Schmalz & Gribenes: A Kitchen Experiment in Using Every Bit

Schmalz? Gribenes? Sound like characters in a cartoon strip from the turn of the LAST century, don't they? In this case, though, they refer to two products from one of the most maligned chicken parts in our health-conscious world: the chicken skin. Schmalz is the liquid or semi-solid rendered fat, and gribenes is the crispy bits of skin left after rendering fat from skin (think: chicken equivalent of pork rinds). Why on earth would any one want to make these, much less eat them? Because they taste so-o-o good... Bad for you, absolutely. Delicious, undeniable.

We first sampled Schmalz when we lived in Germany, where it might be brought to the table as an alternative to butter for bread, or purchased as an open-faced sandwich snack. In Germany, though, most of the Schmalz we saw was made from pork lard, rather than from chicken — it was white and firm, and very bland on its own though it was most often flavored with herbs, onion and salt. I was never crazy about Schmalz in the 7 years we lived there.

Chicken schmalz, though, is a different animal. Golden yellow and fragrant, it makes a nice little smackerel on crusty bread, preferably sprinkled with its fraternal twin, gribenes. Schmalz can also be used as a condiment — I read that some delis offer schmalz on roast beef sandwiches! And gribenes can be used to garnish pasta, potatoes, salads — pretty much anything to which you want to add a little crunch. Other types of schmalz can be made from goose or duck fat.

Undertaking this process was more about finding useful purpose for things we would otherwise throw away than as a call to endanger heart health. I decided to try my hand at making schmalz when I ended up with a tray of a dozen kosher chicken thighs. Normally when we buy large quantities of meat, I divide them into smaller freezer packs, trimmed and ready for use later.

In this case I de-boned some of the thighs, and removed all backbones still attached to the thigh bones — those made a quick chicken broth that can be used for soup or for cooking. I also trimmed away the excess fat and most of the skin. Rather than throw out the skin as I usually did, I cut it up (kitchen shears worked much better than my knife) and threw it and the trimmed fat into a cast iron pan set on medium low.

To start, I did not add any seasoning. I wanted to keep some plain schmalz to use as a cooking medium, the same as we have a jar of ghee for certain types of South Asian cooking. As the fat began to render and liquefy, I removed enough to fill a half-pint jar to keep for cooking. I then added a quarter of a small onion, finely diced, to the pan and about a quarter teaspoon of sea salt. The pan continued cooking on medium low until the skin reached the desired browning and crispness. This took about 40 minutes total rendering/browning time.

I considered this finished.

After decanting the seasoned liquid schmalz into 2 containers (top and bottom right), I added some of the onions and gribenes to each container. The remaining gribenes were kept separate — they can be re-crisped before using. The clear gold jar is the unseasoned schmalz for cooking.

In the remaining fat in the pan, I browned a few skinless thighs for dinner, then deglazed the pan with some of the broth on the back burner. To be honest, I was so focused on the fat products that I hadn't made an actual plan for the thighs themselves, so I put them and the deglazing liquid in the slow cooker with onions, garlic and bay leaves, as well as a cinnamon stick and cumin and caraway seeds with a vague notion of later adding chickpeas and dried apricots for a North African style stew. After cleaning up, I sat down for a break and to catch up with some favorite blogs when I came across an inspired touch from Rowena @Rubber Slippers in Italy. She shared a recipe for an African beef stew with a peanut butter sauce called Mafé, and there was something about the peanut butter that sounded really good to me. I immediately added some butternut squash, the chickpeas and the remainder of our jar of peanut butter — about a 1/3 cup, to the slow cooker. Rowena used different seasonings so I wasn't sure how this would turn out, but in fact we really liked the final combination. Don't you love when inspiration smacks you on the head like that?! (Thanks, Rowena!)

The schmalz for snacking will look like this before and after the fat cools. In the photo on the right, the gribenes was toasted in a toaster oven, where they "popped" and became even more like pork rinds in texture — airy and very crispy. I'm thinking they would be great mixed in with some popcorn too...

In keeping with my resolve to bake bread at home, I opted to make my own light rye bread to go with the schmalz and gribenes. I count kneading bread as exercise to justify these calories. LOL. No, really....

I limited myself to a single slice of bread as a snack. It was hard. Very hard.

From this kitchen experiment, we also got that African (via Lecco, Italy) chicken stew
with butternut and chickpeas in peanut butter sauce, and...

From the chicken broth we got a soup with Cinderella squash, lacinato kale, meatballs
and whole wheat shells for a second dinner the following night.
All in all, a very satisfying experiment!


The Quiver (Chawan Mushi update)

Finally.... a chawan mushi I would serve to my mother: the perfect jiggly, quivering, slurp-worthy custard.

Recipe and directions here.


Chawan Mushi: Comfort in a Cup

UPDATE: 01/27/2011:
There's much mention of quivering chawan mushi custard here. This is what it looks like.


Today the high temperature here will be 26 deg. Fahrenheit. It sounds even colder in Celsius: -3 deg. Brrrrrrrrr...

When the weather outside is frightful, it’s nice to have a little something extra to warm you up on the inside. We’ve been getting some harsh winds and cold temps (but little snow) so yes, we’ve had our share of soups, teas, hot cereal and Glühwein this winter. But if you’re looking for a different kind of warming cup to chase away the chill, how about a savory steamed custard?

Chawan Mushi is a Japanese cold-weather classic: delicate egg custard in a light sea-scented broth with hidden treasures, no less — sake-marinated chicken and/or shrimp, pretty pink or red fishcake fans, shiitake mushroom, maybe even a gingko nut or fresh watercress or mitsuba. Despite the fact that my mother is Okinawan (or maybe because she was Okinawan?), she did not often make this when we were growing up. In fact, I don’t remember ever having one of these until I was in college! One taste, though, and it was love at first slurp.

For me, the anticipation of breaking the surface of chawan mushi is very much akin to that delightful moment just as your spoon cracks the glass of burnt sugar crowning a creme brulee. Despite the great anticipation, you almost see your spoon go into slow motion as it nears the egg surface. Then the spoon is under, and a rush of clear sweet dashi broth fills the gash. Your spoon returns with a piece of treasure: will it be a boozy piece of chicken, a shrimp butterfly, or a ginko nut? No matter which, you are the winner!

Chawan Mushi translates as “teacup steam” — a clue as to how it’s prepared and served. Although special lidded cups have evolved specifically to serve chawan mushi, any tall heat-proof cup that will hold at least 4 fluid ounces (120ml) will make do in a pinch. For the first batch, I even used another type of steamed-egg vessel as a pretty chawan mushi cup — an English egg coddler! I’ve always admired porcelain coddlers, though I’ve never had an actual coddled egg (basically, a seasoned soft “boiled” egg cooked with steam). I found this one in a second-hand shop and now it can do double-duty for this too! The coddler was a little small, which meant less custard once the yummy fillings were placed on the bottom. But that only means you might have to eat two!

Sometimes, we cooks can be intimidated about trying something in the kitchen that seems exotic to us, or even something that we just haven’t done before. (I know I can be.) In truth, making chawan mushi is a lot like making that other great egg custard, the quiche. If you can make quiche, you can make this — and you don’t have to make a pie crust! In both cases, the standard of perfection is the quiver — that precise moment when the egg just sets and is cooked through, but is still a delicate, jiggly mass on the verge of collapse. The key to cooking in both cases is lower, even heat so the center has a chance to set before the edges turn to rubber.

Since I only had the memory of mom’s chawan mushi as a guide but no recipe, I turned to the Interwebs to look for those tried and true home-tested recipes for which I’ve come to rely on my fellow bloggers. I've tried making chawan mushi using a recipe from a book before, but I know there are so many more out there!

Many that I saw did not marinate the meats before cooking, and I have a clear memory of sake-flavored cubes of chicken and shrimp draped in eggy goodness (also flavored with sake). In the end, I went with Francis’ recipe from his youtube video series, "Cooking with Dog," which he hosts and narrates. For those who have yet to discover Francis’ innovative instructional videos, this is what you need to know: Francis IS the Dog! A grey poodle, I think. And in his perfect, accented English he talks viewers through step-by-step directions for making several dozen popular Japanese dishes while they are demonstrated and prepared by the unnamed human sous chef to his left. Firmly putting aside hygiene concerns about a dog in the kitchen, you can’t help but be entertained by this unlikely duo — and if you’re not careful you’ll also actually learn to make these Japanese favorites! I adapted Francis’ recipe (below) for quantity and filling ingredients, but here for your viewing pleasure and edification is Francis and Friend on making chawan mushi:

So if you’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow! You can stay home and comfort yourself up with a (tea)cup of warm egg-y goodness. Me, I’ll be practicing until we get the Quiver.

(adapted from Francis' recipe in above video)
Serves 4 persons
Let me make this clear: this is not a dessert. Chawan mushi would make a decadent brunch entree — a change-up from Eggs Benedict, for sure. It would also make a unique, light starter for a winter dinner menu. In either case, serve with your favorite bubbly.

For the Fillings:
½ boneless, skinless chicken thigh, cut into 8 pieces
4 small raw shrimp, preferably with tails on (it's just for show, but I like seeing the tails above the custard)
2 tsp mirin, divided
(or 2 tsp sake + 1/2 tsp raw sugar, stir to dissolve sugar, then divide)
1 tsp shoyu (soy sauce), divided
4 ginko nuts, if using
(we didn't have any so I used fresh baby corn instead)
1 fresh shiitake or black mushroom, cut into quarters or sixths (whatever will fit your cup)

In 2 small bowls, place 1 tsp mirin and ½ tsp shoyu in each bowl. Put chicken pieces in one bowl, and shrimp in the other. Stir to coat meat/shrimp well. Set aside for 10 minutes.

Prepare your steamer. If you're using a towel on your lid, as shown in Francis' video, a simple rubber band will help keep the ends of the towel away from the heat source. Not as much of a problem if you're using a flat-top cooking surface, but for gas and even conventional electric stoves a towel can become a fire hazard.

Set your steaming vessel over high heat to get it going, then turn down to medium and keep it at that heat.

Place the bowl with the chicken and marinade in the steamer and cook for 8-10 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken pieces. Remove and set aside.

Place 2 pieces of chicken, 1 shrimp (raw), gingko (if using) and a piece of mushroom on the bottom of each cup. Set aside while you prepare the custard.

(If this serves 4, how come there are only 3 cups?
Because I took a cue from Judy at Bebe Love Okazu
to make one super-size cup — it was actually a bowl —
of all the left-overs for one lucky someone**)

For the Custard:
2 cups (500ml) warm water (or homemade katsuo dashi broth, then skip the hon dashi)
1½ tsp hon dashi (powdered bonito broth)
1 TBL sake
1 tsp shoyu
½ tsp sea salt
3 large eggs

Mitsuba leaves to garnish (this is the traditional garnish, these photos show flat-leaf parsley)

The type of soy sauce called for in this recipe, usukuchi, is not what we know in the West as "light soy sauce", which is low-sodium soy sauce. Since we didn't have usukuchi and I was using the stronger, sweeter regular shoyu, I increased the amount of sake, cut down the amount of regular shoyu and included some sea salt, which I would have left out completely if using usukuchi.

Add hon dashi to warm water and stir to dissolve, add sake, shoyu and salt.

Beat together 3 eggs. Strain through a medium fine strainer to remove the stringy bits (the chalaza) and any large bits of egg white. Add seasoned dashi liquid to eggs and stir gently to combine, try not to get too many bubbles on the egg surface. If you like, you can remove bubbles with a teaspoon before proceeding.

With a small ladle (a Chinese soup spoon works well for this), carefully spoon custard over filling ingredients in the cup. Some ingredients may start to float if you add too much custard. I only add enough to just cover the shrimp meat so the fillings don't come to the surface. Again, if there are any bubbles on the egg surface, you can "scoop" them out with a spoon — bubbles on the surface will pop during steaming and leave an undesirable pock mark on your custard.

Place your cups in the steamer. Cover and allow to steam for 10-20 minutes, or until custard is just set. You can check by gently separating one edge of the custard from the cup: if it fills with clear liquid, the custard is ready to eat, otherwise steam a little longer.

Remove carefully from steamer, and top with mitsuba, or other green for garnish. Cover and bring to table. Best eaten while hot!

The first batch in these photos did not meet the “Quiver Standard” to which all chawan mushi must be held. It tasted good, but there was no quiver. I want the quiver, darn it! Of course, this means I will have to do this again. Probably more than once. (I'll update this with a photo of the Quiver when I get it right.)

**This was what was in the bonus bowl... You'll have to ask T. how it tasted!!


Blueberries of Happiness

Recently my entire family came for a visit here to Maryland — that’s my dad, two brothers, two sisters-in-law, a niece and two nephews. One family, my brother’s family on Guam, I had not seen in over 4 years. And T had not seen them since they came to our wedding in Germany, and that was in 1997! There were also a few first meetings, as the cousins had never met each other, and T had not met his nephew from Guam.

It was a wild ride because not only were we still staying in a hotel, but while they were here we finally saw it: our elusive holy grail — the house we were going to buy. Yes, it was kind of a crazy week. We put in an offer on the house 2 days into their visit, which also happened to be my sister-in-law’s birthday. Mind you, this was the 4th offer we’ve made on a house, so we were both jaded and exhausted by the whole process. And for 3 of the 5 days of this visit, everyone wanted to spend their time in DC visiting the Smithsonians, touring the monuments, you know the drill... but at a pace too strenuous for our 83-year-old dad. T and I stayed with Dad, who was here last year and had done the tourist circuit at his own pace already, and instead showed him around the neighborhoods and towns where we were house-hunting.

Finally the word came down from our realtor: the house was ours. You would think there’d be joy in Mudville that night, but I was more in shock than anything. Six long months... over. At last. Assuming everything is copacetic with the inspections, etc. Wow. I call my sister-in-law our good luck charm now since our successful bid was made on her birthday! But the next day was the last full day of everyone’s visit, so it was a little sad, too.

For their last day we wanted a day of more low-key adventures that our Guam family did not have the opportunities to enjoy at home: picking blueberries and fishing for trout and bass in the country, away from the hectic pace of Downtown.

Picking a papaya or mangoes from a tree was old hat to the folks from Guam,
but berries and apples.... now THAT was exotic!

It was a warm day, but fortunately it wasn’t during
the record-breaking heatwave we had here this summer.

With 5 buckets and 9 pickers, we ended up with way too many berries!

A natural athlete, our niece brought her athletic grace to this new sport too.

It’s neither a trout nor a bass, but this little sunfish did spawn two new sport fishermen!

Then just like that, they were all gone! And even after everyone took a share for their respective plane trips home, we were left with 5-6 lbs. of blueberries. We gobbled many handfuls straight from the colander, and in cereal, yogurt and pancakes. Some were shared around the hotel (you get to know people after 4 months...). Soon, the berries were gone, too. (The photos are just food porn and only representative of ways to use blueberries, they weren’t taken while we at the hotel!)

I so enjoyed spending that almost full day with the family together, and hope it won’t be another four years before we see everyone again. In 21 days we will be closing escrow on a house (*knock on wood*), so we hope everyone returns soon to spend time in the house their good luck helped us find!


Stuffed Shiitake Medaillons

This quick starter was devised as a way to finish the extra filling we had after making Watercress Dumplings. It is inspired by one of my favorite dim sum entrees, stuffed shiitake mushrooms. In this case, I re-hydrated dried shiitake mushrooms, and filled them with the meat filling we already had, surrounded them with broth and sake, and baked them for 25 minutes. Before serving, they were glazed with a spicy hoisin mixture and sprinkled with green onions. Voila! An easy first course or appetizer, or even a light lunch or dinner when paired with rice and a light soup such as miso soup.

Serves 4 persons as a first course, 2 as a main course

10 dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated (For directions, see
Braised Shiitake Mushrooms)
1/4 Quantity of
Watercress-Pork Filling for Dumplings
2 tsp. sesame oil
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup sake
2 stalks scallions, washed and trimmed and sliced
3 TBL hoisin sauce
1-2 tsp sriracha (Thai hot red pepper sauce, preferably the Huy Foo Foods brand from Rosemead, CA — look for the rooster)
1 tsp mirin (seasoned sake)
1/2 tsp raw sugar

Combine hoisin, sriracha, mirin and sugar. Set aside.

Pre-heat oven or toaster oven to 350F.

Gently squeeze shiitake dry and trim stems. Fill mushroom caps with 1-2 tsp of Dumpling Filling, depending on size of cap. Place caps in 2 qt/L baking dish, or other oven-proof dish that will snugly hold all the caps in a single layer. Brush filling with sesame oil. Pour broth and sake around caps, if needed add water or other liquid so that it comes half way up the caps. Bake in pre-heated oven for 20-30 minutes or until filling is cooked through.

Brush or spoon hoisin mixture over filling, and return to oven for 3-5 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with green onions before serving.


For the Lunar New Year: Watercress Dumplings

Happy New Year, again!

Yesterday was the first day of weeks-long celebrations of the beginning of the Year of the Ox. It’s snowing today and tomorrow, so we hope for better weather by Sunday when D.C.’s Chinatown will host a parade, lion dance and other festivities.

To start the celebrations of Lunar New Year 4707, we opted for a cozy dinner at home with spicy garlic eggplant, dry-fried Sichuan-style long beans, hot & sour soup, and watercress dumplings.

I use the term “dumpling” deliberately because these little packets of happiness can’t really be classified as Japanese gyoza, nor as Chinese wontons, Korean mandoo, Polish pierogi, Italian ravioli, or any other filled “pasta pocket.” But they are “ono,” nonetheless. When I learned this recipe from my mom, we used to make them with spinach, but watercress is definitely better. The slight bitter undertones of the vegetable counters the fattiness of the meat and balances the dumpling. Earlier this month we made these dumplings with pork instead of turkey for a dinner party, and the contrast between the savory veg and fatty meat was even more appreciated.

The watercress we’ve found since we moved away from the Islands are quite a bit smaller than what we were used to finding on Oahu. The stems and leaves are smaller, and are sold in smaller bunches than their Hawaiian cousins. We need 2-3 bunches of these smaller cress to equal the amounts we are accustomed to for our soups or flash-cooked greens. But for this recipe, one bunch is just about right.

Dumplings are often thought of as appetizers, but we often make a dinner of them with just rice and miso soup. And this is a great project for the kids or a group of friends — the additional hands make quick work of filling and folding all the little pouches.

The cooking method described below combines the best of pan-frying and steaming: the dumpling is crispy on one side from initial pan-frying, and juicy and cooked through by steam. You will need a large flat bottomed skillet with a fitted lid for this. For a more calorie-conscious dish, you can line a steamer with lettuce leaves or wax paper and just steam them (about 5 minutes or until meat is cooked through), or you can add them to simmering broth to make a full-meal soup. Steamed or fried, alone or as part of a larger meal, these dumplings have tried and true appeal with children and adults alike.

50+ dumplings, plus extra filling

1 small bunch watercress, about 1/2 lb (225g)

Wash well and drain, but do not completely dry. Remove thickest stems. Pre-heat wok over medium-high heat. Add watercress with any water on leaves after washing to hot wok. Stir through until vegetable is just wilted and still bright green. Remove from pan, and allow to cool completely. Finely mince leaves and remaining smaller stems, and set aside until needed. This can be done up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated until needed.

1lb (450g) ground turkey or pork
3-4 stems scallions, thinly sliced
2 tsp. sake or very dry white wine
1/4 tsp. sugar
1 slice (coin-size) of fresh ginger, minced (about 1/2 tsp)
1 large clove garlic, minced
generous seasoning with sea salt and ground black pepper

Combine meat and all seasonings, and massage well to incorporate. Set aside in fridge for at least one hour, and up to 24 hours, to allow flavors to marry. Add cooled cooked and minced watercress, and combine well.

To Finish:
1 package round gyoza wrappers, about 10 oz/ 280g (50-60 sheets)
small bowl of water

Place a scant teaspoonful of filling in the center of one wrapper. Dip your finger in water, and wet the edge of top half of wrapper. Bring bottom half of wrapper over the filling and press the center down to seal. Pleat the sides of the wrapper around the center, then press down to seal. Because the filling is rounded, the sides will naturally want to fold over each other. Set aside and continue until filling or wrappers run out.

To Pan-fry:
Have ready: a lid that fits snugly over the skillet you are using, a small container of oil for easy pouring, and a small cup of water.

Pre-heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 TBL. oil to pan, and swirl to coat entire bottom of pan. Place dumplings in pan, making sure they do not touch (or they will stick together), and gently press the filled center against the pan. Let fry about 30 seconds, then add about 2 TBL of water directly into the pan — trying not to pour water onto the dumplings themselves — and immediately cover with lid.
Turn heat down to medium, and let cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until pan stops steaming. Do not remove cover while steaming!

Carefully remove lid and check whether filling is thoroughly cooked by gently pressing on the meat-filled center: it will feel firm when the meat is cooked through. Using spatula or small fish slice (UK), remove dumplings to serving plate and cover to keep warm.

Turn heat back up to medium-high, and add 1 TBL oil to pan, coating bottom evenly. Add more dumplings, and cook as you did the first batch. Repeat until all dumplings are cooked.

Serve with rice, miso or other light soup, and Dipping Sauce (below) for a light meal. Or serve as an appetizer or part of a buffet.

In each dipping bowl, combine the following ingredients:
3 TBL rice vinegar
2 tsp soy
1/4 tsp sugar (optional)
3-5 drops chili oil

We don’t often have wine, other than sake, with Asian meals. But we’ve been waiting for an excuse to try this French wine called “Wasabi White” from the amusing Now & Zen label (Alsace). We both love the wines of Alsace but were a little skeptical about the cutesy label. Wasabi White proved to be in keeping with our expectations of Alsatian wines as being food wines first and foremost. It was both dry yet with enough fruit to tame and round out the rich and spicy notes in our meal, especially the garlic eggplant. In keeping with the Asian theme, we used large teacups instead of wine glasses!

Like watercress as much as we do? More recipes with watercress:
Green Papaya Soup (Tinola)
Portuguese Bean Soup
Flash-cooked Watercress


5-A-Day: Kale Crisps

Kale Crisps. This is one of the best food ideas ever. And so easy! Since we were first introduced to the concept on recipezaar in early December, we’ve adapted it and made it five times.

It’s great on its own — as a snack food as addictive as potato chips/crisps (we dare you to eat just one...), but it also makes a nice crunchy side dish for a sandwich or a buffet, and even a garnish for soups.

And it’s good for you: Kale, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt — baked for 10 minutes in an oven.

Are you wrinkling your nose? Are you thinking, “I don’t like greens, this isn’t for me.” Would you believe me if I told you they actually taste like potato chips? They even smell like potato chips when they’re baking. I don’t know what alchemy or magic is going on here, but it’s true. These crisps come out of the oven light as air and seem to melt in your mouth after the first satisfying KAA-runch!

This dish is going out to Ramki at the imaginative
One Page Cookbooks who is sponsoring the “Recipes for the Rest of Us” Event — a blog event to encourage newbies to try their hand at cooking. He’s accepting entries until Jan 10th, so there’s still time to join the fun! Ramki’s site features literal one-page cookbooks (some have 1001 recipes on them!) that can be printed in their entirety on a single sheet of A-4 paper (European standard). If this recipe were in one of Ramki’s books it would be something like: Wash kale well, tear off leaves, dry leaves, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake.

Whether you already love greens of all kinds — as we do, or it’s part of your New Year’s resolution to learn to like greens, or you’re cooking for someone(s) who would wrinkle their nose at any thing leafy or green, one nibble is all it will take...

1 bunch of kale (about 1 lb/450g)
A drizzle of olive oil — no more than 1 TBL.
sea salt

The key here is to wash the kale, as with any green, well. We prefer the vinegar wash to remove as much pesticide/fertilizer residue and dirt as possible. Simply add a couple of teaspoons of vinegar to a non-metal container (glass or heavy plastic) with 2-3 quarts/liters of water. Have a second container of 2-3 quarts/liters clean cool water. Plunge the kale leaves in the vinegar solution, massaging the leafy parts gently. Remove, and rinse in the clean water, swishing gently. Now rinse a handful of leaves at a time in running water. Allow to drain.

Remove the leaves from the stems. You can cut them off, but I prefer to tear them. Hold a branch with the stem side up, and gently (always gently) tear away bite size pieces of leaves from the branch.

Spin or pat the leaves dry. Or air dry. Any method works, just as long as the leaves are completely dry before you continue.

**Preheat oven to 325 F/180C.
Place completely dry leaves on a large baking sheet (cookie sheet or jelly roll pan), and drizzle regular or light olive oil over the top. Massage — gently, of course — the oil through the pile of leaves, then spread out on the pan. (You may need 2 pans or to do this in 2 batches for 1 lb. of kale.)

Sprinkle with sea salt to taste (we use about a 1/4 teaspoon for each pan). Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the leaves turn from jade green to dark forest green, and take on a translucent look. You’ll notice the potato chip-like aroma emanating from your oven, too.

Allow to cool on pan, about 2 minutes... if you can resist them for that long!

Enjoy guilt-free munching all through the New Year!

We haven’t featured a recipe that I could serve to my father, who suffers from gout, in a long while. Since kale and sea salt are considered moderately alkaline (better for gout-sufferers), and olive oil is a neutral, I would feel comfortable offering this to him as an alternative snack to the peanuts he loves but which are highly acidic and therefore a no-no. This will be included in the
GDC Round-up.

Other recipes featuring cooking greens similar to kale:
Brussels Sprouts with Coconut
Garlic Braised Mustard Cabbage (aka Gai Choi)
Tian of Potatoes and Mustard Greens
Flash-cooked Watercress
Greens and Cheese Pie
Choi Sum with Spicy Garlic Sauce
Pasta with Sweet & Tangy Beetgreens


Mahimahi Patties w/Lemongrass & Lime Leaf

We love a good fish patty. This is playing with your food in the best way — you can use fresh, dried or canned fish; potatoes, rice or tofu to bind; and any number of herb and spice combinations to evoke flavors of Asia, the Americas, Africa, Europe, wherever you wish! One of our favorites is a deep-fried fish patty, bright with the tangy flavors of wild lime and lemongrass. In an effort to make them healthier so we could have them more often, I pan-fried them with olive oil instead of deep-frying. Still tasty, but honestly, it wasn’t soul-satisfying the way the deep-fried version is. So, I guess, like so many things, you have to choose your poison ...

This recipe starts with fresh fish (this time we used frozen mahi), but if saltcod were not so expensive here, I would love to try this again with that. The two mostprominent aromatics in this — the wild lime leaves and lemongrass — are available in many groceries now (as well as ethnic markets), and they freeze very well. So buy them when you see them, and freeze until needed. Just wash and dry the leaves, and store in a zippered plastic bag in the freezer. The lemongrass can be washed, and the tough outer leaves removed and trimmed, then zippered and frozen.

The double-lobed wild lime, or makrut, (in top photo) is more widely known by the unfortunate moniker, “kaffir” — which evidently carries quite a bit of historical baggage as a derogatory and offensive term for black Africans, or to denote something as inferior. From
The Oxford Companion to Food, University Press, 1999. page 424:

“Kaffir: an epithet which has been used, especially in southern Africa, of certain plant foods, for which it is now preferable to use names less likely to cause offense... In southern Africa the term came to mean what would now be called ‘black African’, sometimes applying to a particular group and sometimes in a general sense. In most contexts it now has a pejorative sense, to such an extent that its use can be actionable in S. Africa ... Since the fruit in question is of some importance in a number of SE Asian cuisines, it is in books about them that one is most apt to find references to it ... it would be a reasonable assumption that the term has its origin in southern Africa and may have reached Malaysia and Indonesia from there through the Cape Malays, and then travelled westwards to Thailand.”

The description of the the lime itself is listed in the OCF under “Makrut Lime.” We use the term “wild lime,” borrowed from
Alford & Duguid’s Hot Sour Salty Sweet.

Whenever we want to have these or any type of fish patty, I’ve always had to plan to have mashed potatoes around, which can be a hindrance if you don’t want to take the extra step of mashing potatoes just for this. On a whim once, I substituted cold cooked rice for the potatoes and the results were really good. I prefer the potatoes because I like the creamy texture they provide, but T prefers the rice texture, which was firmer. These are a bite-size version that make a great buffet dish or appetizer. You can shape them larger, for an entree- or bun-sized patty; but for a “burger” size, I would add 2-3 teaspoons of the sweet chili sauce (used as a dip here) into the mix before shaping and cooking.

Makes 24-30 appetizer patties

1 lb. (455g) mahi fillets, or any firm white fish, bones and pins removed
small handful (about 4 oz/110g) of snow peas, de-veined and julienned
1/2 small carrot, peeled and finely grated (optional)
1 stalk lemongrass, peeled and minced
1 wild lime leaf (2 lobes), de-veined and minced
1 bird’s eye chili (donne or boonie pepper), seeded and minced
1/4-1/2 tsp. raw sugar (will depend if fish sauce used already contains sugar, check label)

Roughly chop 3/4 of fish, and place in small food processor bowl. Chop remaining 1/4 of fish into pieces no larger than 1/2 inch. Add half of snow peas and carrots, and all of lemongrass, lime leaf and chili to processor, and very briefly pulse to combine. Remove contents of processor to mixing bowl, and add remaining finely chopped fish and vegetables.

1-2 TBL. fish sauce (will depend on brand and country of origin, Vietnamese brands are saltier and more pungent than Thai, Filipino or other brands)
few sprigs of cilantro, finely minced (about 1 TBL)
1 cup (210g) mashed potatoes, or cooled cooked rice
1 large egg, beaten

Add fish sauce and cilantro to mixed fish, and knead well to combine flavors. Add mashed potato and egg, and knead through again. Set aside for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat skillet over medium-high heat. Pre-heat toaster oven to 300F.

Shape mixture into 2” oval patties. Add 2-3 TBL. olive oil to coat pan well, and fry patties about 3-4 minutes on each side. Keep warm in toaster oven until all patties are cooked.

You can also deep-fry these patties, but dust them with corn or potato starch before frying.

Serve with fresh lime and sweet chili sauce (available commercially, or try this
version from Recipezaar). With potatoes in the mixture, these do not freeze well since the potatoes develop a mealy texture when thawed. Haven’t tried freezing the version with rice yet...


Four Allii Tart: An Onion Pie Fit for a King

Washington has its Walla-Walla, and Georgia has the Vidalia, but did you know that Hawaii also has its own sweet onion — the Ewa Sweet. More petite than its Mainland cousins, the Ewa (EH-vah) Sweet can be used in any way that you would use a Vidalia or Walla-Walla. Low-acid and natural sweetness make it an ideal salad and pickling onion. In season now until June, this sweet treat should be savored during its short season.

One of our rare favorite treats is a caramelized onion and chevre tart. The contrast between the sweetness in the long-cooked onions and the tangy goat cheese is wonderful, especially when chased with a crisp sauvignon blanc. We have this treat so rarely because cooked in the traditional way, the onions take up to 3 hours to fully caramelize. I wondered if we could achieve a similar sweetness with the sweet onions in a shorter cooking time. I wouldn't want to actually caramelize sweet onions because I'm afraid their innate sweetness would become cloying and unpalatable except in very small doses (as in a jam). We wanted to cook them just enough to heighten their flavor. Local leeks, garlic chives and flat chives were added to lend some complexity. The dough for the pastry shell is a classic German
Mürbteig — this water-less dough is easy to make and extremely forgiving, and bakes up to a crisp shell that can support a heavy filing like this one.

In the end, I'd say this tart was a winner. I especially liked the addition of the leeks. The flavor of the garlic chives was not discernible, but the flat chives lent some pleasing astringency to the mix. I think T would still prefer the caramelized version since he loves the sweet & burnt effect on any vegetable, but I prefer the flavors in this combination. Too bad the sweet onion season is so short!

The name of this tart is a play on the Hawaiian word for the ruling class, Ali'i (with one 'L'). Onions, leeks and chives all belong to the plant genus Allium, Latin
plural Allii. In future we'll make the classic caramelized version and the Pfälzer Zwiebelkuchen, a custard leek tart, for comparison and contrast for Alliophiles everywhere.

(For a 12-inch tart tin)
For the Shell:
1-1/4 cup (125g) regular flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
5-1/2 TBL. (70g) unsalted butter, cut into small dice then chilled
1 extra-large (64g) egg, beaten

Sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Add butter pieces and blend well using your fingers or a pastry blender (or if you're a glutton for punishment, two knives). If you live in a particularly warm or humid climate, you may want to return the dough to refrigerator for 10-15 minutes after this workout. To continue, add egg and knead well to moisten all the dough until you have a smooth pastry. Cover with wax paper or plastic wrap, and let dough rest for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 425F/215-220C)
Roll out dough to a 14-inch circle (for a 12-inch tin, or at least 2 inches larger than the diameter of your tin). Fit dough into tin, gently pressing sides and bottom to fit. Trim excess dough by rolling pin over the edges of the tin. Prick bottom with fork, cover with parchment or doubled-wax paper and fill with a single layer of rice, beans or pie weights. Bake for 8-10 minutes, then remove paper and weights, and bake an additional 2-3 minutes, or until pale tan in color. Remove tart tin to rack to cool.

4 Ewa Sweet onions (about 1 lb./225g), or equivalent weight of a Mainland variety
2 large leeks (about 1lb./225g)
small handful of flat chives, about 40 stems
20 garlic chives
1/4 cup olive oil
sea salt
1 tsp. caraway seeds (optional)

Prepare a solution of 1/4 cup vinegar in a half-gallon of clean water in a non-reactive container You are going to use this to wash all the onions/chives. (
Why use vinegar to clean vegetables? Read more in the preserving lemons post)

First, wash both chives in this solution and rinse them with cool running water. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Save flowering heads of the garlic chives as a garnish. (I saved them but forgot to put them in the picture!)

Rinse whole leeks in clean water to remove surface dirt, then wash them through the vinegar-water. Pat dry and slice cross-wise, at a slight diagonal, through the white and light green parts. Fill a separate container with another hlaf-gallon of clean water, and place the sliced leeks in the bowl. Gently swish through and then leave for a 5-10 minutes. Lift the leeks out of the water into a colander to drain. DO NOT dump out the water and leeks into the colander! You will put back all the loose grit and dirt that has settled to the bottom of the bowl! (Save the dark green parts of the leeks in the freezer for your next soup stock.)

Last, wash the onions in the vinegar-water. (Why wash onions if you're going to peel them anyway? Consider where they've been in their long journey to your kitchen. Putting an unwashed onion — or any vegetable or fruit — on your cutting board is contaminating your hands and board before you even start.) Pat dry and thinly slice.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add sweet onions and leeks, stir to coat with oil, then cover and reduce heat to medium low. Cook for 35-40 minutes, or until onions have become translucent (see photo). Add both chives, sea salt and caraway seeds, if using, and continue cooking for 10 minutes (when adding salt, consider that the goat cheese contains a fair amount of salt and adjust your salt here). Using a slotted spoon, remove onions from pan, leaving all juices behind. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before assembling tart.

To assemble:
1 log (60g) chevre, sliced into 8 pieces
ground black pepper

Pre-heat oven to 400F/200C.

Place bed of drained onions on pre-baked tart shell. Season well with pepper and dot with goat cheese. Bake tart for 15 minutes, or just until onions and cheese start to take on color.

Garnish with reserved chive flowers and fresh pepper. Serve slightly warm or cold. Serves 8 as first course, or 3-4 as a meal along with a crisp green salad and baguette.


Stuffed Artichokes with Italian-style Dressing

Spring has come! And here is a bowl of one of my favorite spring buds. No jaunty jonquils, irises or tulips here. We're talking thistles — to wit, artichokes, the green, spiny, tight yet tender, buds of the thistle plant. Artichokes are much beloved in our house, even more so after we discovered the delicious and therapeutic drink one makes by simply boiling the 'chokes to prepare them for the plate (see Artichoke "Tea"). I was first enticed to make artichokes at home by Patricia Ballard's "Artichokes Italian" recipe. It was an instant favorite, and is still the first artichoke meal we have when the new season's crop first appears. It is quintessential San Francisco-style Italian — fresh ingredients mixed with seafood and cured meats in a piquant sauce. Served with a San Francisco sourdough to catch the addictive dressing, and a bottle of your favorite pinot noir, it is the perfect meal to welcome spring.

To make a vegetarian version, I would double the amount of mushrooms, and substitute 1/2 cup diced firm tofu for the tuna, allowing tofu to marinate with the vegetables.

(adapted from "Wine in Everyday Cooking")
Marinade for Dressing:
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red-wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 TBL. sea salt
1 tsp. raw sugar
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
3 large cloves garlic, finely minced

small head of cauliflower, divided into small florets
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, quartered
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thin

Bring all Marinade ingredients to boil in a large saucepan, and allow to boil over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning — it should taste very vinegary and the herbs quite pronounced since this is a vegetable marinade for a dish that will be eaten cool or at room temperature. After 5 minutes, add vegetables and bring back to a boil for no more than 3 minutes (or vegetables will become mushy and unpalatable as they sit in the hot dressing).

Let cool completely, then refrigerate for at least 3-4 hours, but preferably overnight.

Prepare artichokes:
4 medium globe artichokes
1 tsp. sea salt (optional)
1 TBL. olive oil (optional)
couple of lemon slices (optional)

Clean artichokes by soaking in a solution of 1 gallon of water and 1/4 cup of white vinegar for about 2 minutes. Rinse well. Trim tops and side leaves, if desired (this is an aesthetic step and does not affect the final flavor; I like the "petal effect" the untrimmed leaves gives the final dish, but it can be a bit prickly for novice artichoke diners so I would trim them if serving for company).

In large dutch oven or 16 qt. soup pot, place artichokes stem side down in water that comes half-way up the sides of the vegetables. If you have no intention of using the cooking liquid as a "tea" (
benefits of artichoke "tea"), you can season the water with the optional ingredients. Bring water to a boil, then turn heat down to medium and simmer for 30-45 mnutes, or until the base is tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from water and drain upside-down in colander.

If using cooking liquid as a beverage, strain carefully and enjoy as a hot or cool beverage.

When artichokes have cooled, spread leaves open and remove spiny interior leaves surrounding the hairy center "choke." Using a small teaspoon, gently scrape out the choke to create a vessel for the dressing. Artichokes can be cooked ahead, refrigerated, and brought to room temperature 30 minutes before serving, or while the Dressing is completed.

Finish the Dressing:
1/2 cup green or black olives, halved
10 slices of prosciutto or 12 slices of salami
1 7 oz, can of tuna in olive oil (do not drain)

Combine marinated vegetables, olives, cured meat and tuna. Stir through carefully and set aside at least 30 minutes.

Traditionally, these artichokes are served in wide shallow bowls, such as a pasta bowl. I prefer a deep bowl like the cafe au lait bowl in the photo below because it supports the stuffed artichoke and has the added advantage of allowing the dressing to pool on the bottom and season the artichoke heart as you feast your way to the bottom. Spoon the Dressing into the center of each artichoke. Add any remaining dressing around each stuffed vegetable, and drizzle the remaining marinade between the artichoke leaves. Serves 4 as a first course, or 2 as an entree.

Best served with a tangy sourdough loaf, but any good artisan bread will do. We found it helps to begin with the inner leaves of the artichoke, and eat your way to the outside. You'll find each leaf base is already "dipped" in the savory Dressing marinade.

One of our favorite uses for left-over Dressing is to hollow out the bottom of a small baguette or other hoagie-type roll, fill it with the Dressing (and cold cuts, if you want a real carnivore's delight), then encase it with plastic wrap for at least an hour — the oil-vinegar dressing soaks the bread to create a muffaletta-type sandwich. For a less-messy option, combine Dressing with cooked tubular or small shell pastas, or brown rice for a quick lunch salad.


A Caponata to Feed the Soul

Caponata alla Siciliana

It was when I first tasted the Italian appetizer Caponata that I decided I must have been Italian in another life. It spoke to me — this unctuous relish, calling me home to a distant Mediterranean shore I had yet to visit. Everything about it was at once familiar and a revelation.

I was determined to find the definitive recipe. In those pre-Web days (I'm dating myself now), it took a bit of work to track down cookbooks and scour magazines. During the trial for the second recipe I found, a friend who had emigrated to the US from Sicily happened to stop by so he was a natural target for my efforts. I loved this version, but what would a real Italian think?

"I'm testing a caponata recipe, will you taste it and tell me what you think?" I asked. Eying me with a combination of curiosity and suspicion (what does this girl from Guam know about caponata?), he asked me how I even knew about caponata. I told him I had tried it in a restaurant in The City (San Francisco). With bemused indulgence, he accepted the proffered baguette slice and heaped a generous dab of the chunky relish. One bite. Surprise. Delight. A second bite. Approval.

"Wow, are you sure you're not Italian?" he joked. I confessed my suspicions about having lived a previous incarnation in Italia. Munching through a second caponata-laden baguette, he crowed, "Not just Italian, Baby, you must have been Sicilian!" There is no higher praise.

(adapted from a
San Jose Mercury News clipping)
2 medium eggplant (1.25lb total), peeled and diced
1.5 tsp. salt (for optional step)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 ribs celery, diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
2 lbs ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
(or 1 15oz can diced tomatoes with juice)
2 TBL. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. sea salt
1/3 cup black olives, pitted and chopped
2 TBL. capers, drained
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (optional)
2 TBL. parsley, minced
sea salt and ground black pepper

(Optional Step: I used to do this because it was in the original recipe, but have found that if the eggplant is properly browned, this step is unnecessary.) Toss eggplant with salt and drain in colander 30 min. Rinse and pat dry.

In large skillet, brown eggplant in 1/4 cup oil over medium-high heat until all sides are golden brown. Remove from pan.

In remaining oil, saute onion, garlic, celery and carrots until vegetables are soft, but not colored. Add tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt and olives, bring mix to a boil. Lower heat, return browned eggplant, and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally

Add capers, nuts and parsley. Transfer to bowl to cool. Chill overnight. Season to taste before serving at room temperature with thick slices of sourdough baguette.

for Giovanni Giuseppe


When Life hands you green papayas . . .

There is no fruit in the Hawaiian Islands I love more than papaya. Mangoes come a close second; but we've been able to find delicious mango varieties when we've lived in non-tropical parts of the world, never so with papayas. Never. I think you have to be close to the source to get a truly delicious papaya. We've been tempted and tricked by beautiful deep orange-colored papayas in markets in Europe and the US East Coast, but were always disappointed by the sweet, but vapid and watery fruit that met our spoons.

Hawaii, though, is papaya heaven. Orange flesh, red flesh it's all good. With a squeeze of lime, it's perfectly papaya-sweet. And it's jaw-droppingly cheap. Fifty-nine cents a pound, on sale; but even at .79, .99, 1.29 per pound, way way below Mainland and Continental prices. On our last trip to the Big Island, some vendors at the Hilo Market were selling 5 papayas for $2 that's not 5 lbs, but 5 whole papayas! (Have spoon, will travel.) And so we have papaya as often as possible, which is not every day so it's still not often enough.

Having said this, there are other ways to enjoy papayas when the fresh ripe ones are not the best choice. Eat it green. Like bananas, papayas enjoy a different life as a green fruit. Treated more as a vegetable, the firm white or slightly pink flesh of an under-ripe papaya can be diced and added to soups or stews, as one might with squash or gourds (see Chicken Tinola), or julienned and lightly dressed with a tangy lime and fish sauce to make a refreshing salad. Growing up on Guam, my favorite pickle in the world was pickled green papaya, similar to the southeast Asian style salads, but marinated only in vinegar, boonie peppers (donne) and salt.

With a benriner, mandoline, or julienne-peeler, making green papaya salad is a snap. And don't confine this salad to southeast Asian themed meals. A nice palate-cleanser with rich curries or stews, as well as deep-fried and grilled foods, a papaya salad brings a touch of the tropics to any meal. We've even used it to liven up the next day's lunch it becomes a punchy condiment for a meatloaf sandwich, or a last minute pasta salad with the addition of chicken and somen or soba noodles.

Note: Green papayas are light in weight for their size
their seeds are not developed and their flesh, while moist, is not heavy and juicy like their fully-ripened brethren.

(adapted from
Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Alford & Duguid)

1lb. green papaya (approximate weight), peeled and julienned

Toss with 2
tsp. sea salt and leave for 30 minutes. Rinse well, and drain.

1 large garlic clove

1 TBL.
chopped dry-roast peanuts
TBL. dried shrimp, chopped
1-2 fresh red chilies
tsp. raw sugar (or 1/2 tsp. white sugar)
tsp. sea salt

Place ingredients in a mortar, and pound together to make a wet paste. (If you want the salad to be less spicy, don't add the whole pepper(s) to the mortar. Simply slice the bottom half of the pepper, avoiding the seeds, and add that to the paste mixture, or add the slices to the dressing below. But don't leave the peppers out completely or the balance will be "off.")

Juice of 3 limes (to make about 1/3 cup)
2-3 TBL. fish sauce (Thai fish sauces tend to be saltier and fishier than Vietnamese or Filipino fish sauces, so how much you use depends on the brand and personal taste)
Cilantro or mint, minced (optional)

In a large bowl that can accommodate all the julienned papaya, combine lime juice and fish sauce, then add paste. Stir well, then taste. It should hint at all the primal flavors of the tropics
salty, sweet, hot and sour. When the balance is to your liking, add papaya and cilantro. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.


Recap: Cakes, Nuts, Crab Cioppino

A quick summary of recipes that didn't get posted during the holiday sabbatical, but were too delicious to ignore.

First was a dried fruit and nutcake that just happened to also be vegan. I say it that way because there's a misconception that vegan desserts = "dry, crumbly and and uninteresting." I confess, I've thought that myself. But done right, and with recipes developed by people who love good food, vegan sweets are light, luscious and very ono. The vegan butterscotch quick bread by Hannah of Bittersweet that we made in October (see post) proved that point, and so did this brandy-soaked dried fruit and nut cake from bee and Jai at Jugalbandi. Their recipe provided enough batter for a gift cake (shown here, made with a Gugelhupf pan smaller than a Bundt) and a 8x8 cake for us. Bee recommended soaking the dried fruits in rum for a month before baking!
I only had 3 days to soak my cherries, apricots and raisins in brandy, but I would like to try the longer soaking method in future. I did save the soaking liquid, poured it over the square cake, wrapped it tightly in plastic and foil, and kept it in the fridge until after new year's. We had our first slices this past weekend over a beach-side breakfast I have to say, our spirits rose with the sun! It is so flavorful and moist, it's hard to believe it was made without eggs or oil. I'm not a fan of glaced fruit, so I don't like traditional fruitcakes. This, however, is a cake of a different order. Bee's Fruit and Nut Cake recipe.

We were invited to a wonderful Italian-American Christmas dinner with our friends Laurie and Brian and their family. Chef Brian prepared stromboli, veal parmesan, and spaghetti with meatballs, all from scratch he was prepping into the wee hours of Christmas morning, bless him! I offered to make Tiramisu for dessert, in keeping with their Italian menu. Laurie is expecting their third child in February so the raw eggs in my usual recipe were out of the question. Instead, I tried a creme anglaise base so the eggs were cooked before adding the other custard ingredients, and proceeded as usual. I was impressed how close this came to the original, without the worry of having to use raw eggs! This may be my recipe of choice in future because it does eliminate the concern about the eggs. Don't be tempted to substitute cocoa powder for the grated chocolate in this recipe. Chalky powder (no matter which brand) can't compete with the creamy texture and taste grated dark chocolate lends this recipe. Tiramisu, custard-based recipe. Our thanks and love to Brian and Laurie for sharing their family celebration this year Chef B, you're the best!

This was an alternative recipe for sweet spiced nuts (
see post) that does not use egg whites. It's actually more like the candied walnuts (minus the sugar coating) we had with the spicy prawns at our favorite Chinese restaurant, and they are certainly tasty. But (you knew there was a "but" coming) they're cooked first in a sugar syrup, cooled in syrup overnight, dried another night, deep-fried, and coated in sugar. It's pretty time-consuming, and very laden with fat and sugar. With that word to the wise, here's the recipe for Crispy Sweet Walnuts.

For our second consecutive Christmas Eve we had Dungeness crab cioppino. Little piece of heaven. Until we moved to Hawaii 3 years ago, I had not had Dungeness in 10 years, and T had never tried it. Having grown up in Maine and around lobster boats as a teen, dear hubby was of the opinion that no crab was worth the effort of all the work it took to eat it. He had never tried Dungeness. Let's just say, in the immortal words of "The Borg": he was assimilated. This is the first time we've included fresh clams
their extra sweetness was a delight, but not necessary if they're not available where you are. Dungeness crab cioppino recipe.

New Year, New Tastes: Fried Olives

Japanese bamboo and pine kadomatsu

Usually, New Year's Day is a day filled with Japanese symbols and foods in our home. Maybe it's because it was the one holiday we celebrated when I was growing up that was specifically Japanese. Back in the day, Guam's Okinawan, Japanese, and other Asian cultures did not have ready access to many of the foodstuffs and decorations they would have liked to celebrate the New Year the way it is celebrated in their countries of origin. One stand-by that was available for the holiday, but often hoarded and in short supply, was fresh mochi, especially daifuku (seen here) -- the pillowy soft rice cake filled with sweet beans. In later years, grocers started carrying the special ingredients necessary for sukiyakc during the holiday season: fresh spinach, shirataki, Japanese leeks, paper-thin slices of beef, in addition to the readily available dried shiitake and fresh tofu.

Sweet daifuku mochi

In Japan and places where there is a substantial population with Japanese ancestry, it is customary to prepare an elaborate and highly-specialized multi-course (as many as 30!) meal called osechi-ryori (see photos on during the new year period. On Guam this was usually only available at the finest Japanese restaurant on the island and ran about $100 per person. Here on Oahu, one can buy the ingredients, either raw or already prepared, to prepare this special feast at home. Once after I had returned to Guam as an adult, I went to lunch with my mother for this special New Year's meal, and just could not appreciate many of the strong flavors and unusual foods. After that year, mom went with my aunt and other friends. Dinner, though, was still sukiyaki.

This year T and I opted to wait for my dad's visit here in a couple of weeks to make the sukiyaki. But to keep the Japanese theme, we had Okinawan
kombu and sekihan (adzuki beans and mochi rice) for new year's eve, and we started the new year with the traditional Japanese New Year's soup called ozoni, in which grilled or steamed plain mochi (no fillings) swims in a light dashi (broth), along with some shiitake, greens, and kamaboko (fishcake). This soup (sorry, no photos this year) symbolizes long-life and good health for the new year. Some people say you should pull the mochi away as you bite it (visualize warm mozzarella on a pizza as you take a bite) and the longer the "string" of mochi that you pull away, the longer your life. Afterwards, we switched gears and enjoyed a rich breakfast of organic french roast coffee, sweet rolls, and for me (T left for a hike) pickled eggs and sausage.
Stuffed Fried Olives — onolicious!

But since we weren't having sukiyaki, what about dinner? Well, we picked a New Orleans-style specialty since we were planning to watch the UH Warriors play at the Superdome today (tomorrow's post). And we started the meal with a new recipe we've been dying to try Italian stuffed and fried olives. We first saw these little gems at Rowena's Rubber Slippers in Italy early last month meaty green olives filled with meat and cheese, lightly breaded and deep-fried! We both LOVE olives, but had never seen such a decadent use of the savory wonders so, of course, it had to be made and sampled!

One thing you should know about me: I hate deep-frying. I love deep-fried foods, no question
but if I can find someone else to do the frying, I'll take the option every time. Tempura, fish and chips, fried calamari love them! Don't cook them myself, though. Which is a testament to how good these looked and how much we wanted to taste them. On her site, Rowena offers tips on slicing the olives for optimal filling (note my attempt to follow her directions, not always with success), a recipe for a lamb and beef filling, and do-ahead tips for entertaining. I had to substitute ground pork and feta, instead of the meats and parmesan specified, due to time constraints, but otherwise followed her directions to a "T." Rowena's delectable Ascolana-style Fried Olives recipe is here.
Colossal green olives Meat-stuffed olives Deep-frying olives
I only made 9 since it was just us two and they were only supposed to be a precursor to the etouffee. Two words: unbelievably ono. We each wolfed down our allotted share with thick slabs of sourdough bread, and considered stealing some off our spouse. They were everything you think they might be. Maybe more. I think I would keep to the parmesan cheese next time the feta was delicious, but with the other seasonings used, especially the white wine, I think the parmesan will blend better. I have lots more filling and olives to do this again on the weekend. I also have some miniature sweet peppers that we will try with the same filling and cooking method. Bottom line: this recipe went straight in to the Family Favorites folder of my files.
Must-try fried stuffed olives

UPDATE (Jan. 8, 2008): Couldn't resist making more olives over the weekend, as well as sweet peppers and mushrooms with the same filling. The mushrooms were stuffed, then given a sprinkling of bread crumbs, drizzle of olive oil, and bath of chicken broth and sherry (about 1/3 of the way up the mushrooms) and baked. The peppers were simply stuffed, drizzled and baked.

They were all good, but I think this filling best suits the briny-ness of the olives. Next time, I would add something salty or briny to the remaining filling before using it for another vegetable perhaps some minced olives or capers, or maybe some anchovies. A delicious experiment, nonetheless.


Gift It: Sweet & Spicy Nuts

(The lead photo is entered in the CLICK! Photo Event sponsored by Bee and Jai at Jugalbandi -- a chance for amateur photographers to play with a food theme and get some feedback. December's theme is, of course, Nuts!
Is this droolworthy??)

It's the season for gifting and remembering not just family and friends, but colleagues and teachers, veterinarians and mechanics all those who touch our lives on a regular basis. A gift from the kitchen, like all hand-made gifts, is a gift of love. But many folks are wary of sweet treats at this time of year when so many sweet temptations are swirling and calling ("Taste me" . . . "I only come around once a year")

With this in mind, I opted to make Sweet and Spicy Nuts, instead of our usual Dark Chocolate Merlot Truffles. Tree nuts, such as the almonds, walnuts and pecans used here, provide a healthy dose of unsaturated fats
which can reduce the LDL (bad) cholesterol in one's blood and lower the risk of heart disease. (A) In fact, since 2003, the US Food and Drug Administration has recommended daily consumption of 1.5 ounces of tree nuts as part of a low saturated fat and cholesterol diet to reduce the risk of heart disease. Tree nuts are also an excellent source of heart-healthy vitamins and minerals. Although the FDA does warn against sweetened nuts because of the higher calories, these nuts are much less sweet than commercially sweetened nuts, and they're on offer as a healthier alternative to my beloved chocolate truffles.

This easy recipe coats the the nuts in egg white and spiced sugar mix, then they are baked for until the coating hardens. The recipe is incredibly versatile
change up the nuts, or the spiced sugar mix to suit your taste (try cumin, cinnamon, chipotle or Aleppo peppers, Chinese five spice, quatre epices, pumpkin pie spice, whatever your imagination conjures up!).

The final bonus is that you can dress up these nuts for the harried gourmets in your life as part of a Recipe Kit. Include the nuts, and your pre-made sauce or salad dressing, and a recipe card to put it all together in a snap. This year I tried to re-create the wonderful flavor of a sweet and spicy shrimp with candied walnuts dish we had in a downtown restaurant: the pre-mixed sauce and a cup of spiced nuts will allow the recipient of this package to add his or her own chicken or shrimp, and have a gourmet Chinese meal on the dinner table in in the time it takes to cook a pot of rice. But maybe you have a chicken salad recipe, or a stir-fried noodle dish, anything you think your recipient will enjoy to which these nuts will add that "je ne sais qua" touch.

1 cup sugar
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 large egg white
6 cups unsalted nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, natural almonds and/or cashews

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Grease two 101/2” x 151/2” jelly-roll pans. (Or do in batches)

In small bowl, stir sugar, salt, cinnamon, black pepper and cayenne.

In large bowl, beat egg white to soft peaks. Stir nuts into egg white. Sprinkle sugar mixture; toss well until nuts are completely coated.

Spread nuts evenly in pans, no overlapping. Bake nuts 25 minutes, or until golden brown and dry, stir twice during baking. Quickly transfer nuts to waxed paper, and spread in single layer to cool until hard. Package as desired in tightly covered container and store at room temperature up to a month.

Gifting tip: These beautiful heavy cut-glass tumblers made perfect vessels for the nuts before wrapping. After nibbling their heart-healthy treats, the recipients can use the glasses as a candy dish, votive candle holder, or a drinking cup (what a novel idea) in lieu of disposable cups at the office. Thrift stores and flea markets often carry vintage glass, and even crystal, alternatives to expensive but cheaply-made "partyware." Don't be afraid to re-use and recycle!

(A) Read more about the health benefits of tree nuts in this
WebMD article: The New Low-Cholesterol Diet: Nuts

More Holiday Gift Ideas:
Green Tea Shortbread, Nut Horns, Cocoa Cherry Biscotti


Soutzoukakia (try saying that 10x fast!)

Earlier this week I had ground pork and beef out and was debating whether to go "loaf" or "ball." Italian flavors? Maybe Thai? How about Greek? I was leaning toward a feta/spinach flavor combination which is sort of Greek, so I thought of looking at Laurie's Mediterranean cooking site, Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska, for other ways to go. Wouldn't you know it, her latest post was for Soutzoukakia (soo-tsoo-kah-kee-ah), a hand-formed sausage made from ground pork and beef, and simmered in a red wine sauce. I'm pre-disposed to like anything long-simmered in a red wine sauce, so this was a no-brainer. It also allowed me to play with Aleppo pepper again since both the meat "balls" and sauce had this special pepper. After tracking down this spice for 2 years, I finally happened upon it at The Souk spice store at Pike Place Market in Seattle last January. The Plasto recipe that we had last week also called for Aleppo pepper, but it's flavor was not as pronounced as it was this time. It's a very flavorful and mild heat that reminded me of Spanish hot pimenton.

The recipe calls for the meats and spices to be combined, then formed into football-shaped "sausages" and browned before being added to the simmering red wine tomato sauce. It comes together fairly quickly, and the house was redolent with a rich meaty smell that T commented on as soon as he stepped through the door. We served this as recommended, with feta (I still got my cheese fix!) and kalamata olives; but skipped the rice in favor of fresh-garlic bruschetta to sop up the wonderful sauce and to ensure we got our garlic dose for the day. The cumin and pepper really differentiate this from its Italian cousin, as does the surprise addition of red wine vinegar. This is another one for the keeper files. Here is Laurie's Soutzoukakia recipe on her site. I used only half the given quantity for the sausages (11 palm-sized footballs), and shaped the rest as meatballs, fried them, and immediately froze them for future use (maybe with grilled polenta?).

1 loaf of French bread or a baguette
2-3 large cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
olive oil

Halve loaf or baguette lengthwise. Toast or broil until just golden brown. Immediately rub garlic cloves over all cut surfaces of the loaves. Drizzle with olive oil. Great with any dish with a sauce, especially these Soutzoukakia, but also
Crab Cioppino, Crawfish Etouffe, Chicken Barbera, and Stuffed Cabbage.

We only ate half the sausages for dinner so there were these tempting ground meat things swimming in delicious gravy in the fridge the next morning. You know what that means, don't you? Loco-moco, of course! For the yet-to-be-initiated, loco-moco is an Hawaiian breakfast favorite consisting of a bed of rice topped with a meat patty and fried egg, and covered in brown gravy! We christened this version . . . you guessed it
the Soutzou-moco! (You heard it here first, Folks!)

What Brussels sprouts inspired

We found some incredibly fresh brussels sprouts at a market recently. They aren't local, but it's been so long since we've seen such fresh brussels sprouts that we had to buy them. I've always liked the German name for them, Rosenkohl, which means "rose cabbage." They do look like little green roses, don't they?

When they're so fresh, I like to cook sprouts in minimal amount of time so they retain their bright green color, crunch and sweet fresh flavor. So many people wrinkle their noses when they hear "brussels sprouts" — I know how they feel because I used to be one of them! If the only sprouts you've tried were boiled to death and a smelly flaccid green, then I hope one day you'll give them a second chance. They can and should be crunchy, sweet and full of healthful, cancer-busting goodness that their cruciferous cousins broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower also have.

So what to do with these little beauties? We felt overdue for a non-meat meal, so I began to think South Asian. We had made a dish once with cabbage and coconut so it seemed a natural to substitute the sprouts. The pantry turned up split yellow mung beans and potatoes so we settled on the following menu: a dry curry with brussels sprouts and coconut, tarka dal, and chaat potatoes. And store-bought naan (was in the freezer). The sprouts were wonderful prepared this way. I just wish I had had fresh coconut on hand (living on a tropical island, you'd think coconuts would be falling out of trees, wouldn't you? ... well, actually they do, but I didn't do the husking, cracking, grating thing for this ... sorry)

The best thing about having left over tarka dal is making a tortilla wrap with it the next day. It is so-o-o good. I actually put all these bits in a spinach tortilla and it was delicious. Cold, no need to heat anything up. Even better is if you make an aloo gobi and tarka dal wrap the next day. (Mmmm, guess what will appearing soon?)
Brussel sprouts with coconut and mustard seed

Brussels sprouts with coconut
1.25 lbs. (1/2 kilo) brussels sprouts, cleaned and trimmed
2 TBL unsalted butter (or ghee if you have it)
1 TBL black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp ground coriander seed
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
3-5 TBL dried unsweetened coconut, or 1/2 cup fresh grated
3 TBL coconut milk (optional) - this is not in the cabbage recipe, I added it for liquid to help cook the sprouts

Boil water and briefly blanch sprouts (no more than a couple of minutes). Drain (keep some of the water) and cool. (I skipped this step)

Heat butter in pan and add mustard seeds. When seeds begin to pop (I love the smell of popping mustard seeds! It's like spicy popcorn), add ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, salt and coconut. Warm spices.

If using coconut milk, add now. Add sprouts and coat with spices. Cover and lower heat.

If not using coconut milk, add sprouts and coat with spice mixture. Keep mixture moving in pan so spices don't burn. You may want to add some water from the blanching if the pan is too dry.

Cook until sprouts are just tender and still bright green. Remove from heat immediately.

Tarka dal

Tarka Dal
2/3 cup (160g) lentils, split peas or mung beans
2 cups (500ml) water
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt

For the Tarka
3-4 TBL unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic
1-3 dried red chilies (had to leave these out this time)

Boil together the pulses, water, spices and salt. When the water reaches a boil, lower heat and simmer about 20 minutes or until the pulse reaches a soft consistency.

Meanwhile, prepare the tarka. Saute onions and garlic in butter until onions are translucent and starting to brown. Add crushed chilies and warm through. Remove from heat.

Add half of tarka to cooked dal and stir well. Remove dal to serving bowl and garnish top with remaining tarka.

Chaat Potatoes
2 large baking potatoes (about 1lb/.5kg)
3 TBL unsalted butter

2 TBL Bhel chutney, or date chutney
1 tsp honey
2 tsp chaat masala
1 tsp cayenne powder

Peel and cut potatoes into 1 inch dice. Melt butter in pan and fry potatoes on all sides.

Mix together chutney and honey in large bowl.
Combine chaat masala and cayenne powder.

Remove cooked potato cubes into bowl with chutney/honey mix, and coat well. Immediately sprinkle masala/chili mix and mix to coat well. Let cool a bit so flavors will blend.

These make a great drinks appetizer, too. Just serve with toothpicks.
Spicy chaat potatoes