Family Dinner 2008-7-13

We had a very successful Family Dinner on Sunday, which made me especially happy because I wanted to make it a special thing. I already had most of the ingredients so it wasn’t too bad there either, and in fact this was one of the cheapest Family Dinners in cost.

As far as the cooking, let me say that the recipe calls for a LOT of wine. I actually thought it was too much and was worried that the taste would seep in. To make two sets of the recipe (dinner for 8), you need 3/4 of a bottle of wine. It looks like a tremendous amount when you put it in the pot but it turns out well. The chocolate mint swirl is also a much bigger recipe than it seems, and again I thought the dessert tasted way too sweet. I’m not sure if I’m adding too much sugar or what, but I need to tone it down a little bit. Only Kelly really enjoyed it, but she would drink melted chocolate out of the bowl if I offered it to her.

I also decided to bring back labeling who came to Family Dinner and how much it cost. The cost is the price of goods. It doesn’t account for leftover materials or materials that I already had (especially spices and herbs). It should balance out in the end.

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Guests: Aki, Justin, Phong, Sandy, Kelly
Mystery Guest: Beverly
Materials cost: $55

Family Dinner Recipes: Special Dinner theme

I made this Family Dinner on Sunday. I intended to use a lot more seafood, but I figured it was a special day because Top Gear ran one of its best episodes ever. Also, I just realized that none of the places that sell really good fish is open on Sundays. I’m undecided if I just buy the fish on Saturday, or just shy away from recipes calling for fresh fish.

Anyways, it’s supposed to be a much healthier meal, with a little roast chicken and a couple vegetable-laden side dishes.

Brick Chicken with Rose, Peas, and Bacon

Yield: 4 servings
2½ to 3 pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, thighs, or drumsticks
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 slices smoky bacon, diced
1 cup inexpensive rosé wine
2 cups (8 ounces) fresh peas rinsed, or frozen peas thawed
2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram, sage, or thyme
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

• Place the chicken skin-side up on a cutting board. (If using a butterflied chicken, press down firmly on the breasts with the palms of your hands to flatten the bird.) Pat dry with paper towels and rub with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Set aside at room temperature for up to 45 minutes before cooking.

• Cook the bacon and remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat until the bacon is golden, 6 to 8 minutes.

• Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate. Pour off all but 2 to 3 tablespoons of fat from the pan.

• Add the chicken to the pot, skin-side down. Place a foil-wrapped brick (or foil-wrapped heavy skillet or pot) on top of the chicken to weigh it down (if using chicken parts, you may need extra bricks). Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the skin is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove the brick and turn the chicken over, skin-side up. Add the wine and cover, leaving the lid slightly askew; bring to a boil. Cook the chicken through, about 15 minutes.

• Remove the chicken from the pot and, using clean shears or a sharp knife, cut it into 4 or 8 pieces. Return them to the pot, skin-side up, with the peas, bacon, herbs and butter. Cook over medium heat until the butter is melted; serve hot. For extra crispy skin, finish the chicken under a broiler for a couple of minutes before serving.

Salmon Miso Soup

Yields: 4 servings
1 waxy potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 shiitake mushroom, stemmed and cut into 1/4-inch slice
1 small onion, halved and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 small carrot, peeled and finely diced
1/8 head Napa cabbage, bottom trimmed, cut into 1/2 inch slices (about 3 cups)
1/2-3/4 cup white miso
2 to 3 tablespoons sake
8 oz skinless, boneless salmon filet, rinsed and cut into bite sizes
1 scallion, thinly sliced on the bias

• Place the potatoes, mushrooms, onions, carrots, cabbage and miso into a large pot and add 6 cups of cold water. Add the sake and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the miso.

• Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the potatos and carrots are tender, 6 to 8 more minutes.

• Divide salmon between four bowls, ladle the hot soup and vegetables over the salmon (the heat of the soup cooks the salmon) and top with chopped scallions. Serve immediately.

Sea Greens Salad

Yields: 2 servings
5 cups mixed greens
1/2 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup dried wakame
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp hoisin sauce

• Soak the wakame in cold water for 10 minutes. Drain, then place in a saucepan of boiling water. Cook one minute, then drain.

• Toss the greens and carrots. Plate and top with wakame.

• In a small bowl, mix the olive oil, orange juice, and hoisin sauce. Drizzle over the salads and serve.

Chocolate Mint Swirls

Yields: 4 servings
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup mascarpone cheese
2 tbsp confectioners’ sugar
1 tbsp creme de menthe
6 oz semisweet chocolate

• Place the cream in a large mixing bowl and whip until soft peaks form

• Fold in the mascarpone cheese and sugar, then place about one-third of the mixture in a smaller bowl.

• Stir the creme de menthe into the smaller bowl.

• Put the semisweet chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water until melted. Stir the melted chocolate into the larger bowl.

• Place alternate tablespoonfuls of the 2 mixtures in servings glasses, then swirl the mixture to give a decorative effect. Chill until ready to serve.

Life Tip: Don’t Badmouth Your Ex’s

This also happens to be a new pet peeve of mine. I’ve noticed people beginning to speak ill of their past relationships. Here’s a tip to make your life better: don’t do that.

My new policy when people mention that an ex was a “crazy bitch” is not to judge the crazy ex, but to wonder what is flawed with the person who said it that they would date someone so crazy. Unless there is a rationale for it, like “she had tons of problems, but F-ing my brains out wasn’t one of them”, I’ll just assume the person is at least that crazy. They could also choose weak, desperate, or gullible.

As my mom said, talking badly about your own history is like setting your own house on fire. People don’t feel sorry for you that your house is on fire, they just think you’re an idiot.

Family Dinner 2008-6-29

Tonight was almost everything I love about the concept of Family Dinner. I took a bold new approach and cooked both something I’ve never cooked before (steamed salmon) and made a twist on a classic dish (hamachi with avocade and grapefruit). The only thing missing was a bona fide mystery guest, but I enjoyed the company of the people who did come and it was clear that we’ve got a good family going.

Anyways, about the cooking. I didn’t have enough time to make chocolate cheesecake, so I switched it to chocolate pots de creme at the last minute and experimented with my own recipe. It turned out quite well so I’ll post that later.

The salmon didn’t turn out quite the way I wanted it to. I felt it was quite bland, a problem I’ve been having since I started cooking fish often. I don’t know if the solution is to season the fish more or if I’m somehow cooking it incorrectly. The steaming went quite well, however, and the texture of the fish was perfect.

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Family Dinner Recipes: Neo-sushi theme

This Sunday I’m cooking a special healthy Family Dinner, with a salmon theme. I expect it to be one of the better meals I’ve made for these occasions. It’s all about Japanese cooking with a very modern American twist. As usual, the dessert has nothing to do with the meal itself, it’s just following my love for chocolate and cheesecake.

Sake-Steamed Sockeye Salmon With Sake Butter

Yield: 4 servings

For the Fish:
1 stalk lemongrass, split lengthwise
2 cups sake
2 cups water
10 1/8-inch-thick, coin-shaped slices fresh unpeeled ginger, smashed with the side of a knife
2 star anise
Peel of 1 scrubbed orange
4 (6-ounce each) skinless sockeye-salmon fillets, preferably center-cut
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges

For the Sauce:
2 tablespoons peeled and julienned fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced shallots
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, divided, cut into large dice
½ cup plus 1 teaspoon high-quality dry sake
1 tablespoon heavy cream
½ teaspoon fresh lime juice
Salt

• Set up a steamer. Use a large saucepan or a wok with a Chinese bamboo steamer set over it. (If using a metal steamer, lightly grease the steaming basket.)

• Bruise the lemongrass with the back of a knife to help release the aromatics. Cut lemongrass in half crosswise. Place the lemongrass, sake, water, ginger, star anise and orange peel in the bottom of the steamer. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.

• Meanwhile, to make the sauce, in a small saucepan over medium heat, sweat the ginger and shallots in 1 tablespoon butter for 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the high-quality sake, bring to a boil over medium-high heat and reduce by two-thirds, about 3 minutes. Add the heavy cream, bring to a boil and reduce by half, about 2 minutes. Add the pieces of cold butter, bit by bit, whisking constantly. The butter will emulsify, creating a thick, creamy sauce. Whisk in the last 2 to 3 pieces of butter with the pan off the heat. (The sauce will be very thick but will loosen up once the remaining liquids are added.) When all the butter has been incorporated, whisk in the remaining sake and the lime juice. Season to taste with salt. Cover and leave in a warm spot but off the heat.

• Season both sides of the salmon fillets generously with salt and pepper. Lay the salmon fillets (skinned-side down) in the steamer basket. If the fillets include the thinner flaps by the belly area or the tail, fold the thin pieces under so the pieces are about the same thickness. Cover with the lid. Steam until the salmon is just cooked through, about 4 minutes.

• Place a fillet on each of 4 plates. Spoon some sake butter over each portion. Garnish with a lime wedge

Hamachi With Grapefruit and Avocado

Yield: 4 small servings

4 sections ruby red grapefruit, all traces of peel and pith removed
4 slices ripe avocado
4 slices very-fresh raw hamachi or kampachi fish
4 thin julienned pieces fresh ginger
Yuzu kosho (this chili paste with citrus zest is optional)
2 1/2 teaspoons ponzu sauce
1/2 teaspoon grapeseed oil
Shaved black truffle or truffle oil (optional)

• On each small serving plate, layer in order, from bottom to top, the grapefruit, avocado, fish, a piece of ginger and a dot of yuzu kosho, if using.

• Mix together the ponzu sauce and grapeseed oil and drizzle a few drops of the mixture over each serving, followed by the truffle, if using. Serve immediately.

Aromatic Steamed Rice

Yield: About 5 cups

2 cups Japanese short-grain rice
1 stalk lemongrass
2 cups cold water
3 1/8-inch-thick coins of unpeeled fresh ginger, smashed with the side of a knife
3 star anise
Zest from 1 scrubbed orange (preferably large, wide strips cut with a vegetable peeler)

• Place raw rice in a fine-mesh strainer. Rinse under cold running water until water runs clear. Drain well.

• Smash the lemongrass stalk with the back of a knife; slice it thinly crosswise. Wrap it in a small piece of cheesecloth and tie in a bundle with kitchen twine.

• In a medium pot, combine the rice and water. Add the cheesecloth bundle to the pot, scatter the ginger, star anise, and zest over the top and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat, cover the pot and simmer gently until all the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave covered for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the lemongrass and other aromatics, fluff the rice with a fork and serve hot.

Sautéed Mushroom Salad

Yield: 4 servings

1 small head Romaine Lettuce, cut into bite size pieces, washed and dried well (about 6 cups)
8 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 to 3 tablespoons Ponzu dressing (see recipe below)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 small portobello mushroom, cut into 1/8-inch slices
2 eringi mushrooms (available at Asian markets, also known as eryngii or king oyster mushroom)
4 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut into 1/8-inch slices
1 bunch enoki mushrooms, bottom trimmed and broken into small clumps
4 button mushrooms, stems trimmed, and cut into 1/8-inch slices
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sake
1 1/2 teaspoons butter, softened
salt and freshly ground black pepper

• Place the romaine lettuce and tomatoes into a large bowl. Drizzle with the ponzu dressing, toss to coat and set aside.

• Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the mushrooms and garlic by handfuls, starting with the Portobello and eringi mushrooms. When the mushrooms wilt down slightly, add the shiitake and enoki mushrooms, tossing with tongs. Cook until the mushrooms are tender , about 5 minutes total.

• Add soy sauce, sake and butter. Toss to coat and season to taste with salt and pepper.

• To serve, divide the lettuce and tomatoes between 4 plates. Top with the mushrooms and serve immediately.

Chocolate Cheesecake

Cheesecake base:
1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 stick butter
1 tablespoon cocoa

Cheesecake filling:
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped small
2 1/2 cups cream cheese
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1 tablespoon custard powder
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon cocoa, dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water

Sauce:
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon dark corn syrup

Special equipment: 9-inch springform pan

• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

• To make the base, process the graham crackers to make rough crumbs and then add the butter and cocoa. Process again until it makes damp, clumping crumbs and then tip them into the pan. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan to make an even base and put into the freezer while you make the filling.

• Put a kettle on to boil.

• Melt the chocolate either in a microwave or double boiler, and set aside to cool slightly.

• Beat the cream cheese to soften it, then add the sugar and custard power, beating again to combine. Beat in the whole eggs and then the yolks, and the sour cream. Finally add the cocoa dissolved in hot water and melted chocolate and mix to a smooth batter.

• Take the springform tin out of the freezer and line the outside of the tin with a good layer of cling wrap, and then another layer of strong foil over that. This will protect it from the water bath.

• Sit the springform tin in a roasting pan and pour in the cheesecake filling. Fill the roasting pan with just boiled water to come about half way up the cake tin and bake in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The top of the cheesecake should be set, but the underneath should still have a wobble to it.

• Peel away the foil and cling film wrapping and sit the cheesecake in its tin on a rack to cool. Put in the refrigerator once it is no longer hot, and leave to set, covered with plastic overnight. Let it lose its chill before unspringing the cheesecake to serve.

• To make the chocolate sauce: very gently melt the chopped chocolate, cream and syrup. When the chocolate has nearly melted, take off the heat and whisk it to a smooth sauce. Let it cool a little, and pour it over the chocolate cheesecake on its serving plate.

Life Tip: People who you don’t like shouldn’t like you

Here’s your life tip for the day on being sincere. One of the biggest life lessons you could ever learn is that not everybody has to like you or think highly of you. In fact, sometimes it’s good for the right person to think you’re an idiot. Don’t burn calories trying to get everyone to love you, especially not people you don’t like very much or whose approval you don’t really need.

Now, don’t take this as a license to be an ass to people. But the key is to realize that you don’t need everyone to love you, you only need the right people to like you enough to help you out. Don’t chase anybody who doesn’t like you any more than you have to.

Quote of the Day

Those who know how to win are much more numerous than those who know how to make proper use of their victories.
-Polybius

Family Dinner 2008-6-8

I had a special Family Dinner last night. It was my first time really preparing meat and the first time really making a meal themed to a person, so I wanted to do a good job.

The egg drop soup turned out really well. It’s a simple recipe but it worked quite nicely. I was very pleased with it and I might make more of it.

As far as the duck, the preparation and the cooking of the duck itself turned out quite well, much better than I expected. I didn’t have any dry sherry, so I substituted some sake and grape juice. It didn’t seem to make a big difference. A couple things that went wrong: I bought dumpling skins instead of Chinese pancakes and that turned out to be a mistake. The skins got way too crispy from frying and were pretty dry. It was suggested that next time I use flour tortillas, which is a good idea. I also botched the carving of the duck a little bit. I started off by stabbing the duck and a lot of the juice came out, but thankfully not that much because the meat was still moist and tasty.

Thanks to Irene for making dessert, an apple tort.  It was quite good and I was very impressed with the amount of work she put in.  Rack her.

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Family Dinner Recipe: Chinese Emperor Theme

I’ve been a little too busy to update the blog, so I’m doing a lot of catching up today before my first final. I took a swing at climbing the peak of Chinese cooking, because Irene came back from her summer break in LA. It was a good move and turned out quite well.

Chinese Egg Drop Soup

Yields: 8 servings

8 c. chicken broth
3 tsp. salt
Dash of white pepper
2 med. green onion (with top), chopped
3 eggs, slightly beaten

Heat chicken broth, salt and white pepper to boiling in 2 quart saucepan.
Stir green onion into eggs.
Pour egg mixture slowly into broth, stirring constantly with fork until egg forms shreds.

Peking Duck

1 (5 lb) duck
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon white vinegar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
10 scallion
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Chinese pancakes

Cut off duck wings at second joint, remove excess fat and skin, rinse and dry well.
Insert chopstick thru neck opening and force along the wing bone under the skin until it protrudes slightly at the second joint.
Push other end along other wing so that you end up with a duck that has its arms straight out like a crucifix.
Tie a string on to the middle so you can hold the duck and hang it up.
Bring 6 cups of water to boil in a wok.Add maltose or honey and stir to dissolve.
Add sherry and vinegar.
Make a slurry out of the cornstarch and add to wok.
When liquid returns to a boil, dip the duck into liquid and spoon liquid over duck.
Repeat until duck is thoroughly moistened.
Repeat dunking once more.
Hang duck by string in a cool airy place with a bowl underneath to catch drips.
Leave for 4-6 hours until skin is dry and taught.
Put roasting pan on lower oven rack and fill with 2-3 inches of water.
Oil rack above pan.
Preheat oven to 350.
Remove chopstick and string.
Put duck on oiled rack in center of oven breast side up.
Cook 30 minutes.
Turn duck breast down for 45 minutes.
Turn breast up for 30 minutes or until skin is dark brown.
While duck is cooking make scallion brushes.
Trim roots,cut off most of green part, leaving a 3 inch piece.
Make several 1 inch lengthwise slits in each end of scallion, put in ice water for 20 minutes, drain and refrigerate.
Carve duck and separate meat and skin.
Mix hoisin with sesame oil and 1 tbl water.
To serve: use scallion brushes to wipe hoisin mixture on to pancakes, add duck skin and meat and scallion, fold one end over and roll up.