Tuesday, July 15, 2014

french classic: brandade de morue

Salt cod (bacalao/bacalau/morue) is probably one of my favorite ingredients because it can be kept for a really long time (yay, preservation!) and when it's prepared correctly and put into a dish, it is flavorful and light.  Salt cod is a staple ingredient in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean, so you will see it on menus in places like Spain, Portugal, France, Greece, Norway, Russia, and even Africa.  The number one thing you have to do in order to use salt cod is to desalinate it correctly.  You can't rush or skip this step - trust me - I made the mistake of rushing through the process once and we ended up having a bunch of inedible cod at a group dinner for six people.  After the cod is prepared for cooking, there are dozens of dishes you can make with it - and today, we're doing Brandade de Morue.

If you didn't already know, Anthony Bourdain is one of my favorite chefs - not because he's some super innovative Michelin-starred phenom (he's not, he's more like a good chef with serious writing chops), but because he's more of a no-BS kind of guy.  I bought his Les Halles cookbook last year because I felt like it was a very straightforward guide to bistro classics, and I'd be able to learn the framework of some of Jules' favorite childhood dishes.  We went through the book together and marked off the ones that he wanted me to make (which ended up being almost all of them), and one that stood out was the Brandade de Morue, or, what you could call a "salt cod gratin".  You can serve this as an appetizer, or, just supplement it with a side of vegetables and it can be a main dish.  It turned out to be a success - reminds me a bit of a really good seafood chowder - and now it's one of my favorites too.

Brandade de Morue 
(adapted from the "Les Halles Cookbook" by Anthony Bourdain)

1/2 lb salt cod
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 bouquet garni
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 sprigs of flat parsley, chopped
2 T bread crumbs

Place the cod in a large mixing bowl and cover to the top with cold water.  The cod should soak for at least 24 hours to rehydrate, and you should change the water several times; once every hour for the first few hours, and then every few hours after that.  I repeat, do NOT rush or get lazy about this process!

After 24 hours, remove the fish from the water and pat dry with a towel.  (If the fish is still too salty, Mr. Bourdain says to boil a few potatoes, chunk them up, and toss them into the mix.)

In a large pot, combine the cream, bouquet garni, and garlic, and bring to a boil.  Once the mixture is boiling, add the fish and reduce to a simmer.  Cook for about 6 minutes, then remove the fish wtih a slotted spoon and place in a clean mixing bowl.

Bring the cream to a boil again and reduce slowly for about 10 minutes.  Don't worry if the cream doesn't cover the fish - and do not add more liquid, or you will get the wrong consistency at the end.  Remove from the heat, and discard the garlic and bouquet garni.  Stir in the olive oil and set aside.

Preheat the oven to broil.  Use your finger to shred the cod very fine.  Once it is thoroughly shredded, slowly introduce the cream and oil mixture, mixing well with a wooden spoon.  After all the liquid has been added, adjust the seasoning and add the parsley.  Transfer the mixture to the gratin dish and top with the bread crumbs.  Cook under the broiler until a nice, golden-brown crust forms over the top - then serve, hot, with garlic toast.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

and just like that...

I'm a Mrs.!  

I'm blogging from Los Angeles right now - just coming down from the frenzy of events of our wedding this past Friday.  I can't describe how amazing and beautiful everything turned out, and I couldn't have asked for a more perfect event.  We ran out of processional music because my sweet flower girl decided to stop on the stairs longer than expected, Jules elbowed me in the face during our first dance, my shoes hurt like crazy, and I was terrified of ugly-crying the entire time...but when I look at some of the photos and hear everyone's comments about the ceremony and reception, I can't help but have a beaming smile across my face.  

Here's a few photos that I managed to snap (and one that my cousin sent me).  We get our official photos next week!  I'll be back to blogging very shortly :)

Friday, June 13, 2014

soul glow.

If you're wondering why my food posts have been few & far between, it's because I've been preoccupied with getting ready for...our wedding!  (It's in just 14 days, I can barely believe it.)  Unfortunately for my husband-to-be, that means our meals have been less indulgent (when I manage to cook) and we've been eating a lot of salads or grabbing takeout when I don't have time to cook something.  

I haven't talked about health & fitness on this blog in a long time, but I figured I should write a little something since it's been consuming my life as of late.  I'd originally started with two Spin classes a week with the amazing Jorge Chavez at Crunch on Polk Street, whose classes are like a big, sweaty, dance party.  I've been Spinning for a few years now at several different gyms and with several different instructors, but when SoulCycle finally opened its doors in San Francisco, I started adding 1-2 Soul classes into my routine.  This made a big difference - not just because I essentially doubled my workouts, but because these tough-as-hell yet inspiring cycling workouts included strength training (say what you will about lifting those 2-3 lb. weights at Soul, but they feel like 20 lb. weights after a while!).  Plus, like Jorge's classes, they are fun and you work your butt off to an amazing soundtrack.  Trust.

There's one really important component to SoulCycle that helped changed the game for me and stick with and improve my fitness routine this past year - the culture.  The instructors that I've ridden with (Allie Fell, Ben Bruker, Ian McAndrew, and Jenny Gaither) have such an incredible energy about them.  They connect with their riders, they offer words of advice that help you reign in your wandering thoughts and/or self-sabotaging doubts, and really encourage a sense of community in each class.  Everyone that attends a SoulCycle class regularly is genuinely excited to be there and makes lots of noise during class (the good kind).  Years ago when my cousin Karen mentioned SoulCycle on her blog, I'd read about the so-called Rooster classes in NYC - "Roosters" are riders who attend the first morning classes of the day, at 6am.  I thought they were nuts - who gets up that early for Spin?  

Answer:  ME!!  I'm a Rooster!  HOLLERRRRR.  

Honestly, I've struggled with food and weight and fitness my whole life.  (I even hesitated to start this food blog because I thought I'd resigned myself to becoming an overweight home cook.)  While I entered into this fitness routine with the intent of losing weight specifically for my wedding, one of my favorite instructors recently posted on his Facebook that, "Losing weight is not your life's purpose".  He's absolutely right.  While toning and tightening is definitely a great side effect of workout out, it has become much more than that.  Learning how to dig deep and push your limits, believing in your own power and honoring your strength.  Giving yourself credit.  Connecting with others.  Finding what motivates you.  While SoulCycle may not be everyone's cup of tea, when you find that thing that helps push you in the right direction, you have to recognize it and give it props (likewise, when something isn't working for you, you need to have the strength to let that go too).  These kinds of yoga-like realizations are what sets SoulCycle apart and really makes these workouts meaningful to me.

Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about the food part of this blog nor am I going to change it to some raw vegan version, though I may bring in those recipes from time to time to share with you.  I have so many things I'd like to post once we get through the wedding, like what to do with dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes or how to roast a whole Branzino (hint: it's not hard at all).  I thought I'd just share what I've been up to, and to let everyone know that I haven't completely fallen off the planet, rather, I've been getting my exercise on and trying to keep my head clear during this exciting and hectic time of my life!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

izakaya snack: bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms

When we were in LA, one of my favorite dishes at Shojin Downtown was a vegan sushi roll whose ingredients included carrot, burdock, avocado and enoki mushroom.  When we returned to San Francisco, I couldn't stop thinking about enoki (榎茸, エノキタケ) - they have a somewhat strange, crunchy yet soft texture that happen to also have lots of great antioxidants.  I'd seen them at the Japanese supermarket, but I didn't really know how to cook them.  Looking at recipes online, I found this quick appetizer, which is a favorite at izakaya (a Japanese post-work bar that serves food that goes well with booze).  They are a far cry from the vegan rolls that inspired my interest, but they are delicious.  I mean, BACON.  Hello.

Bacon-Wrapped Enoki Mushroom Appetizer

6 slices of bacon, halved crosswise
1 x 4-ounce packages enoki mushrooms, trimmed and split into 12 bundles
3 scallions, halved lengthwise and cut into 3-inch lengths
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425°. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the bacon on it 3 inches apart. Set the mushrooms on the bacon slices. Top with the scallions and season with pepper. Roll up into tight cylinders and secure with toothpicks.

Roast the enoki bundles for 18 minutes, or until the bacon is browned and crisp. Drain the bundles on paper towels, remove the toothpicks and serve.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

handcrafted: coconut almond granola

One Saturday morning after the gym, Jules and I stopped at this wonderful coffee shop in Russian Hill - Saint Frank, a sleek and modern cafe that makes the best almond macadamia latte ever.  I noticed their walls were stocked with their branded coffee beans, fancy looking coffee making supplies, and jars of artisanal granola...for $18 a jar.  My eyes went a bit wide because I already have issues paying $8 for 12 oz. of 18 Rabbits Granola.  Was their granola that amazing?  

I never found out because I certainly didn't want to spend that kind of money on something I may be able to just make on my own.

I went home and decided I wanted to learn how to make granola from scratch.  I actually had been holding onto a bag of bulk rolled oats (which I'd previously used to make Karlie's Kookies), and I also had a bit of dried coconut, miscellaneous nuts, and just about 1/2 cup of brown rice syrup that had been hanging out for a while and was just dying to be used.  The thing with granola is, you can add just about whatever you want - just imagine what tastes delicious, and put it together!  This recipe is the simplest version, you can omit and substitute nuts and seeds as you wish.

Easy Homemade Almond Coconut Granola

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/3 cup sunflower kernels
1/8 cup flax seeds
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup pure brown rice syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon raw coconut nectar

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, coconut, almonds, sunflower kernels, flax seeds, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together coconut oil, brown rice syrup, vanilla, and coconut nectar. Pour liquid mixture over dry ingredients. Stir until dry ingredients are well-coated.

Pour the granola mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, smoothing out into an even layer. Bake for 30 minutes or until granola is golden brown, stirring every 10 minutes. Let granola cool completely and then break up into pieces (keeping it as chunky if you wish).

Store in an air-tight container for up to 1 month.  Enjoy by the handful, or serve with fruit & yogurt, or just your favorite type of milk.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

signs of spring.

As the crispness of a San Francisco winter slowly begins to fade, the first signs of spring appear the the farmers market.  My favorite farmers market in the SF Bay Area thus far is the one at the San Rafael Civic Center - many of the same vendors as the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market minus the tourists.  The weather in San Rafael is also generally warmer and more conducive to walking around without being swaddled in about seven layers of clothing.  The stroller contingent is out in full force by 11am, but if you get there early, the experience is pretty serene and the parking is pretty easy.

My favorite vendor is Tomatero Farms because they always stock beautiful bunches of kale, radishes, leeks, tender heads of cauliflower, at very reasonable prices.  Other highlights include the flower vendor right across from Tomatero Farms' tent, who sells bunches of freesia for about $4, ranunculus for $5, and mixed bouquets for only $8.  I would go to the farmers market in Marin just to buy flowers, that's how much I like them!

After returning home with a bounty of beautiful produce, I wanted to make something delicious, light, and highlighted the seasonal ingredients.  I'd never cooked with dandelion greens before, but I do love bitter greens and pesto so this recipe was just what I needed.  It's also a great transitional soup for when the weather is not quite warm yet - the creaminess of a hearty winter soup without the heaviness of full fat cream.

Roasted Cauliflower & Leek Soup with Dandelion Pesto
adapted from Treehugger


1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 leeks, cut into rings
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
2 tb olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 medium russet potato, diced
3 c vegetable stock
1/2 c unsweetened coconut milk
1 tb dry thyme leaves (or 1 tsp fresh)

1/4 c walnuts
1 clove garlic, minced
2 c dandelion greens
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 c olive oil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

1 tsp smoked paprika

Preheat the oven to 425º F. In a large bowl, toss together the cauliflower, leeks, onion, garlic, 1/2 tsp salt, and olive oil. Pour onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and place in oven for 20 minutes or until golden.

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, combine the roasted vegetables, potato, vegetable stock, coconut milk, thyme leaves and remaining salt. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Remove from heat.

Using a stick blender or working in batches, puree the vegetables and stock into a smooth consistency.  Set aside.

To make the pesto, gently toast the walnuts in a dry skillet.   Add to a food processor or blender along with the garlic and process until a fine crumble.  Add the chopped dandelion greens, Parmesan, and salt and process again until the greens are well chopped, then drizzle in the olive oil as the food processor or blender is running, and let everything process into a paste. Add more olive oil, a tablespoon at a time, if needed to make it the desired consistency.  You can also add a bit of water to thin it out.

To serve, ladle into soup bowls, top with a dollop of pesto, and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

beautiful los angeles.

By now you all know how much I love Los Angeles.  It's my Southern California roots that keep me fiercely loyal to LA and San Diego while San Franciscans love to hate on the lower half of our state.  And yes, while the traffic and triple-digit summer temperatures can be absolutely miserable, the beach, the no-jacket-required January weather, and the room to spread out are three things I love about SoCal.  Here are a few shining moments from our trip this past weekend:

Chaumont Bakery (Beverly Hills)

Recommended to me personally by Chef Ludo Lefebvre (in response to an inquiry about where to get a croquembouche in Los Angeles), this fancy bakery right off of Wilshire was worth the 6 hour drive from San Francisco.  I dragged a tired Jules out of bed bright and early and drove 45 minutes south of our hotel to try it, and it did not disappoint.  He would move to LA for the croissants, they were that good.


This photo was taken at Manhattan Beach.  I grew up in San Diego and Honolulu, and being close to the sea just feels natural to me.  I can't ever imagine growing up somewhere that didn't have easy ocean access.  And, yes, the water can be chilly..but it's still beautiful!

Mexican Food

Before all the Bay Area folks start trying to tell me that San Francisco has awesome Mexican food, I will say that Southern California is about 400+ miles closer to Mexico than we are. And maybe that's why I can't get a satisfactory inexpensive taco around these parts.  Plus, have you had proper rolled tacos or carne asada fries?  No?  We are no longer friends until you do.

Hasta luego, Los Angeles...until next time!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

new year, old traditions.

Let me preface this entry by saying, I'm not Japanese.

Not one single solitary drop of Japanese blood in my veins.  But I grew up in Honolulu, where at one time, 43% of the population was of Japanese heritage.  Without explaining the entire history of how it happened (it involves pineapple plantations and immigrants), I'll just say that Hawai'i is a huge melting pot of ethnic groups, and in some way or another, you end up taking traditions from so many different cultures that they become part of your own.  And thus, o-zōni is one  of my favorite New Year's Day traditions.

O-zōni (or just zōni, as it is sometimes called), is a simple soup of clear broth, vegetables, and most importantly, mochi, or, rice cakes.  There are many variations of this soup by region in Japan, and the ingredients can vary depending on what is available to you.  (For example, my part-Japanese half-sister, who lives in Hawai'i, likes to put knots of kombu in her soup since it's widely available there.)  Not only is it a soup for good luck for the New Year, but it is also perfect for those with sensitive tummies after a night of too much indulgence!

O-zōni (adapted from a recipe by Marc Matsumoto)
1 cup water + 4 cups water
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 pound boneless chicken thighs
8 slices carrot, carved into the shape of a cherry blossom
1/4 cup sake
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
handful of baby spinach leaves, blanched
kamaboko (fish cake), sliced
4 mochi

About an hour before you prepare your Ozoni, put 1 cup of water in a bowl along with the dried shiitake mushrooms.

Put the chicken in a colander. Boil a kettle of water and pour it over the chicken, letting the water go down the drain. This removes blood and impurities from the meat, giving you a clear soup.

Put the chicken in a pot along with the remaining 4 cups of water, the carrots, sake, and salt, and then simmer for 20 minutes, skimming to remove any scum that rises to the top. Remove the chicken and set it aside.  Add the soy sauce, along with the soaking liquid from the shiitake mushrooms to the soup and then adjust salt to taste. Slice up the shiitake mushrooms and add them to the soup.

Lay down a sheet of aluminum foil in a toaster oven then toast the mochi until it inflates and turns golden brown along the top.

To serve, place piece of grilled mochi at the bottom of the bowl, then add a few slices of chicken. Add the soup along with some spinach, slices of carrot, a couple of slices of kamaboko, and some shiitake mushrooms.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

champagne wishes and caviar dreams on new year's eve.

I just recently re-read one of my favorite books from when I was in college.  It's a book entitled "My Sergei" by figure skater Ekaterina "Katia" Gordeeva, about her husband & skating partner, Sergei Grinkov, who passed away unexpectedly at a very young age.  This book introduced me to a more intimate look at family life in Russia in the seventies and eighties, as Katia wrote extensively about her childhood in the Soviet Union - the trips to their dacha to hunt mushrooms, the dishes that her babushka would make for holidays, the celebrations of certain festivals, like New Year's Eve, which apparently was the biggest holiday of the year for Russians.  

For this New Year's Eve, Jules and I didn't make any big plans.  We said we were just going to have a big bottle of champagne and maybe some caviar (a "grande bouffe" of sorts).  Of course, I couldn't help myself and I started researching menus that included champagne and caviar, and ended up preparing a Russian-themed feast of golubtsy, blini, caviar, smoked fish, pickles, and mushrooms in sour cream.  (Jules also wanted steak, so we prepared a small ribeye to share.)  Of course, we accompanied everything with vodka and eventually champagne!  Here are two of my favorite recipes from this evening's menu, cabbage rolls stuffed with meat and rice, and buckwheat pancakes that can be topped with virtually anything.  

Happy 2014, everyone!! 

Quick Buckwheat Blini 
recipe by Anya von Brezmen

1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup seltzer or club soda

Canola oil, for brushing

In a food processor, combine all of the ingredients except the seltzer and canola oil and puree until smooth. Scrape the batter into a large bowl and let stand for 15 minutes.

Whisk 1/3 cup of the seltzer into the batter; it should have the consistency of pancake batter; add a bit more seltzer if the batter is too thick.

Heat a large nonstick skillet or griddle over moderate heat until very hot. Brush with oil. Spoon tablespoon-size mounds of batter into the hot skillet and cook until bubbles form on the surface and the blini are browned on the bottom, about 1 minute. Flip the blini and cook for 30 seconds longer. Transfer the blini to a baking sheet. Brush the skillet with oil as needed and repeat with the remaining batter, layering the cooked blini on the baking sheet. Serve the blini warm or at room temperature.

We serve ours two ways - either with sour cream & caviar, or sour cream and smoked fish.  Jules' favorite is smoked trout, but any smoked fish will do.  You can use a gravadlax style salmon too, which is really lovely.  Top with chopped chives, scallions, or flat-leaf parsley for a bit of color.

Golubtsy (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)
1 cup white rice, cooked
2 medium sized cabbages
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1 pound ground beef
2 eggs
4 medium carrots, grated
1 onion, chopped fine
1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce (I used Whole Foods 365 Mushroom Sauce)
2-3 Tbsp canola oil
1 Tbsp butter
a few dashes of allspice, paprika, and cumin
freshly ground black pepper
Sour cream or Greek yogurt for serving

Preheat the oven to 350F.

To make filling, heat clarified butter or oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and fry until soft, about 7 minutes. Add carrots, and fry for another minute or so.  Remove from heat, let cool.  Place mixture in a bowl with meat, rice, eggs, and spices. Mix well to combine.  At this point, you want to taste your mixture to make sure it's seasoned enough - take a small spoonful and put on a plate, and microwave until it is cooked.  Taste and season accordingly.

Core cabbages and place whole in a large pot of boiling salted water (you will probably have to do this one head at a time). You should be able to begin pulling the cabbage leaves off by layers.  Put into a colander to drain.  Cut thick ribs from larger leaves, then halve the leaves; keep smaller leaves intact. You will need 14-16 leaves. Use leaves and trimmings to line a casserole pan or large dutch oven.

To make the rolls, place a generous spoonful of meat filling at base of each leaf, roll one turn and tuck in sides to contain filling. Roll firmly to end of leaf.

Arrange the rolls in a large pot, pour the spaghetti sauce over the top. Place in a oven for about 45-50 minutes.

Serve the rolls hot or warm. Serve with yogurt or sour cream.

Monday, December 23, 2013


Alfajores are a delicious, delicate cookie from South America.  Filled with an unctuous dollop of dulce de leche, they are lightweight and seem to melt in your mouth.  When I worked at Williams-Sonoma HQ, we got to taste a few versions of these, one that was dipped entirely in chocolate (so sinfully delicious).  This recipe is a fairly basic one, feel free to play around with the fillings if you like!

1 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon pisco or brandy
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup Dulce de Leche, at room temperature (you can do premade, or make your own)
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Place the cornstarch, measured flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk briefly to combine; set aside.  In another bowl, (you can use a hand mixer if you like) cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture is light & fluffy. Add the egg yolks, brandy, and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Gradually add the reserved flour mixture and mix until just incorporated.

Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape it into a smooth disk, and wrap it tightly. Place in the refrigerator until firm, at least 1 hour.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Lightly flour the top of the dough. Roll to 1/4-inch thickness (the dough will crack but can be easily patched back together). Stamp out 24 rounds using a plain or fluted 2-inch round cutter, re-rolling the dough as necessary until all of it is gone.

Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, 12 per sheet and at least 1/2 inch apart. Bake 1 sheet at a time until the cookies are firm and pale golden on the bottom, about 12 to 14 minutes. (The cookies will remain pale on top.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Flip half of the cookies upside down and gently spread about 2 teaspoons of the dulce de leche on each. Place a second cookie on top and gently press to create a sandwich. Dust generously with powdered sugar before serving.

Recipe adapted from CHOW.com.

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