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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tales From Our Fishy Weekend

The best kinds of weekends are fishy ones.

With Granma and the junior brigade out on the town for the weekend, it was seafood, seafood and more seafood....ah, the beauty of fresh tuna, the crunch of crab rangoon, the snap of a lobster tail cracking open....it's what my dreams are made of.  The kids will eat seafood until the seacows come home, and that makes me happy. Granma, on the other fin, does not like fish, shellfish, or anything from the sea in any shape, fashion or form.

This means one thing.  We do not get to eat seafood very often. This does not make me happy. So we either eat seafood when she's not home for dinner, or she has a slab of prime rib in the fridge (nobody likes prime rib but her). Sigh. Needless to say, we do not get to eat lovely seafood as often as we'd like. She swears we can eat it whenever we like, but I feel somewhat guilty making her eat a hamburger or a salad when we have the food of the gods before us.

Now, this is no one's fault! Another big reason we don't eat it often is that some seafood is very pricey, and we simply can't afford to eat it very often. Just so happens the more pricey it is, the more we happen to like it. I could eat king crab 24/7. Swordfish or tuna comes a close second. We like the cheaper stuff too - clams, mussels, tilapia, etc., but we'd rather splurge and eat the stuff we really love when we can.

Papa Bear and I love tuna. We prefer it rare or barely seared, but will eat it any way we can get it.  If it's not rare, I simply wasn't paying enough attention! Our best loved way to eat it is tataki. This is one of our favorite dishes when we eat out (if it's available). Last Friday night, we decided to have Tuna Tataki with a shredded Daikon and Radish Salad. In keeping with the "theme", I decided to try making Crab Rangoon to serve alongside.

The very best Crab Rangoon we have ever, ever had was at a tiny Thai restaurant (could not recall the name if I tried) in Tampa right next door to the Tampa Theater.  We had gotten tickets for our friend Steven's birthday to see Eddie Izzard in concert there, so we decided to eat there before the show.  Papa Bear ordered the Crab Rangoon and it was truly amazing. It was fried to perfection, and the sweetness of the crab was accompanied not only by the creaminess of the cream cheese, but there was a slight yet strong hint of curry in those little pouches that was a very pleasant surprise.  We have not had rangoon that good since that night...

...until I decided to make Curry Crab Rangoon for the first time ever! <Cue Superhero Theme Music>

It was even more amazing! I honestly don't know what possessed me to attempt to make it...it just sounded good! I was so excited at how well it turned out, I just had to share.  I served it with hot mustard, but they were fantabulous just plain.

Saturday night was Steamer Pot night. Nothing beats a great steamer...and the ones at Joe's Crab Shack are pretty darned tasty!  They just aren't big enough...for me. I prefer my items steamed in a good, hearty ale, but I am not opposed to the beauty of a good steam in very dry white wine either.  I like a lot of variety in my pot, as I am not discriminatory at all in my contents (with the exception of sausage... I will never understand the inclusion of sausage in a steamer pot. Every time I see one, I feel like I am four years old watching Picture Pages with Bill Cosby asking me, "Which item does not belong in this picture, boys and girls?". I want to raise my hand and shout "I know! I know! It's the sausage!!"). It quite possibly could be because I am not a New Englander.

Our late night snack Saturday night was more rangoon that I smartly set aside for our anticipated seafood withdrawl I knew we would be going through knowing everyone would be home the next day...


For your enjoyment....please consume responsibly (and call me when dinner's ready!)

Tuna Tataki with Daikon & Radish Salad
 serves 2

2 tuna steaks, about 1 to 1 1/2 inch thick
Olive oil
3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper
1 large daikon radish, peeled and shredded
12-15 red radishes, trimmed and shredded
2 tbsp mirin
Ponzu sauce (preferred) or soy sauce (both optional)
Wasabi paste (optional)
Pickled Ginger slices (optional)
Wasabi Peas (optional)

Spray a non-stick frying pan with cooking spray (like Pam). Turn heat up to medium high. Meanwhile, brush tuna steaks with a light smattering of olive oil on both sides. Sprinkle both sides with salt, pepper and sesame seeds.

Sear tuna on both sides - For presentation, I sear on short sides as well. You may have to hold the steaks with tongs to so, depending on how thick the steaks are.

For rare, sear about 1 minute on each side.
For medium, sear about 2-3 minutes per side.
To cook all the way through (but why, oh why?) cook 4-6 minutes per side and don't blame me.

Remove tuna from pan and let rest 5 minutes. Slice tuna very thin. You may get lucky and the tuna pieces will fall apart (flake) where they are naturally supposed to.  If not, that's why we invented the chef's knife! I like my tataki at room temperature, but some prefer it cold.

While tuna is napping, combine the shredded daikon and radish in a large bowl. Toss to combine. Add the mirin. Sometimes, depending on the strength of the daikon/radish intensity, I may cut it with a teaspoon of sugar - this is completely optional. I also like to serve this at room temperature.

To serve: Mound 1/4 to 3/4 cup of the radish salad on a plate. Fan or place slices of tuna across salad. Drizzle ponzu or soy sauce (lightly!) over tuna. Add wasabi, ginger, and/or wasabi peas to plate (optional) in any form you desire. If I had my way, the wasabi would be smeared over every inch...

Curry Crab Rangoon
 makes 40-50
For Filling:
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
8 oz crab meat (I like claw meat for this)
1 cap full worcestershire sauce
1 cap full soy sauce
1-2 tbsp curry powder (to your taste)
1 tbsp sriracha hot sauce
1/4 tsp freshly ground white pepper
2 finely minced scallions, whites and greens
1/4 of a large red onion, finely minced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 package wonton wrappers
1 egg plus 1 tsp water, beaten
Vegetable oil for frying

Combine the crab and the cream cheese in a large bowl. I use a hand mixer because it is not essential to keep the crab in large pieces. Mix in the remaining filling ingredients one at a time.

On a flat surface, lay out a few wonton wrappers in front of you so that it forms a diamond shape. Keep the remaining wrappers covered with a damp towl so they don't start to dry out while waiting to be used. Wet the edges of the wrappers with egg and water wash using your fingertip.

Add a heaping teaspoon of filling to the middle, and spread it out toward the left and right points of the diamond so that it forms a log or rectangular shape (otherwise the wrapper may break in the middle during deep-frying). Fold over the edges of the wrapper so that it forms a triangle shape. Press to seal the edges, adding more wash if needed.

Cover the completed Crab Rangoon with a damp towel to prevent them from drying out while preparing the rest.

Heat frying pan and add oil for deep-frying. Traditionally, these are deep fried, but we actually prefer to pan fry them. When oil is ready (the temperature should be between 360 - 375 degrees), carefully slide in the rangoon, taking care not to overcrowd. Fry until they are golden brown, about 2-3 minutes, turning once.

Remove with a tongs and drain on paper towels.

You can serve these little beauties with a bottled Chinese hot mustard (like in the restaurants), wasabi mayo, sweet and sour sauce or just scarf 'em down plain. Betcha can't eat just one...

Garlic & Wine Steamer Pots
Makes 2-3 servings

I'm craving this just looking at the photo...

You'll need:
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced (I always go heavy on the garlic in this one)
1 tbsp olive oil
1-1/2 cups white wine (something you would drink)
12 littleneck clams, cleaned and scrubbed
1 pound mussels, cleaned and scrubbed, beards removed if still attached
1 pound raw shrimp (16-20 count), peeled and deveined, tails on
2 lobster tails, meat removed from shell (save the shell for presentation or to use for making stock another time)
1/2 cup fresh chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp cold unsalted butter
2 tbsps lemon juice
2 tbsps lemon zest
Lemon wedges
Loaf of crusty bread for dipping into the sauce

In a large, deep & heavy saucepan, cook onion and garlic in oil over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Add wine and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 5-7 minutes.

Add clams/mussels and steam covered, over moderately high heat 5 to 7 minutes, transferring them as they open with tongs to a serving bowl and reserving cooking liquid (Discard clams/mussels that are unopened after 7 minutes.) Keep warm. Add shrimp and lobster meat and steam in same liquid, turning as needed until shrimp is nice and pink! Lobster should be cooked in about the same amount of time. Transfer to bowl with clams and mussels.

Add parsley, butter, lemon zest and lemon juice to reserved cooking liquid and stir until smooth. You could also process in blender or use immersion blender in the pan, but I prefer it chunky. As soon as the butter is melted, remove pot from heat. Pour sauce over bowls.

Garnish with more fresh parsley if desired and serve with crusty Italian or French bread to sop up that superb sauce at the bottom of the bowl (that I could literally drink with a straw...who needs bread??!!)

Feel free to substitute 2 bottles of your favorite beer for the wine. We have used many a lager, but Rogue Dead Guy and Rogue Chipotle Ale are our favorites to use with this dish thus far. Of course, we will need to do some more tests....I think I may try this with a few bottles of Xingu Black next time. That is, if I can refrain from drinking it!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

To Wasa-be or not to Wasa-be?

...that is the question. Tonight, anyway...

The kids and Granma are out of town this weekend for a mini Spring Break vacation, so Papa Bear and I are home alone and chillin' in front of the boob tube.  He stumbled upon a show while surfing the channels about hot peppers. We will generally watch a show about food, any food, and so we ended up watching it...and the bonus to this show was that now I know where to order some bhut jolokia ghost pepper seeds so I can grow them myself.

There was a segment specifically on wasabi, which is on my Top 5 Best Condiment list, or it would be if I had one...maybe I'll make one? Wasabi would definitely be number 2 or 3...right behind Crystal hot sauce.

The man in the television set said that real wasabi root was grown in a select few areas in Japan and cost about $100 per pound, so when we (and he meant me, I just know it...the man in the television talks to me all the time!) eat what we think to be wasabi, we are really eating ground/grated horseradish root!

Nooooo!!!! Say it isn't so!!!


So, being the inquisitive sorts we are, we got up and went into the kitchen.  Lo and behold, we had not only a tube of  wasabi paste in the fridge, but also a jar of wasabi powder! The ingredients on both the paste and the powder were.....


The powder version also listed 'wasabi leaves' along with the horseradish powder, so does that count? Eh, probably not. We slowly came to the ugly realization that we had indeed never tasted true wasabi root. Depressing.

So then Papa Bear had a thought. An evil, delicious thought. This thought is one of the many reasons that I love this man with what's left of my (now) wasabi-less heart.  He suggested a "heat taste test" between the two wasabi products.

We mixed the powdered wasabi according to the package directions with equal parts water and let the mixture sit for ten minutes. We then plated the powdered wasabi and the prepared wasabi paste in two servings of equal proportions (see below) and prepared to taste.

Papa Bear had another delicious thought...to use a shot (or four...) of sake as a palette cleanser between tastes.  Hey, we didn't have any pickled ginger, okay? Did I mention that I love him?

Now that I see this, do you notice too how nuclear green the prepared wasabi looks compared to the powdered wasabi? Wow.

Here are the opinionated results of our scientifical kitchen-based testing:

Wicked Chef:  "I found the powder based wasabi to have a more intense heat, making my nose hairs singe with delight and my sinuses clear almost immediately, followed by a pleasant mellow flavor.  The prepared wasabi paste tasted a tad sweeter, with not nearly as much heat-packing punch or toe-curling power. The sake was...hic...very good."

Papa Bear: "The powdered wasabi definitely opened up my sinuses!  A much cleaner taste than the stuff in the tube.  Unlike Wicked Chef, I found it to be sweeter of the two, and the prepared wasabi to be a bit on the salty side in comparison."

All in all, it was a fun experiment. We laughed. We cried. (Wasabi is hot, after all...) I stubbed my toe. It hurt. I wanted more fake wasabi.

But I will not forget that I have been misled...nay, lied to! All the years I thought I was consuming large quantities of wasabi, I was really eating a green-dyed version of what I eat on my roast beef. But firmer.

Oh, and if the Daddy Warbucks that I hasn't found me yet wants to buy some real wasabi root to try (and probably love!), then please send it my way....

Friday, March 19, 2010

Family Traditions - Birthdays

We have had a tradition in our family of the birthday person choosing what they want for their birthday dinner for years.  My Mom has done this for me since I was old enough to speak, and I have continued this tradition with my girls. It's fun to see what they come up with. There are NO rules when making the choice, so it's basically a free-for-all buffet.

As far back as I can remember, I have always requested that my Mom make pirogi for my birthday dinner. My Grandmother (my dad's mom) used to make them and showed my Mom how to make them them. I love them. They are so simple and straightforward, but have the ability to be versatile as well. These packages of joy can be filled with yumminess beyond imagination.  Mom makes two different kinds - ones with cabbage and ones with sauerkraut. I love the sauerkraut perogi floating in a pool of butter, sprinkled with minced scallion, salt, pepper and a dollop of sour cream on the side. Don't get me wrong! I like the cabbage, but refuse to eat them until I have demolished the sauerkraut.

They take Mom about ten to twelve hours to make, as she makes upwards of 150 to 200 of each variety (not counting making the dough the night before) and we (well, I do more than anybody else) eat them for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, and midnight snack for the three or four days after my birthday (can we say pan-fried pirogi in butter? Oh yes...yes we can!).  Mom probably hates my birthday and is fervently grateful that it is only a once per year occurrence...but when we all sit around the table to eat? Let's just call that a George Bailey moment because we're all glad I was born to request this as my birthday dinner choice after that first heavenly bite.

March is a double birthday month in our world. The Drama Queen turned 15 and the Crazy Artist turned 17.  I'm slowly learning how, from a parental perspective, birthdays evolve.  We started with Winnie the Pooh, Strawberry Shortcake, Pirates and Butterflies and now we have mall trips, more expensive tastes and no parties. Thank goodness my Little Lawyer doesn't have her birthday until September. I still feel like the poor girl gets 'gypped' on the birthday front sometimes. When Drama Queen and Crazy Artist were little, we had money to spare, so they got the royal treatment. Spoiled, they were. Even now, the older kids get in on the tax refund benefit. Little Lawyer gets to go through her childhood with poor parents who don't have enough energy to walk around the block, much less put together an extravagant kids birthday party...but we try to make it with whatever money and energy we can muster!

Drama Queen's birthday was a blast. I love her version of a good time! Alice In Wonderland opened on her birthday (Karma or coincidence? Hmmm...) so we drove an hour to one of her favorite restaurants, Bahama Breeze, and had dinner, and then saw the movie in 3D on an IMAX screen. She got to bring a friend along for the festivities that night and a trip to the mall the next day.  For her birthday dinner, she chose Thai Chicken Pizza and requested a Mad Hatter Hat cake (which we neglected to take a photo of because to us it looked nothing like Johnny Depp's hat in the movie...it resembled more of a Mardi Gras/Saint Patrick's Day Leprechaun-looking hat...thing. Cake decorating is so not my forte.). 

Crazy Artist is a potato freak. Really.  The last 3 years, the child has requested nothing but a potato smorgasbord for her birthday dinner. This year, she added one non-potato dish request to her request. And she did not want a traditional birthday cake. She requested a coffee cake from Troyer's. Did I mention that she is crazy? Yeah...but we love her.  We had her favorite potato dishes - Loaded Potato Casserole and TGIF Potato Skins, along with a new favorite I make that she loves - Strawberry Soup. Granma picked up a coffee cake and cinnamon rolls from Troyer's. We surprised her with tickets to see Fiddler on the Roof at our community theater - she's the only kid I know that could recite the movie word for word.

Little Lawyer is already dreaming of a Totally Chocolate dinner.....and who knows what else!

Here's to birthday dinners!!

Thai Chicken Pizza

1 large pizza shell (like Boboli)
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
3 tbsp water
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp oil
8 oz boneless skinless chicken breast, trimmed and diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Whisk together the peanut butter, water, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger and garlic in a small bowl.

Heat oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, stirring, until cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add bell pepper, scallions and 1 tablespoon of the peanut sauce to the chicken; toss to combine.

Remove the crust from the package; spread evenly with the remaining peanut sauce. Top with the chicken mixture, then sprinkle with cheese. Bake on the middle rack until the crust is crispy and golden and the cheese is melted, 11 to 13 minutes.

Loaded Potato Casserole

4 cups mashed potatoes
7 oz tub of garlic and cheese spread
1/2 cup milk
1 pkg real bacon bits/pieces
1 tsp pepper
1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar
Fresh chives. chopped

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine potatoes, cheese spread, milk bacon bits, pepper and three quarters of the cheddar in a 11x7 casserole/baking dish. Sprinkle top with remaining cheddar.

Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Garnish with Chives.

TGI Friday's Potato Skins* (with my calorie-laden Sour Cream Dill Sauce)

*I just use a family-sized box of TGI Friday's potato skins (in the freezer section of your grocery store), but any brand will do. Just make as package directs.

The sauce I make consists of sour cream, ranch dressing, dill and 4 or 5 chopped scallions. I never measure this recipe, so when I do throw it together, it all depends on whether I am more in the mood for a sour cream taste or a ranch taste (usually the sour cream wins out in that competition..and it gets a 2:1 ratio). For a kick, I will sometimes add a splash or two of hot sauce and/or sprinkle with crushed wasabi peas after the mixture is dolloped onto the skins.

Strawberry Soup

1 pound fresh or frozen strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp lemon juice (optional)

Garnish with:
Sliced Strawberries
Whipped Cream
Wash and cut the strawberries and place in a blender or food processor.  Process until the strawberries are pureed.  Add the sugar, yogurt, milk, and lemon juice and process until combined. 
Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with whipped cream and sliced berries.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hello World!

My first blog entry! Ta-Da! Fanfare ensues....

I was encouraged to start this as a food blog. I love food and everything about it. I like to eat, drink, create menus, throw parties with a bevy of dishes, create recipes, try new methods of cooking, anything. I am a self-professed kitchen gadget/appliance junkie. I watch cooking shows like one would watch a soap opera. I read cookbooks and cooking magazines like they are the latest Harry Potter novel (I read those too). I like to talk about food; how it tastes, what it feels like, how the texture is, what it pairs well with, where it comes from. I love to eat out and cook at home, but I prefer to cook and eat at home. Now, if only I could figure out how to get people who eat what I make at home to leave me a tip...

I love trying new foods and cuisines.  There are very, very few foods out there that I will not eat. Everyone has culinary likes and dislikes, and I love the challenge of finding that dish/menu/flavor that everyone goes ga-ga for. Or when someone will ask me what's in something I made, and when I tell them, they go "Really?? I don't care for (fill in ingredient here), but that was fantastic!"

I like to try duplicating and, in my opinion, improving recipes I see or read elsewhere. I also have the weird and strange ability to taste something once or twice (that I didn't cook) and rattle off the ingredients used in the dish. People have asked me to go to restaurants with them for the sole purpose of tasting their favorite dish just so that I can tell them what's in it and how to duplicate it.

Then I thought...what about other topics that I enjoy that aren't food or food related? My goal here is to keep the focus on food for the most part, but have the option and ability to toss in a post about other things that are important to me and maybe to anybody else that may be reading.

Hence the Five F's were "born".

1. Food - I can talk about that 24/7. I will post what's for dinner, snacks, restaurant reviews, cookbook reviews, just anything and everything about food.

2. Family - I have a fantastic (another F word!) one, if I do say so myself. I like to brag about them. My close friends are considered family, so I might brag about them too.

3. Fun - Who doesn't like to have fun? I hope to share some fun things we've done (or want to do) that you might like.

4. Familiarity - A very broad-based F word, but one I like. These are simply comfort topics (other than food, of course) that are near and dear and deserve to be brought up once in awhile.

5. Frustration - We all feel it in one form or another almost every single day of our lives. It helps to talk about it and see a different viewpoint...and find some answers along the way.

Let's see what happens, shall we?

Until the next F!