was the chair of the salad section of the Huntington Garden's herb cookbook, a Celebration of Herbs. (Believe it or not, arugula, the green used in this salad, is considered an herb.) Even though this recipe didn't make it into the book, it's become my "signature salad" - the one I'm most often asked to bring to potlucks. "Can you bring that salad you do? The one with the candied pecans?" friends often ask.

What makes this a "winter delight salad"? Pears are hard and bland when out of season, but a delight in winter, when the fruit is ripe and sweet. The pairing of sweet and sour, crunchy and soft, peppery and pungent make this winter salad even more delightful.

Winter Delight Salad

1 bag baby arugula greens
2 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, thinly sliced
2 pears, thinly sliced
1/4 C. candied walnuts or pecans
1/2 C. gorgonzola cheese, crumbled


1/3 C. balsamic vinegar
1/2 C. virgin olive oil
1 t. lemon juice
1 minced shallot
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper to taste

Blend together all ingredients.

Candied Pecans

I've experimented with at least a half dozen recipes for candied pecans (with or without butter, with or without egg whites, brown or white sugar, on the stove top or in the oven, with a variety of liquids) and I think this one is the easiest and best.

1 1/2 cups toasted pecans
1/2 cup liquid (I like to use brandy)
1 cup brown sugar

- Toast pecans in a dry, non-stick fry pan, being careful not to burn.
- Add brandy and sugar and stir.
- Keep stirring until liquid evaporates and turns into a glaze on the pecans.
- Dump pecans in a single layer on a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper.

Use candied pecans as a snack, in salads, as a vegetable topping (especially good with sweet potatoes, squash or pumpkin) or as a topping on desserts, such as ice cream or baked pears.

Something old, someting new: Vintage Limoges china is from the Pasadena City College Flea Market. Vintage linen napkins are from a Chicago yard sale. Gold double-satin ribbon on napkins is from e-bay.

The dinner party was a great success, even though I forgot about the sweet potato, butternut squash gratin (from Pinch My Salt) that I'd popped into the broiler for browning. By the time the smoke was wafting from the broiler, the golden brown gruyere cheese had turned coal black. I pulled off the charred layer and it was still a hit. Is it any wonder why friends ask me to bring the salad to potlucks?