Monday, April 26, 2010

MOCHI, berries, mint...perfect finish

Mochi, mochi, mochi...MOCHI ICE-CREAM! Mochi ice-cream are highly addictive delicious ice-cream balls covered in a chewy layer of sticky rice cake (and generously patted with flour to keep from sticking to everything). The mochi ice-cream BITE is like no other. The outer layer is ultra dense, chewy and flavorless, and the center filling is frozen cold ice-cream bursting with flavor! In a very roundabout way, one could call mochi ice-cream the "Asian cream puff?" Nah, nevermind, doesn't even come close. 
I have not bothered to even attempt making these. You can typically find mochi ice-cream at Japanese restaurants, Trader Joe's and Japanese markets. Can you believe how ecstatic I was when I discovered them neatly stacked in the freezer aisle at Costco in Salt Lake City?! No really, you have NO idea. (I know, I've been called a Costco-freak.) Costco sells the Mikawaya brand, which is a Japanese company based in Los Angeles, for $9.69 a box. In one box, you get a total of 18 mochis (so many!) - 6 strawberry, 6 chocolate and 6 vanilla - the best of the yummiest, classic, can't-ever-go-wrong flavors. My kids and hubby were in HEAVEN when I surprised them at dessert:) 

I won't tell you how many boxes I bought.... 
Just count on the Japanese to always do the packaging right. Love the box. Cute design.
A total of 18 mochi balls per box...6 vanilla, 6 chocolate, 6 strawberry. I love variety!
Since these little suckers are SO darn chewy and frozen in the middle, be sure to cut them in half or quarters when serving. They are usually eaten with fork, toothpick or fingers. Luckily, I had fresh berries and mint leaves in the fridge to plate them with. There is NOTHING more delectable than a bite of mochi ice-cream with a fresh crisp mint leaf. Omg, HEAVEN!
Serve immediately while the ice-cream center is frozen solid. (FYI: The combination of chewy rice cake and MELTED ice-cream is just too sloppy and mushy to deal with.)
Take small delicate bites. Rumor has it that once upon a time, an unprepared, unwarned mochi-eater (unwarned of the extent of crazy chewiness), actually CHOKED on mochi. So tragic, UGH! So, remember to take it slow and chew thoroughly before you swallow!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Copper Onion in Salt Lake City

I love new restaurants! We went to The Copper Onion for the first time with a big group led by Jody last Saturday night after a lecture at the SLC Library. It was super late, crowded, loud, dark, hip and delicious! I couldn't wait to return for lunch hour with Laine to pig out and catch up. We arrived starving and ordered...
sauteed mushrooms* fried farm egg, potato sticks, parsley, garlic, $8, griddled asparagus* preserved lemon aioli, $4
Fave! Chewy wild mushrooms, crispy sticks, garlicky yolk... This was AMAZING. I am totally copying this dish and making it at home.
meatball sandwich* beef and veal meatballs, red sauce, iceberg slaw and snap peas* horseradish, garlic, together for $9
shishito peppers* olive oil, sea salt, $4
wagyu hanging tender steak skewers* with thrice-cooked french fries and roasted onions, $16
I've never had Shishito Peppers prepared like this - yummy, crisp, beautiful, tasty. The Meatball Sandwich was ridiculously enormous, hearty and delish! Steak was heavenly, charred at all right places. Everything was absolutely delicious (no screw-ups!), so light and fresh. Thrilled about this new hot spot for lunches and chic dinners in SLC. (FYI: The 1-hour metered parking was hellish.)

The Copper Onion on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Indochine in Salt Lake City

Before a lecture at Westminster College in Sugarhouse, we had just enough time to swing by Indochine Vietnamese Bistro for dinner.
First up, an omelette-style Vietnamese Crepe, "bánh xèo," stuffed with shrimp, bean sprouts and meat garnished with standard traditional-style staples of lettuce, mint, cilantro, cucumber, pickled daikon and carrots and bowl of prepared fish sauce. This turmeric pancake, stuffed with all sorts of fillings. is one of the French influences. These Vietnamese crepes are made from coconut milk, rice flour, water and turmeric powder (reason for the yellow color, not egg) vs French crêpes which are made from eggs, flour, milk, butter and salt.
Approach this à la lettuce-wrap. Yum and interactive (demo pic below). The shrimp was peeled versus shell on, a gesture directly intended for the American.
Next up, comfort-food, "Hu Tieu Ap Chao Do Bien," a Chinese inspired flat rice noodles stir-fried with seafood. I was disappointed to see such a soggy starchy sauce (especially after that light turmeric crepe plate). Nevertheless, this was delicious in dive-Chinese-buffet sort of way. No one complained. The noodles were burried beneath a mound of extra-saucy bokchoy, bean sprouts, carrot, shrimp, calamari rings and scallops.
It has been just forever since I've enjoyed a drip coffee outside my home. Finally, a REAL Vietnamese Coffee out and about! 

10 minutes dripping and my Vietnamese coffee was ready for stir and pour over ice. Hit the spot :)
Next up: Shrimp Patty on Sugarcane "Chạo Tôm!" Platter came decked out in traditional condiments... more lettuce, bean sprouts, mint, cilantro, pickled carrot and daikon, sitting on a bed of vermicelli rice noodles drowned in peanuts and scallion oil served with peanut sauce and (see below) fresh rice paper with an accompanying bowl of hot water (for softening the rice paper before wrapping). I was in charge of the rice paper dipping, diligently dipping rice paper.
(Rice paper curls up when exposed to air. They even provided a plastic screen weight to hold the rice paper down.)
Ready to roll. 
A Vietnamese meal must always include a soup. "Canh chua cá," which is a tamarind base sour soup with fish, made with pineapple, tomatoes, okra, bean sprouts, Thai basil, jalapenos and topped with fried shallots and garlic. Beware of fishbones!
Finally, we had "bò lúc lắc," which is beef (sirloin, I'm guessing here) cut into slivers (vs the traditional cubes) marinated in oyster sauce (pretty sure that's what I tasted here) tossed in onion and poured over tomatoes, lettuce and cilantro. Another winner and everyone (but pescetarian hubby) loved it (although I would have preferred it rare with a nicer cut of meat, but this was tasty!). 
Our table was officially overflowing with food. We finished everything after an 1 hour and 15 minutes and ran out to Westminster for the lecture.
This was a cute restaurant serving traditional authentic (well, as authentic as you CAN be for Salt Lake City, Utah!) dishes, with a warm attentive staff, great food and we left satisfied and full. I can't WAIT to come back. Who wants to come back with me?!

Indochine Vietnamese Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 12, 2010

Scallops in Garlic Orange Sesame

This is another easy cinch recipe. My son and hubby LOVE this one, light and flavorful! Summer is around the corner and I can't stop thinking about seafood and light hors d'oeuvres. Since I have a ton of oranges sitting around and a bag of scallops we will do Citrus Scallops...and since we LOVE garlic, we'll do Garlic Citrus Scallops!

(I know what you're thinking... I really DO try to remain on the more kosher-side for the Jewish holidays, but my roots are still Vietnamese and, yes, I do prepare, consume and enjoy shellfish.)
The other day my son Max, a 7 year-old seafood lover, asked me where scallops come from. The actual scallop meat we eat, what we refer to as the "scallop," is actually just the adductor muscle (big in a scallop and teeny in an oyster) which holds the half shells together and enables the scallop to swim (by the opening and shutting motion). The adductor muscle in the scallop is BIG silky and sweet, not TINY tough and rubbery like in oysters or muscles.
Scallops have a dense soft sweet flavor (like most shellfish). Only in the US are scallops (typically) sold shucked, out of their shells. The shells are beautiful and range in size from small "bay" scallops to the huge "sea" scallops. What a shame I don't have any here for presentation:(
If you want shelled scallops, check specialty fish markets and high-end sushi restaurants. As far as scallop shopping, "chemical free" ones are cream-colored, a little tan. Bright white scallops in a milky liquid hint signs of phosphate, a chemical that holds the quality in freezing (safe I think!). A strong or heavy brine smell is fine, but avoid obviously funky, stinky or sour-fishy odors.
In Asian cuisine, I've seen dried salty scallops (and dried salty shrimp) added to all sorts of dishes. My parents still call scallops by their French name, "escalope." I grew up eating fried rice, various soups and seafood dishes with "escalope." When I moved out and started eating and eventually cooking, it took me a while to draw the connection that "escalope" is, in fact, scallops! (Silly, I know but I just thought of it.)
Okay, the recipe. I bought a dozen previously frozen large "sea" (aka BIG) scallops from Costco (I know to SOME of you, Costco seafood is unacceptable, but hey they were a STEAL...). Run them through cold water, cleaning the scallops thoroughly to rid of all traces of sand and mud (...nothing worse than an unexpected bite into a grain of dirt, ICK!). The scallops should be cooked like little tender steaks, seared on high heat on each side, leaving the center rare or medium-rare. Overcooked scallops are rubbery, too tough and blah. 
I am still on a citrus kick, so this sauce-dressing-relish will be a sort of vinaigrette using the juice of an orange, or any yummy acidic substitute, in place of the vinegar. Use left-over orange dressing as a salad dressing or side sauce for shrimp or white flaky fish.
**Scallops in Orange Garlic Sesame**

about a dozen large scallops
salt, pepper, granulated oil - enough to coat both sides
olive oil - enough to coat a pan

1 orange (for the juice and additional thin slices for garnish)
1/4 tsp of salt
1/4 tsp of pepper
2tsp sugar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1T olive oil
1 tsp roasted sesame seeds
(optional 1/4 crushed chili flakes, "pizza pepper" for kick)
8 cloves minced garlic (more or less depending on garlic-lovers)

Rinse the scallops thoroughly in cold water. Pat dry onto paper towels (I use Bounty, super absorbtion!). Generously coat both sides of each scallop with salt, pepper and granulated garlic. Set aside room temperature while you make the Orange Garlic Relish.
Now the Orange Dressing: In a small bowl, combine the 1/4tsp salt and 1/4tsp pepper. Squeeze the juice of one orange.

Add the 2tsp sugar, minced garlic, 1T oil, 1tsp dijon, and mix with a fork. For a little kick, add 1/4 crushed red chili flakes (the kind you top off pizza with)! Now put the dressing in the fridge to chill. We'll pull it out again to dress the scallops after we cook them.

Cooking the scallops! Heat a pan on high. Add oil just enough to coat the pan. When the oil and pan are both hot, use tongs (or chopsticks) to add the scallops, leaving space between each scallop. Use a splatter screen for the oil popping! Leave the scallops in place so that they SEAR. Resist moving them around. If you move them around the edges won't sear/brown/caramelize!

Depending on how hot your pan is and how thick your scallops are, about 1 minute, flip the scallops over to cook the other side. If you did not move them around and let them sit and sear, the result will be a gorgeous brown crust. Cook the other side, leaving the heat still on high.
Transfer to a serving platter.
To dress up the plate for fun, add thin orange slices wedged into the sides of the plate. Take out the chilled dressing from the fridge and pour a generous amount of the Orange Dressing over all of the scallops. 
Then sprinkle sesame seeds. Voila! Grab some forks and enjoy with a glass of Riesling wine or ice cold beer with some friends!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Matzah Brei with eggwhites and shitake

Matzah Brei, מצה ברייט‎, matzah breit, or מצה מטוגנת, matzah metugenet..., is an egg dish popular during Passover. It is basically eggs cooked with matzoh crackers in it. 
When I first made Matzah Brei (a million years ago), I carefully followed a recipe from some Jewish cookbook and used the (required) butter and regular matzah. The extra step of soaking the matzah in water was overkill and made the eggs super soggy (and ugly) and I just couldn't get used to the boring texture. The butter was overpowering and the heavy richness was totally unnecessary. So, I've adjusted it a tad... Shmurah matzah adds a wonderful dense texture and nutty flavor. Eggwhites (versus scramble yolk) add a distinct silky bite and gorgeous color against the other ingredients. Olive oil rules. (Remember to use a splatter screen for all the popping!)
I've experimented with all sorts of combos and this is my favorite interpretation of matzah brei, which ultimately includes my fave ingredients (and the items I keep stocked 24-7): garlic, mushroom and tomato.

**Lisa's Matzah Brei**
 3 eggs, separated for eggwhites (throw away the yolk)
piece of shmurah matzoh (or reg square matzoh), size of an index card
1 small tomato
2 large mushrooms, any variety
olive oil, enough to coat the pan
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds

(1) If you haven't already, separate your eggs, keeping only the eggwhites. (Throw the yolks away or save for gnocchi recipe!) Cut up the mushrooms and tomato into small bite-size pieces and mince your garlic. Break up the matzoh into little bits and soak them in the eggwhites (instead of soaking them in water at all). 
(2) Heat a pan on high with olive oil and add the mushrooms. Turn them when they are golden on one side. Omg, get set for heavenly chewiness:)
(3) When the mushrooms are golden crispy looking, add immediately the garlic and tomato. Add some salt and pepper. This already (NOW, after adding the salt & pepper) is a perfect side dish with a glass of red. If you can resist eating it right out of the pan, continue with the egg recipe.
(4) Next, add the eggwhite matzoh mixture and move the mixture around so to cover the most surface area of the pan. Spread it out. (Careful with popping oil...use splatter screen!)
(5) Break up the egg mixture into smaller pieces to flip over to cook the other side and add the sesame seeds.
(6) Add some more salt and pepper to taste and transfer to a plate. DONE!