Monday, February 27, 2006

Alaskan Salmon a la Sven Holmberg

I'm in no mood to type, let alone cook! So we'll all just have to make do with

Alaskan Salmon a la (my friend, the actor)Sven Holmberg(who used to be a fisherman in Alaskan, though when I met him, he was sharing a ridiculously small Lower East Side studio apartment with his (platonic) friend, Melanie (a female Alaskan fisherman and actor). Once, after one of them had made a trip back to Alaska, they barbequed a caribou in the nasty, cement yard behind their tenement, and if memory serves it was really good. Also, I think they made their firepit out of an old trash barrel. The day my daughter was born, somebody called Sven to pass along the good news and he left a message on our answering machine to congratulate us and also invite "the happy family" to a party that would be starting at ten o'clock that night, if we were feeling up for it. Now I hear he has a baby of his own, up in Alaska. He's been back there for about four or five years now. And I thought I'd seen the last of him until we were watching "Me and You and Everyone You Know" a couple of months ago, and there he was, hunky as ever, playing this successful, callow artist ... and I can't remember too much else about the scene that he was in because Greg was screaming "It's Sven! It's Sven!" the whole time. I think it may have involved a coffee cup. Well, anyway, one night when Inky was a baby, Sven came over with some salmon that he'd schlepped all the way from Alaska and personally broiled it up for us right there in our 340-square-foot apartment, and that's the way I've been cooking it ever since.)

Get yourselves some good quality salmon fillets, 1/4 pound per person if you're trying to maintain your girlish figure, though a long tall specimen like Sven could lay waste to at least a pound and still cut glass with his cheekbones, so you be the judge.

Dot them with fairly liberally with butter, and sprinkle on some brown sugar, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper.

Broil them on a foil-lined broiler pan. After a few minutes, flip them, and unless you like 'em really rare, the skins should remain welded to the foil.

By the way, that college-production-of-Woyzeck photo can't do justice to the gentleman, but the only other one I could claw up online is a real appetite deadener...though I bet this part paid for a lot of Huggies Supremes.

Just think. One day he'll be Googling himself and come across his own recipe for broiled salmon! Sven! Send us a picture! Actually, I've got a handful of flattering snaps from 1997, but in addition to being in no mood to type or cook, I'm in no mood to root through shoe boxes like a raccoon and then bust my hump figuring out how the scanner works. Oddly, I'm still up for eating.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

What is this shitake?

Greg let me linger outside my cagea little longer than usual so I could hoist a few with some of my fellow travel writers (Tony Perrottet, Jen Leo,David Farley,Jessie Sholl,Stephanie Elizondo Griest and Don George who spent most of the evening thinking I was just some dingbat until the end of the evening, when he learned I was the dingbat responsible for No Touch Monkey! Stayed out way past my bed time, indulging in an increasingly beer addled fantasy that we were all devil-may-care foreign correspondents or some glamorous Hollywood version thereof.

This morning, it was back to reality as Greg flew the coop to indulge his own writerly fantasy (the one in which he works, unmolested by small children or their favor-seeking mother) and I discovered that the library books are due. On a Sunday? How can this be? I was looking forward to laying around nursing a mild hangover, but now I have to type out my (slightly adapted) recipe for shitake mushroom topping from the Brooklyn Cookbook

Its original author, who judging from her O'surname is about as Siamese as I am, dubbed it a Thai-Style Topping for Pan-Fried Fish. I can't recall ever tasting its like in Thailand ... possibly at Cambodian Cuisine, though how would I know, the only thing I ever order there is that Mongolian Hot Pot with lemongrass and bean curd thing. (Excuse the lack of specificity, I'm having a little panic attack here as I can't find the delivery menu).The last thing I need after last night's Red Stripe excess is anything pan fried so if I was digging around in the aquarium in search of a worthy bottom for this topping, I'd steam some tilapia atop a bed of julienned fresh ginger. I ain't being hypothetical here, but in the course of eating it that way, I discovered that this topping tastes great on everything! Rice, bread, my fingers... maybe not ice cream, but that's what hot fudge is for.

Shitake Topping

Julienne five or six big, fresh shitakes

Soak them in
2 Tablespoons of fish sauce
2 teaspoons of sugar
1/2 cup of water
and 1 tea spoon of fresh ground pepper (which is a total bitch for me because my pepper grinder is one of these rabbit head numbers that's kind of cunning until the amount of pepper called for in a recipe ends up giving you repetitive stress disorder.

Fry 2 teaspoons of minced garlic
& 2 teaspoons of minced ginger
in 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil until lightly browned.

Add the mushroom mixture.

When the mushrooms are hot, you're done.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Leftover Spuds

We raced home from the Museum of Natural History to get things in readiness for our dinner guests and they never showed!
Turns out they'd been talking about NEXT Thursday. It wasn't the worst thing in the world since the children's facades were beginning to crack in a big way and my culinary labors were confined to a few simple dishes to supplement the Thai carry-out our guests had volunteered to pay for. Actually, after two and a half hours of hanging around, watching the clock, it was hard to imagine anything better than sprawling on the couch, horking down eggrolls and beer, released from the yoke of sparkling conversation.

Of course, I did have this enormous bowl of Leftover Spud to reckon with in the morning. These fried taters rank among my favorite things to serve company (even if the company doesn''t show). They're incredibly cinchy to prepare, they take up a lot of room on the plate and in the stomach, and as long as nobody chomps down on a served-their-purpose-infusing-the-oil-and-now-just-for-show dried peppers, they're a hands-down winner in the flavor department.

Fried Potatoes, Chinese Peasant Style
Scrub 2 pounds of potatoes and chop them in your earthy, rough-hewn peasant, salt of the earth way. Boil until tender - about 15 minutes. Drain them and then chuck them back in the hot pot to dry.

Heat a wok hotter than hell's own hockey sticks, then add 3 Tablespoons of Peanut Oil and swirl it around to coat all surfaces.

Chuck in 5 dried chili peppers (I use those little red guys that look so festive next to the corn husks on Met Foods decidedly non-gourmet chili pepper rack where prices are so low, even Met's own employees can afford to shop there! After about a minute, they'll turn black and puff up (as will your eyeballs if you don't open a window).

Dump in the potatoes and stir fry, smashing them against the sides of the wok for that smashed-against-the-side-of-the-wok seared-in flavor! It's okay if they break apart, Houston. After about five minutes, they should be looking mighty crispy and delicious, though there will be plenty of smooshy, boiled potato softness to write home about too. You want that balance.

Add 1 teaspoon of sea salt and 1 cup of chopped scallions and knock them around for a couple of minutes. Voila!

This dish is delicious hot, but don't fret if your guests are running a couple of hours late because it's great at room temperature too!

Remeber. those dried chiles ain't for eating - they're for show.

Not so hot straight from the fridge at 6am, though, so I got the wok back out, slicked it up with the barest whisper of peanut oil (Feel free to use vegetable oil if peanut is going to give you anaphylaxis. I should have said that earlier.) Refried them spuds up to something resembling their former hotness, topped em with a fried egg and garnished with avocado, made myself a cappuccino and showed uncharacteristic restraint by reaching for my camera before my fork.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Smoked Trout with Mango

We were all set to four-wheel it to Sunset Park for some hard-to-reach Vietnamese food when the least-ranking member of the family preempted my plans to have someone else do the cooking by passing out at the tender hour of six p.m.
Fortunately, I had a smoked trout in the vegetable bin, and he was much easier to face after half a bottle of India Pale Ale than he would have been with a pre-breakfast coffee deficit.

I adapted this recipe from Hot Sour Salty Sweet, a gorgeous, kickboard sized Southeast Asian cookbook that's chock full of luscious travel photos and came within inches of moving my already-dying cat's end up a few days when it came slamming down off the ktichen windowsill. You're supposed to use green mangoes, but that's a detail I always forget when I'm over at Met Food, getting fresh with what passes for produce over there. I think the ripe mango color enhances this dish's sex appeal. Plus the ripe ones match my blog (which matches my living room walls).

Smoked Trout with Mango

Get yourself a small, smoked trout, skin him, remove the bones and bury the head at the bottom of the garbage pale so he can't give you the fish eye when you dispose of the cilantro stems. Cut into bite size morsels.

Wash enough cilantro to yield a half cup of chopped leaves. I'm usually all for simplifying matters by chopping 'em up, stems and all, but Met's cilantro has gotten rather muscular of late. Better to help it to give a subtle performance here by trimming all but the daintiest textures.

Skin and chop your mango. Oh, this reminds me of a short play I wrote that required one of the cast members to eat a mango very sensuously and the first time we were rehearsing it, he got really quiet and said, "Miss Ayunee, why come my mango got a bone?" You can take the boy out of Wisconsin...

Ask your trout, mango and cilantroto make themselves comfortable in a large shallow bowl, while you prepare their
2 tablespoons of rice vinegar
1 tablespoon of fish sauce
1 tablespoon of vinegar
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
1 teaspoon of minced shallots
1 teaspoon of minced ginger
pinch of lemon zest (thank god every Fish Tales customer is entitled to 2 complimentary lemons per purchase.)

That's it. Just mix it up. But hold your fire until you're ready to serve.

The other thing about that cookbook? After systematically destroying the Wellfleet Library's only copy several summers ago, I went on to destroy the copy I requested when my mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas. It's my way. If you check a cookbook out of the Brooklyn Heights branch library and it looks like someone's been using it as a dish towel, I guarantee I'm the culprit. Or actually my 8-year-old daughter is. I haven't checked anything out on my own card since I racked up $60 in overdue fees on that stupid panda video the kids didn't even like.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Eel Avocado Roll

What the devil possessed us last night?

It rarely bodes well if I still don't know what's for dinner by the time the clock strikes seven.

Actually, our clock doesn't strike, but it does flash every hour on the hour, which is my five-year-old son's cue to shout, "Time for Beer!"

Anyhoo, if the time to start dinner comes and goes with me wholly absorbed in some pressing order of business, such as teaching myself how to make pom-poms, it's usually translates to a late and uninspired meal.

And here I"d been cursing these guys for preempting public school! With no bath and no mandatory bedtime, Bitchmother felt unharassed and festive! Yes, we had nothing to eat, persay, but there was that barbequed eel in the freezer and a ripe avocado on the windowsill. I've had that bamboo sushi-rolling mat for longer than I've had young Milo and all I've used it for is squeezing the water out of boiled spinach. Carpe diem.

It's not so much a recipe as an assembly line. Can you roll a marijuana cigarette? Good, you can roll an eel avocado roll. (Here's a little refresher course, Smokey!)

first let's go shopping at our favorite Asian grocery:
bamboo rolling mat (or 2! You might want to race!)
one package of roasted eel (it's in the freezer case and no longer resembles a snake)
one package of Nori (that's toasted seaweed, ya gaijin!)
one tube of wasabi paste
sesame seeds
premium-grade white rice (i favor Nishiki brand myself)
seasoned rice vinegar
a ripe avocado if you don't have one on the windowsill at present.
and, oh hell, throw in a Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy electric rice cooker!

I gave Greg one of these things for his 40th birthday and it changed my life!
It plays music, just like the ladies room toilets in the Tokyu Hands Department. store in Shinjuku. We can set it just like an alarm clock! It makes porridge and brown rice, is super-easy to clean and its name is Neuro Fuzzy? It's cheap at any price, but actually, it's a bit of a big ticket item, so get it at Hong Kong Market, where it's 30 bucks less than any Japanese or Korean market I've checked.

Now then. Eel Avocado Roll

Prepare your rice according to the back of the package. Make sure you wash it 3 times, and if you're using Neuro Fuzzy, program it for 'sushi'. Cabin Boy Greg wasn't quite down with the program so he only prepared one cup. I'd advise you to make at least two. When it's done, put it in a shallow, non-reactive dish (I used a round baking dish) and pour a little seasoned vinegar onto it. (i used less than a quarter cup for our skimpy portion. You can always add more as they say, so take it easy, Breezy.) Mix the vinegar into the rice with chopping, rather than stirring motions. Keep going until you've aerated it right down to body temperature. On the advice of the sushi cookbook my mother gave me several Christmases ago, I got out this paper fan the Korean Tourist Authority was giving away at last year's New York Times Travel Show and flapped that thing like I was about to take flight. I was feeling very authentic. It's a miracle I didn't drag out a kimono.

Of course you will have defrosted your eel according to package directions (i threw mine onto a cookie sheet and sent it on a little 15 minute, 350 degree mini-getaway. Slice it lengthwise - your strips should be about the width of pencils. Or skinny fingers. Or, I don't know, the width of an the eel in an eel avocado roll, were you to make a spectacle of yourself, unfurling one at the sushi bar, right in front of the chef. Smooth move, Ex Lax.

Slice your avocado.

Uncap the wasabi and put out a little saucer of sesame seeds.

Cut your Nori sheets in half lengthwise.

Put the first one on the mat.

Moisten your fingers, snatch up a handful of rice and spread it on the nori, all the way to the bottom, all the way to the left, to within a half inch on the right. Leave yourself 3/4 inches of bare nori at the top - this will become the flap that holds your roll together (if you're lucky)

Take a dab of wasabi on your finger and swab it down the middle of the rice, from left to right.
(Now put your finger in your eye.)
(I kid)
(I kid coz I love)

Sprinkle on some sesame seeds.

Lay the eel down lengthwise. Man that barbeque sauce is good, huh? If you want to do it the way the pros do, lick your fingers as a little prelude to licking the bamboo mat in between rolls. (If you're not the mat licking type, you can keep things clean by laying some Saran Wrap between the mat and the nori. Kind of takes the fun out of it, if you ask me.)

Run a line of avocado slices next to the eel.

Now, finger the goodies like the holes on a flute so they'll stay in place when you start rolling your mat up and over from the bottom, drawing on thumb power. Once you've hit the top edge of the rice, give the now-cylindrical part of the mat a good, gentle squeeze.

Take a peek. Did everything hang together, sort of? Good! Roll it up again and this time, let the top flap of un-garnished nori seal the deal. Don't worry if you made a royal mess. It still tastes exactly like eel avocado roll! Crack open a Kirin and have another go.

Use a sharp knife to cut each roll in half, then cut these halves into thirds. Try not to eat them all before you get them to the table. Serve with chopsticks, soy sauce and wasabi.

These were so delicious, and so far outside the workaday repertoire, that Greg tied a dishtowel onto his head and elbowed me aside.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

What a Tart!

Delightful meal at the Linday-Abaires, and not just because the young of the species were too absorbed in Godzilla Vs. Mothra to bother their elders much.

Our lovely hostess was all in a bunch because her pumpkin creme brulee resembled a thick soup, that I personally found very comforting on a cold night when I'd been plied with alcohol and dominos. I think I may need to get me one of them little mini-blow-torches. Greg thought she was shining him on for sure when she came out wielding that thing, compulsively apologizing.

Good LORD, what does she have to be ashamed about! When they eat at our house, I serve them their libations in peanut butter jars! They must have noticed since David suggested to Chris that perhaps they should serve me peanut butter in a wine glass.

Here's the menu:

Warm White Bean Salad
Mushroom Tart
Shrimp and Scallops Gratinate
Pumpkin Creme Brulee (Milkshake With a Spoon)

Don't you wish you were ME? That was GOOD eatin"!

and, courtesy of Chris, here's

(I took the liberty of modifying the title on her behalf.)

Preheat the oven s to 400 degrees.

Roll 1 sheet of frozen (but thawed!) puff pastry out on a floured surface to a 16 x 10 " rectangle. Trim away the ragged edges and place on a baking sheet. Score with a sharp knife to form a 1 " border. Get out your fork and prick inside the border at 1/2 inch intervals.(What if, instead, it said, get out your prick and fork inside the border at 1/2 inch intervals?) Bake until golden (let's say 15 minutes, and rotate it once)

While that's in the oven, trim and thin-slice 20 ounces or so of mixed wild mushrooms.
Sautee them with 1 package of baby spinach, sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Drain the funky mushroom juice, then distribute over your fresh-baked crust.
Thin slice a mushroom and scatter that on top.
While you're at it, sprinkle on 2 ounces of crumbled soft goat cheese.

Into the oven with it for 15 mintues and if you want to be extra-fabulous like Chris, you'll drizzle on some truffle oil (My God.) & a touch of sea salt before ferrying it to the table.

dagnabbit - i have this gorgeous (for me) cropped snapshot of the finished product, but the fucker won't upload, so here's a backstage peek, complete with the chef's comely arm.

And now that you know their TOP SECRET family recipe, why not repay the favor by checking out David's newest play, Rabbit Hole?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Green Tea Salmon

What's that you say? Time to quit dicking around with templates and post some content on this turkey?

Very well.

Here's what we had for dinner last night. Serve it to someone who's deeply suspicious of sushi and watch them turn a lovely shade of asparagus.

Green Tea Salmon

Cook up some rice. Hell, buy it from the cheap Chinese carryout on the corner. Just get yourself 2 cups of the stuff.

Skin 1/2 lb of sushi-quality salmon and slice it into matchsticks. My matchsticks tend to resemble those big fuckers that you use to light the fireplace...and you know what? Nobody died.

Throw 2 tablespoons of loose Japanese green tea - the good stuff, don't be cutting open no teabags - into a medium-sized teapot and brew it up with 2 cups of boiling water.

Divide the rice between 2 large bowls and drape the salmon over these mounds like, I don't know what, you're Cynthia Plaster Caster, or something. You're going for a single layer here.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of salmon roe over the salmon-topped rice.

Continue the orgy of sprinkling with 1 teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds and some shredded nori.

Invite your dining companion to pour half the tea over his portion and so help him if he hogs more than his fair share.

Provide chopsticks, spoons, sea salt and wasabi paste.

Dang! It was really good and rocketed me right back to Japan. Look how young and pretty we were, just two short years ago:

Here's where from I got it