Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Hungry Dog's Hawaiian plate lunch

 Anyone who's been to Hawaii probably knows about the plate lunch, which, in my mind, is as iconic and ubiquitous there as the beautiful plumeria flower. When you spend the day in and out of the ocean, breathing good, salty air, you work up an appetite quickly. The plate lunch is the perfect solution to your growling stomach.

The plate lunch generally consists of some kind of meat (chicken adobo, kalua pork, teriyaki ribs), along with two scoops of starch: one of fat-grained, sticky rice and one of creamy, cool, mayonnaise-laden macaroni salad.

If you are wondering where the vegetables are, they're not, save for the soft, wilty cabbage that sometimes comes with the kalua pork.

While eating this kind of stick-to-your-ribs food makes no sense at all when you are running around in a bathing suit, you can't help but eat it anyway, because it's so damn good, and as we all know, vacation is a time for decadence, not diets.

For many years, our favorite place to get a plate lunch was Hanalei Mixed Plate, a takeout joint  on the North Shore of Kauai, my favorite place on earth. While sadly this place crumbled along with so many other local businesses during the economic downturn, the husband and I are fortunate to have spent many a day perched on the beat-up stools in front of the Mixed Plate takeout window, sandy and damp from the beach, eating the Hawaiian version of comfort food on paper plates with plastic forks. Heaven, I tell you.

With our recent heatwave, I got the idea of making some Hawaiian food. I decided to make macadamia nut chicken, a recipe I had long admired in Sam Choy's Island Flavors cookbook.

It's very simple. Marinate the chicken in a sweet-salty, soy-based blend for an hour, then bread it in crushed macadamia nuts and bread crumbs and pan-fry. The chicken is supposed to go with a tropical marmalade, which sounds dynamite, but I didn't have the ingredients on hand.

I made the mistake of using chicken breasts that were too fat, so they took much longer than the eight minutes the recipe indicated. If you make this, and I hope you do, either get thinner breasts or pound them a little. I might go for boneless, skinless chicken thighs next time.

In spite of having to cook the chicken for nearly 25 minutes (you have to keep the heat at medium so as not to burn the coating)--every piece turned out perfectly, thanks to the marinade. Hey, chicken, let's lean in for your close-up so I can show off how moist and juice you were.

I threw together a mango-ginger salsa to go with the chicken and blew the husband's mind with his favorite Hawaiian dish, a traditional mac salad.

There was also the requisite scoop o' rice and some stir-fried boy choy, which got largely forgotten in our hot, happy, eating frenzy.

The next day, I opted for a cold plate lunch, just chicken with salsa and a mound of mac salad. Although it was no substitute for being in Kauai, it certainly was delicious.

Macadamia Nut Chicken with Tropical Marmalade
From Sam Choy's Island Flavors

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Chicken Barbecue Marinade (below)
1 cup macadamia nuts, finely chopped
3/4 c. fine dry bread crumbs
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 T. oil
1 T. butter

Marinate the chicken in Chicken Barbecue Marinade for 1 hour, turning occasionally. Remove the chicken, and allow to drain.

Combine the macadamia nuts and bread crumbs. Dredge the chicken in flour, dip in beaten eggs, and coat with the macadamia nut mixture.

In a heavy skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. Saute the chicken for about 6-8 minutes, turning once. Add a little oil if necessary, since the nuts may absorb oil. Serve with tropical mamalade (or mango salsa).

Chicken Barbecue Marinade
(makes about 3/4 cup)

1/2 c. soy sauce
1 1/2 T. brown sugar
1 T. mirin
1 T. olive oil
1 t. minced fresh garlic
1 t. peeled and minced fresh ginger

Combine all ingredients.

Tropical Marmalade*
(makes about 1 cup)

2 c. diced fresh pineapple
1 c. diced fresh papaya
1/2 c. gooseberries (ground cherries) (optional)
6 T. sugar, or to taste
Fresh mint or spearmint, chopped
1/8 t. prepared horseradish or to taste (optional)

In a saucepan, combine all ingredients except the mint. Bring to a boil, then simmer--stirring every 5 minutes to avoid scorching-- for 1 hour or until the mixture reaches jam consistency. Cool. Last, fold in the fresh mint to taste. Horseradish may be added if desired.

* As noted above, I did not make this, but I plan to!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Nectarine golden cake

The first thing I wrote about on this blog was how I am the progeny of packrats.  My dad isn't around to dispute this, although I doubt he would -- he was the man who saved nearly everything either out of frugality (busted appliances he swore he would fix); superstition (a jar of dried wishbones); or the idea that he would someday use whatever it was in his art (leftover wood to fashion a little creature; plastic toys to turn into jewelry. This is no joke; my sister and I each own a necklace with a tiny Barbie hanger cast into silver. Hers has a silver Barbie shoe dangling from it, of which I was, and still am, fiercely jealous.)

My mom's a packrat, too. She can comment on that if she wants--she's still alive and kicking (and saving stuff), but I doubt she'll dispute it beyond saying she has a "system." Whatever. To each her own.

Me, I do not like to save things.

Weird, right? Based on this blog, you'd think I am a very nostalgic person, constantly looking back to my childhood, holding on to bits and scraps for posterity. There's a little truth in that. But, I don't care so much about things, unless someone made them for me. So chances are, if you've given me a birthday card, unless you drew it by hand, it stuck around for a few days, max. I give away books I'm done with, clothing I don't wear. And--this one is probably going to be a little controversial -- I don't save photos. I mean, I save some. But not many.

The husband is like me in this regard and we help each other in moments of weakness. When one of us pauses over a particular thing-- a holiday card featuring a friend's baby wearing reindeer ears--and murmurs uncertainly, "Should I save this?" the other immediately replies with a stony glare, "Forever?"

That's the thing. Are you going to keep everything you ever acquire forever? If not, why not get rid of it now, if you're done with it?

Frequently, the husband and I go through our place and purge. Lest you think we are total jerks, we make every effort to recycle or donate stuff and minimize our (immediate) impact on the landfill. Last weekend, I got around to a giant stack of Gourmets. My goal was save a few and recycle the rest.

In addition to streamlining (although, has anyone reading this who has been to our house wondered why it's not tidier, if we so resent clutter?), I also came across numerous recipes I wanted to make.

Here is the first one: nectarine golden cake.

This recipe was good but not a knockout. Just a basic cake really, and I think sprinkling the nutmeg over the top was a weird touch. So, what are you gonna do with a mediocre recipe?

In my house, recycle it. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Caldo de Res

I think I've got my cooking and blogging mojo back, thanks to you all, who left such wonderful comments after my last post. I suppose I'm not alone in wanting to be missed, and in garnering momentum from the enthusiasm of others. After all, who writes a blog and doesn't hope it will be read  by someone else, maybe even someone on the other side of the world?

This week I've been combing through my cookbooks and old issues of Gourmet (more on that in my next post), looking for new ideas. One of my favorite cookbooks is Firehouse Food. I've posted about numerous recipes I've made from this simple paperback, including chile verde, beef barley soup, and tortilla soup, all excellent additions to anyone's repertoire. And a few days ago, I made caldo de res.

Although I've flipped through this book dozens of times, I never noticed this recipe before. Perhaps because I don't speak Spanish, and had no idea what res meant. It turns out it means beast or animal.

A quick skim of the ingredients and method confirmed that this hearty peasant soup was right up my alley. When I chatted with the husband over gmail later, eventually the conversation turned to dinner (naturally).

WFD? he wrote, our shorthand for What's for dinner?

I considered my phrasing. Animal soup sounded strange, and unnecessarily vague. Beast soup sounded downright scary.

Mexican soup, I wrote.

Surprisingly, that elicited no further questions from the husband, who seemed disinterested in what the primary ingredients of said Mexican soup might be, if it was going to be spicy, or if we would eat bread or tortillas with it, all things I might have asked.

Sounds good, he wrote. And that was that.

The soup was exactly the kind of thing I like to make when I have a few hours to cook but am not in the mood to make multiple dishes or spend a lot of time over the stove. You begin by browning the beast (in this case, beef chuck) in a big pot. Then you chop up some aromatics and throw those in, along with some broth and tomatoes. Put the lid ajar and simmer for an hour and a half. Then add some vegetables and simmer some more. Finally, serve with warmed tortillas and garnish with limes, chopped onion, or cilantro. Next time I'll add a little avocado on top.

I made a few changes to the recipe, although I've copied the recipe below pretty much as printed in the book so you can decide for yourself what to do. For one thing, I used four cups of beef broth and two cups of water. I'm not a fan of store-bought beef broth--I feel it can be a bit strong-- but I do think it deepens the flavor of whatever you're making.  Second, I cut the corn kernels off the cob and added them with the cabbage toward the end. The idea of big hunks of corn cob floating around in my soup bowl put me off and it was guaranteed the husband wasn't going to dig it. And third, I had to add a little more water as it was cooking as it was getting too thick.

The soup turned out absolutely delicious--somewhere between a soup and a stew, full of bright color and flavor. We ate it in white bowls with big wedges of lime.

If you don't eat red meat, or are simply looking for a variation, the authors suggest substituting chicken broth and boneless, skinless chicken thighs. In this case, call it Caldo de Pollo.

Caldo de Res
From Firehouse Food

Serves 6.

2 T. vegetable oil
2 1/2 lbs. beef chuck steak, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 medium white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
6 c. beef broth
1 bay leaf
1 T. dried Mexican oregano
1 lb. red potatoes, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 ears corn, shucked and cut into 1-inch-thick rounds
1 zucchini, cut into thick matchsticks, 1 inch long
1/2 head green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 c. chopped cilantro
salt and freshly ground pepper

Accompaniments: finely diced white onion, cilantro sprigs, wedges of lime, warm tortillas

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat; add the meat and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes (I did this in several batches so as not to overcrowd the pan). Add the onion and garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, broth, bay leaf, and oregano. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 1 1/2 hours, partially covered.

Stir in the potatoes, carrot, and corn; continue to cook for 30 minutes. Add the zucchini, cabbage, and cilantro; cook for 15 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into warm bowls and pass the accompaniments at the table.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I want to move to Los Angeles

Oh, hey there.

In case you hadn't noticed, it's been a little quiet around here recently. Part of the reason is that we were gone all last week, living in the 'burbs at my mom's place while the windows in our flat were replaced. Although both the husband and I worked the whole time, I took a bit of a cooking and blogging vacation.

Then, last Friday I went to Los Angeles. I think you know of my affinity for L.A. It has not subsided. In fact, I think I'd like to move there. So, if you know of anyone down there looking to hire someone with very few talents but a winning personality, send them my way. While I may lack actual marketable "skills," I have a strong affinity for animals (and they for me), I am surprisingly good at crossword puzzles, and I do possess a college degree, if that means anything these days.

While in L.A., I spent my time in beautiful, beachy Venice with my lovely friends Claire and John. You know how there are friends that you enjoy seeing, but you don't mind if you only see them once in a long while. And then there are friends--and it always works like this--that you are pretty sure you could see all the time, but they live far away. These are that kind of friends. I wish we lived next door to each other. Although, Claire and I would get nothing done but talk about and eat food all day long. She's from Texas and a very good cook. I credit her for introducing me to creamy grits and cheese pennies.

Anyway, I'm back in San Francisco where it's cold and people are peevish about it, including me. In addition to being fussy, I've had a whole pile of work to get to. So, I haven't cooked or baked anything of note since I returned. When I'm busy, I rely on old faithful recipes--roast chicken and pasta with broccoli rabe--to get me through the week.

I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to post again, or if by the time I did, anyone would even be checking this old thing. So, in a last ditch effort to retain my readership, I've got a cute salad to post about that I made a couple of weeks ago.

I know, salad is boring--sometimes to eat, nearly always to read about. I can't guarantee that this is any different in regard to the latter. But what is indisputable is that this was a very delicious salad.

One thing I've decided is that often I prefer lettuceless salads, and this is one such salad. It was thrown together right around when we were leaving for our week away, and I wanted to use up a few things. This included cherry tomatoes, some roasted asparagus, raw fennel, and an avocado. Would you believe me if I told you this was a heavenly combination when tossed with a light vinaigrette? Well, it's true.

Anyway, please come back again soon. I promise to post something much more bloggy--a good cake or something with porchetta--next.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A delicious pasta, by way of a good friend

My friend Stacie and her husband used to live in the flat upstairs. In many ways, it was an ideal arrangement: for one thing, they own the building, and so not only were they able to rent to friends, we had our landlords nearby in case of the inevitable homestead crisis.

Second, and more importantly, we got to enjoy that kind of perfect friendship that is easiest when you live in a city, in close quarters. We could, on a whim, walk down to Cole Street and grab sushi; share the overflow from baking projects; or have an impromptu glass of wine on a weeknight. Plus, Stacie and I have known each other since we were born. Our dads were friends since they themselves were young, so we grew up together. It was like having family around.

Sometimes I would encounter her in the evenings, around 9 or 10, on the back stairs as I made my way out to the recycling bin or to get the last of the laundry. Usually I would have just put away a sizeable dinner, a glass or two of wine, and was headed for bed after hoisting myself weakly off the couch.

"What are you up to?" I'd say, knowing the answer would make me feel more like a lump than ever.

"Oh, just working on a few projects," she'd reply casually. Painting something for her little dollhouse, or sewing a purse out of cool fabric scraps that I would eventually covet.

It's doesn't seem fair that some people get piles of talent on top of mountains of motivation, does it?

A couple of years ago, Stacie and her husband moved to a bigger house, on account of having a kid and needing more space. I like to think that this decision was difficult for them, that they knew they would miss our perfect, symbiotic living arrangement, two couples connected by a rickety staircase and almost four decades of friendship.

I'm pretty certain this isn't true, though, and I can't blame them. They found a great place not too far from here, and a few weeks ago, they threw a wonderful party. In addition to a magazine-worthy array of roast chicken sandwiches, risotto, and tomato salad, there was a heaping bowl of gorgeous creamy pasta, full of butternut squash and flecked with basil, of which I proceeded to eat many, many helpings.

As I threw down on my second or third bowl, it occurred to me that this recipe seemed familiar, although I was sure I'd never eaten it before. I then realized I'd come across it a few months earlier on Stacie's blog that she writes with her friend Simran.  (And in case you're wondering, yes, Stacie is responsible for  the groovy drawings on the site.)

She'd written this post about a delightful penne with roasted butternut squash and creamy goat cheese, courtesy of Giada de Laurentiis. The recipe floated around in my brain for awhile, but like so many, got lost in the shuffle.

I finally got around to making it this week. And I am happy to say, it did not disappoint.

I'm a little bothered that I didn't think of this combination myself, because it's really fantastic. The squash and onions get roasty and sweet; the goat cheese tangy; the walnuts crunchy; the basil bright and licoricey.

So, thanks, Stace, for doing not only doing a test-run of this recipe, but letting me sample it first. I suppose I should thank Giada, too. In any case, I highly recommend the pasta. It takes a little time for the squash to roast, but otherwise is extremely simple. I suggest you give it a go, and invite a good friend over to enjoy it together.