4.28.2009

Okonomiyaki (Japanese Pizza)

How long has it been since you had a regular old fashioned pizza? You know- like from Pizza Hut or someplace like that. Well it’s been maybe 35 years or so for me. I used to love it, but my tummy has never taken kindly to that kind of food - gooey cheese, garlicky tomato sauce, pepperoni etc. etc. Sometimes I really miss it- in fact I’m just drooling thinking about it. I get it though, it’s not for me. Once in a blue moon I take a Zantac, cross my fingers and splurge on a whole wheat vegetarian pizza at California Pizza Kitchen when my granddaughter is here. Rather a boring splurge actually. And yes, I suppose I could make my own but then I start thinking about my other bugaboo: calories. Pizza is fattening. You can’t get around it. And let’s face it- while there are tons of things worth wasting calories on- for me pizza is not one of them. Well, take hope; I have a (sort of) solution, although it won’t be quite the same for you pizza die-hards.

Recently, while trolling through my favorite food blogs, I ran across a recipe from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks. It was for something called Okonomiyaki. She had been in Japan and was watching someone make it through a glass window and a man, seeing her confusion, told her it was Japanese pizza. I found out the word ‘okonomiyaki’ translates into two words: okonomi, which means ‘as you like’, and yaki, which means ‘grilled’. Together, you get okonomiyaki: ‘grilled as you like’. Okonomiyaki is sort of a cross between pancakes and pizza although it's not a fluffy pancake and really does not resemble pizza a bit except maybe its shape and the fact that it has toppings. The Japanese pile things on- like thinly sliced pork, red ginger, yakisoba noodles, tempura crumbs, corn, green onion, squid, shrimp, dried bonito flakes, bean sprouts, yam, kimchi and more. Hardly our familiar pizza. Someone referred to it as Japanese street food. There appear to be an awful lot of ways to make this dish, look what I found online- the simplest version to one with tons of toppings:

So I double checked with my expert. I have a good friend in New York City whose husband owns several Japanese restaurants- and she is a frequent visitor to Japan where his family lives. She makes Okonomiyaki all the time for her family and I got into an email discussion with her. Vicki makes a basic pancake batter (flour, eggs, water) and then adds some Japanese yam. She chops up shrimp, squid or octopus and along with some shredded cabbage, mixes everything together. Then Vicki oils a pan, adds thin slices of pork to the pan and pours on the cabbage/pancake mixture. Browns it on both sides. She tops it with a sauce: a mixture of ketchup, Japanese mayo, and Japanese Okonomiyaki sauce (which she found in Japanese food store) and the final touches are thinly sliced scallion, pickled red ginger and dried bonito flakes. My daughter has had it many times at Vicki's house and says it’s to die for.

But back to the 101 Cookbooks recipe: Heidi makes her own style of Okonomiyaki - she calls it the California version and I made it last week. I did not feel guilty. My tummy was fine. I did not feel full. I did not splurge on calories. It was cheap to make. I also did not think it needed a sauce. But then, I didn’t add toppings either. And I really I liked it the way it was: perfect.

This is quite a simple recipe really- Vicki was intrigued by the addition of almonds, which appears to be unusual. But I loved the crunchiness they gave the dish. So come up with your own version- think up topping ideas if you want them, but give this basic recipe a try to start with, even if you never dreamed you would like cabbage. Believe me, you will.


Okonomiyaki (Japanese Pizza)
(Adapted from 101 Cookbooks )

Ingredients:
2 cups cabbage, finely shredded
1 cup leeks, well washed and sliced
2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour or all purpose flour
2 pinches fine sea salt
2 large eggs, beaten
olive oil
toasted slivered almonds and chopped chives for garnish

Method:
Trim the ends and then slice the leeks lengthwise and clean them well under cold running water. Slice them. Combine the cabbage, leeks, flour and salt in a bowl.

Add the flour and toss together with your hands until everything is dusted with flour. Add the beaten eggs and mix until everything is well coated.

Heat a large skillet and add a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Reduce heat to medium and add the cabbage mixture to the pan. Press it firmly into a pancake shape, as flat as you can get it.

Fry for about 5 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown. Slide it out of the pan onto a plate, then place another plate on top of it and flip the pancake. You will need to add more olive oil at this point. Then slide the pancake with the browned side up back into the skillet. Press down again and fry until it is golden on this side as well- perhaps another 3-5 minutes. Slide the pancake out on your serving plate or cutting board and sprinkle with the toasted almonds and chopped chives. Cut into wedges and serve.

Serves 2-3 people.

4.22.2009

Savor the Moment

It’s way past time to talk a little about cookbooks. We always talk recipes, but never enough about the cookbooks we find them in. One of my favorites is Savor the Moment- a treat for the visual senses. You’ll just love it. The Junior League of Boca Raton published it in January of 2000. Great photography and design are a big part of its success, but let's face it, the recipes have got to be meticulously tested and super good to rack up sales. And believe me- these stand the test. There are even a couple of my own recipes in there….thank God; how embarrassing if I had nothing scrumptious enough to get in!

We all own some Junior League cookbooks- I would be amazed if you told me you didn’t. But in this one, the photographs by Dan Forer are breath-taking… with rather enchanting and unique mise en scènes. And you don’t need to live in Boca Raton to appreciate them either. The book highlights special menus aboard a yacht, playing croquet, in a garden on the grounds of our Morikami Museum, on a polo field and a picnic under a beachside gazebo. The vignettes go on page after delightful page- in color and in exquisite taste. One that absolutely charms me every time I see it also makes me think of the 20’s for some reason; Nick and Nora Charles must be lounging just out of the camera's reach:) I seem to be rambling on about the visuals rather than the flavors but let me reassure you: while the photography is first class, so are the recipes within. Everything gels perfectly to form a nifty book -think Christmas or birthday gifts here. It’s a big time winner. It’s also an award-heavy book; one important one among many: it won the 2001 James Beard Foundation/KitchenAid Book Awards. And what’s really sweet about this book ( and all other Junior League cookbooks) is it raises funds directly benefiting community projects. How can you beat all this? I'm going to make it really simple for you to order: cookbook@jlbr.com or http://www.jlbr.org/. Trust me on this one- it’s a super addition to everyone’s cookbook library.


Anyway……just because it’s spring (you know- cherry blossoms, forsythia, pre-wedding parties) and just because this is a luscious-looking, delicious and versatile soup, I'm going to share Savor the Moment’s Strawberry Patch Soup recipe with you- which, as it turns out, is a mere side bar on one of the pages. Mere being an understatement in this case.

My introduction to Strawberry Patch Soup was at an engagement party- where practically everything was pink, including most of the women’s dresses and the men’s ties. And to top it all off, after we had been munching on various hor d’oeuvres for a while, glass cups half filled with this soup were passed on silver platters. Chilled of course, and what could be more unusual? And pink. Clever hostess.

It’s really tough to classify. I wouldn’t call it a dessert soup (though there's no reason you couldn't serve it as a light dessert)… not a savory soup either. Something in between I guess; because it’s not particularly sweet, but it goes down really smoothly- especially on a hot evening, which this was. Someone mentioned the recipe was in Savor the Moment and I dug the recipe out and have since served it several times. Always in a crystal bowl so everyone could serve themselves and usually at a luncheon. Luckily, I discovered some small glass cups in my pantry which were the perfect size because I consider this is a sipping soup not a sit-down-and-have-a-bowlful type soup.

Not that there aren't plenty of recipes for Strawberry Soup around, but none quite like this one. The instructions in the original recipe don't mention this, but I like the soup to be really smooth and creamy so I strain the strawberries after I have processed them. It takes some elbow grease, but the results are worth it: a soft pink and no seeds.

Get creative with your serving glasses, but you can’t miss if you serve it icy cold on a warm day- in a garden or on your patio. It seems to be a ladies luncheon soup to me, but remember, I first had it in the evening- at a cocktail party. And everyone loved it.



Strawberry Patch Soup
(Adapted from Savor the Moment, Junior League of Boca Raton, Florida)

Ingredients:
16 ounces fresh strawberries
1 cup sour cream
1 cup half and half
¼ cup superfine sugar
2 tablespoons Riesling

Method:
Combine strawberries and sugar in a food processor. Pulse until well blended. Because I like a smooth soup, I take the time to press the mixture through a fine sieve.

Return the strained mixture to the processor, add the other ingredients and pulse until combined. Refrigerate until ready to serve. You can garnish with mint and strawberries if you like. I would guess this serves a small glass to about 15 people or if you serve it as a dessert, perhaps 8 -10 servings.

4.16.2009

I Love Rhubarb

After having seen a mouth-watering photograph of a rhubarb tart the other day, my childhood came rushing back. We were raised in a small town on the St. Clair River in Michigan. My grandparents lived next door and their home was surrounded by gardens; I can still picture my grandmother in a huge straw hat out there toiling away. That garden was chock full of all kinds of flowers- roses, lilacs, whatever- I can't remember them all now, but something always seemed to be blooming- and there was a glorious magnolia tree in one corner. On the back side of the house and somewhat out of the way, there was a small kitchen garden. Among other things, Grandma Smith had a bed of rhubarb- which if you know rhubarb, takes up a lot of space. My mother would go over and break off bunches of it- the leaves were enormous- so out of proportion to the stalks. And here’s something nobody ever mentioned to me when I was young: did you know the leaves were poisonous?


Mother loved stewed rhubarb and also made the best rhubarb pie I have ever eaten. Most people use strawberries or tapioca to thicken their rhubarb pies, but Mother didn’t. It was sticky, gooey and slightly runny when you cut into it, but absolutely perfect. And nobody made pie crust like my mother and her mother before her. A talent which got lost in the gene pool shuffle because even with their recipe in hand- mine does not turn out anywhere near as well. (Could it have been because they used lard? Or maybe I just have to face facts- some of us have the pastry talent and some don't.) Luckily, the recipe I am going to tell you about uses puff pastry and not pie crust. It must have been invented just for me.

Here's some info about rhubarb: it is actually a leafy vegetable of the buckwheat family; however in 1947 the U.S. Customs Court ruled rhubarb was to be classified as a fruit, since that is its primary usage. The rhubarb season runs from April to September, although it can be forced which accounts for its availability early in the year. Field-grown rhubarb has cherry-red stalks, bright green leaves and has the most pronounced flavor of the two main varieties. Hothouse rhubarb has pink to pale red stalks, yellow-green leaves, milder flavor, and is less stringy. And once planted, rhubarb plantings remain productive for 8 to 15 years- no wonder Grandma's rhubarb took up an entire bed- it had probably been there for years.


So I’ve always had a special place in my heart for anything rhubarb because we had it so much as children. I guess it never occurred to me to plant it in any of my later gardens so I never made many rhubarb dishes for my kids. That's OK though because my mother served it often when we visited; my kids got their share of it. And while to this day I still love stewed rhubarb, I now cringe at the amount of sugar in it so rarely make it. I remember that about the pies, too. Very sugary. And then we would add insult to injury and top it with vanilla ice cream. Ohhh so good.

The rhubarb tart recipe and photo that caused all this nostalgia appeared in Gourmet Magazine's April issue. What I want to know is where did they find rhubarb stems that thick? Had to be from someone’s garden. The rhubarb I found in my produce section (no home grown rhubarb beds in Florida) was not nearly as thick. I'd suspect they were photoshopping around with it except I don't think it's possible.

Getting back to the article: they also referred to the recipe as speedy or quick dessert or something - which, believe me, it isn’t. Well, maybe it would have been if I had fat rhubarb to work with. Anyway, slicing the narrow rhubarb stalks thinly AND on a diagonal takes forever (all those strings, worse even than celery) and a lot of patience. I think what they meant by quick was it didn’t have to sit in the fridge overnight or something.

Even though it has a yummy glaze, you may think it needs more sweet. Gourmet’s suggestion is ice cream. I guess I agree although I wouldn’t call it bitter, but tart. Frankly, I liked it the way it was- right from the oven, crispy and warm, but I bet lots of you would put ice cream on it. Well, no matter what you top it with, it's fun to make. And it's a great summer dessert- especially if you are lucky enough to have a rhubarb bed in your back yard.

Rhubarb Tart
(Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, April, 2009)

Ingredients:
1 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 pound rhubarb stalks, thinly sliced diagonally
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind

Method:
Preheat your oven to 400°.
Mix together the orange juice, sugar and lemon juice. Add the sliced rhubarb and let it stand for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once in a while.
Cut the puff pastry in half lengthwise, then roll out each piece into an 11-by 7-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Arrange pastry rectangles side by side on parchment paper on a large baking sheet.
Take a sharp knife and score the pastry around the outside, about 1/2 inch in. Do not cut through the pastry. Prick the pastry inside all over with a fork.
Strain the rhubarb mixture and reserve the liquid. Overlap the rhubarb slices in the puff pastry. Repeat with the other piece of pastry.
Bake for about 30 minutes until golden.
Meanwhile, pour the reserved liquid into a saucepan and reduce until about 1/4 cup, skimming off the foam as you go along. This should take about 15-20 minutes.
Place the tarts on a rack to cool. Brush all over with the glaze, pastry included. Sprinkle with orange zest. Serves about 8. Serve with ice cream.

4.09.2009

Crispy Artichoke Hearts

You probably won’t believe me, but I recently bought a cookbook solely on vegetables. When I mentioned this to a friend, she looked at me strangely and told me I was badly in need of a vacation. Well I’m sorry, but I think good vegetable recipes are hard to find.

I’d seen a recipe for bok choy someplace, made it, loved it and at the end the article said: “Credit where it’s due.” and named Jack Bishop as the recipe’s creator. And his book? Vegetables Every Day. I ordered it used via Amazon for $2. (Sometimes I wonder if the shipping charges on used books cancels out the savings; on the other hand, my local book store probably hasn’t had this one for years, if ever, and certainly not for $2.00.) I read it cover to cover- which validates my friend’s suggestion re vacations- and marked several recipes to try. But mainly, I learned a lot. Mr. Bishop devotes a chapter to each vegetable- with details on seasonal availability, different varieties, what to look for when buying and then follows each introduction with recipes. I am slowly cooking through my choices and so far only once was a recipe a disaster. Or more likely, I simply didn't like it.

Every time I plan a dinner, I rack my brains for vegetable side dishes; anything other than my boring old standbys. Doesn't everyone? But I am here to tell you one thing: there are a bunch of winners in this cookbook- the guy is brilliant. And really knows vegetables. So, as this is the week my granddaughter is here, I am going to experiment on her. I can imagine the look on her face if I told her what I was doing. I’m not too worried about this artichoke recipe though. It’s like eating potato chips, except healthier.

It was a great big pain to make- I have to be honest. Cleaning the artichokes: not fun. Ouch. But once you get to the center- what a sweet treat. And it really goes fast once you get rolling. You don’t need to waste the leaves if you’re an artichoke fan- just steam them. But the heart- that’s the gem. You just put up with the leaves to get to the center anyway. Or I always did. I’m going to give you great directions and photos. You’re going to love this……

Crispy Artichoke Hearts
(Adapted from Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop)

Ingredients:
2 lemons, halved
4 medium artichokes
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Method:
Fill a large bowl with ice and water and squeeze the juice of two lemon halves into it, dropping the lemon halves into the bowl. The other lemon halves will be used to rub over cut surfaces as you prepare the artichokes.
Take the first artichoke- bend back and snap all the leaves off.



Trim the end of the stem with a paring knife and with a vegetable peeler shave the outer layer of the stem. Remember to rub the lemon over any cut areas. Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise. Use a paring knife to trim any dark green leaf bases that surround the stem. You can see in the photo below I have done half of it.

Pull out any remaining spiky inner leaves and using a grapefruit spoon or knife, cut away the fuzzy choke.


Rinse under cold water to flush out any remaining hairs and put the choke in the ice water. Repeat this process with the remaining artichokes.


Work with one artichoke at a time; remove it from the water and cut it lengthwise into strips about 1/4 inch thick. Put the strips back into the ice water. Repeat until all the artichokes have been sliced.

Place the oil and whole garlic cloves in a large skillet. It's important for the skillet to be large so the artichokes aren't piled up in the pan. Bring the heat up and then lower it to medium. Drain the artichokes well and pat them dry.


Drop them into the oil and cook, stirring often, until the artichokes turn crisp and brown, about 10 minutes. Don't cook them over high heat because they will brown before they soften.

Remove and discard the garlic cloves. Drain the artichokes on paper towels and season them with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. This recipe serves 4. You can use these crispy artichokes as a side dish or as a snack.

4.04.2009

Peekytoe Crab Salad

Finally got around to reading the spring issue of Florida Table Magazine, a relatively new magazine whose editor, Marie Speed, is a longtime friend. And there on page 21 was a recipe for Peekytoe Crab Salad. Simply smashing photo too. The recipe was actually fr0m Christopher Eagle who is the chef de cuisine at Cielo at the Boca Raton Resort and Club. I'm somewhat familiar with peekytoe crab and have seen it on menus in my travels, but I never ordered it for some odd reason. Wish I had- now that it is so much in the culinary news.

Peekytoe crabs are sort of a by-product of lobster fishing. Most Maine lobstermen let the little crabs go instead of collecting them. With so many lobsters, worth so much more money, most lobstermen don't want to bother with crabs. However, as is often the case, one man's trash is another man's treasure.

Some background on this engaging name of peekytoe: it comes from "picked toe" -- '"picked'' (rhyming with picket) -- because the crab leg has a very sharp point that turns inward. ''Picked" is Maine slang for pointed. The Maine accent no doubt contributed to the resulting name of "peekytoe”. What really makes peekytoe crabs better than other crabs, aside from flavor, is the care with which they are handled, cooked and picked -- essential work, because the crabs are too fragile to be shipped live.


These little crabs- weighing less than a pound- which were once discarded, have become the culinary darlings of four-star chefs from coast to coast. Crab picking in Maine has always been a cottage industry. For generations, lobstermen brought home the crustaceans that were caught in their traps and gave them to their wives or sisters to cook, pick, and pack for sale. The meat was sold for a song to locals and restaurateurs. In 1998 federal food safety regulations began requiring the home-based crab "shops" to move into separate premises with double bay sinks and to meet other requirements. Many pickers decided to pack it in, but there are still a few dozen left who have figured out how to pick on a small scale and still pass inspection. And this fascinated me: chefs even have their favorite pickers. Ingrid Bengis, whose small seafood company is located in Stonington at the southern tip of Deer Island in the Penobscot Bay, is considered one of the best. It appears that getting all the little pieces of shell picked out of the crabmeat is not an easy matter.

But here’s the thing: no matter what, you and I cannot go to a seafood market and buy a container of peekytoe crab under that name. You can buy Maine crab (if you’re lucky enough to find it), but it could be red or Jonah crab as easily as peekytoe, or a combination of all three. The only way to buy peekytoe crab, outside of ordering it in a restaurant, is from one of the many crab pickers along the Maine coast. OK, I get it. I’m not going to be using peekytoe crab in this salad. And just to prove it, I went to three grocery stores and two fish mongers in my area: not one had even heard of peekytoe crabs!

So why would Florida Table print a recipe we home cooks (except those who live in Maine) can’t make? Well, first of all- peekytoe crab is the new “in” crab for our finest chefs and so this recipe would be considered “edgy”, a must for an upbeat magazine- which this is. Then again, it’s a win-win situation for the chef: he’s doing the magazine a favor by giving them the recipe and getting the restaurant’s name in the magazine. Unfortunately, we who read the magazine don’t have a prayer of finding the main ingredient.

And then I read someplace you can substitute Maine crab, stone crab or Dungeness crab for peekytoe. Fresh, mind you, not pasteurized. (The only comment I got from one fish monger regarding Dungeness was that it dirtied up their tanks too much.) Unfortunately, now when I see peekytoe on a menu I’m going to wonder exactly what I’m eating; just because the name peekytoe is slapped on it does that mean it IS peekytoe? Exactly? And who would know? Certainly not me. My palate isn’t discriminating enough to tell the difference unless various crabs were lined up on a plate for tasting. Maybe if we lived in Maine…..

Why is peekytoe so special? It is supposedly more delicate and sweeter than other crabs. The meat is white with tinges of pink. Sounds wonderful. And next time I see it on a menu- no matter what the dish- I am going to order it. Because it is so delicate I would imagine it is mostly used in salads where it will shine through and not be overcome by other flavors. I am going to be watching for it on all the local menus from now on.

Now one thing we do have in Florida is stone crabs. So I went ahead and made this picture-perfect salad and so can you; just substitute the best fresh crab you have available in your fish market. I used Florida’s heavenly stone crabs- a very classy, if pricey, alternative if you ask me. Delicate too. And pink. Sort of.

Peekytoe Crab Salad
(Adapted from Florida Table Magazine, Spring issue.)


Ingredients:
4 ounces peekytoe crabmeat
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 fingerling potatoes, boiled, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon fresh chervil, chopped
1 teaspoon chives, chopped
1 tablespoon shallots, finely diced
1/8 teaspoon cumin
Salt to taste
1 avocado, sliced
1 teaspoon tomato, diced
1 tablespoon micro greens

Method:
Pick clean crab meat, making sure there are no shells.
Mix crab, olive oil, mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, potatoes, chervil, chives, shallots and salt together in a bowl. Refrigerate while fixing the avocados and dressing.

Mix the last tablespoon of lemon juice with cumin, remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss the avocado in a small bowl with this dressing. Place avocado on plate and top with crab. Garnish with tomato and micro greens. Serve immediately. Serves 1.

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