Monday, April 4, 2011

50's-style party dress, or knock-off of a knock-off

I saw this beautiful dress some time ago on this blog. It was a knockoff of this Oscar de la Renta dress:

It was actually the knockoff, not the original that grabbed my fancy. I just loved the floral print and the tutu-like silhouette.

The February 2011 issue of Burdastyle magazine featured this dress pattern:

I had a wedding to go to in 2 weeks, so what better excuse to go shopping at Britex Fabrics where I paid a relative fortune for the perfect print in 100% Japanese densely-woven cotton and I made this:

It had a deep 4-inch hem so it puffed out pleasingly, but I think I will need to make a petticoat with tulle layers to get the appropriate tutu silhouette.

My mother-in-law just emailed me directions on how to make a petticoat so that's what I'll be attempting this coming weekend. The dress looks fine without the petticoat, so there's no pressure to get one done, but it sure would be fun to have one made in time to wear to the wedding. I'm suddenly into tutu silhouettes because of this new book I got:

I am in love with all of the dresses in this book, which all have the 50's-style skirt that requires a petticoat for the shape.

Stay tuned for an update if I get the petticoat done and it works out!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A meal that both humans and dog can enjoy

After the success of the last meal, it was time for something similar, yet different. At the time, we were still very much having winter weather in San Francisco, and nice meaty saucy things were what we were after. So, I decided to make the famous potato-scallion cakes again:

and chose a main of braised short ribs to go with it. The short ribs were a basic recipe with the usual French herbs and aromatics braised for a very long time in the oven with red wine, from this cookbook

(Hmm, I seem to own a lot of cookbooks from Manhattan restaurants, maybe it's a sign we should visit soon?!!! - still haven't been to Momofuku yet! although we've already eaten at Alinea, which is truly amazing)

For something green, I made some simple sugar snap peas sauteed with garlic and red pepper flakes. This is what our dinner plates looked like:

The wine was a Bordeaux blend from Gundlach Bundschu in Sonoma.

We had a nice pile of beef bones after the main was eviscerated:

Huxley was very interested in the "leftovers":

He was a pretty happy dog! - which is to say, his begging worked.

For dessert, it was another one of my trusty pear rustic galette:

I know, I know, I make it a lot, but it is truly so delicious you could never tire of it. It's about the only dessert I like and will eat. I make desserts just for Dave, how lucky is he?!!!

A restaurant-worthy (really, several restaurants-worthy!) meal

I once made a meal entirely from recipes of famous chefs bearing very different cooking styles, and it surprisingly came together extremely well!

The main course was braised duck legs with a red wine reduction from a recipe from a cookbook from one of our favorite restaurants specializing in duck:

And the sides were 1. a potato-scallion cake from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc restaurant cookbook

and 2. a roasted brussel sprouts/kimchee concoction from David Chang's Momofuku cookbook

Actually, I chose David Chang's recipe because I'd had the cookbook forever and not cooked from it and the roasted brussel sprouts recipe was about the only thing that didn't take two days to prepare.

Here are the two sides:

And, the pièce de résistance - meltingly tender, luscious duck legs with crispy, savory skin, bathed in the most delicious sauce made from pan drippings and a red wine reduction- shown here with the potato-scallion cake side:

We paired the main course with a Santa Barbara Pinot Noir (not shown for some inexplicable reason in the photos).

For dessert, I had made my trusty pear rustic galette, paired here with a Lustau Moscatel (yes, we actually had our first taste of this excellent dessert wine at the winery in Andalusia!):

Some notes:
Thomas Keller's cookbook was worth it just for the potato-scallion cake recipe.
Roasted brussel sprouts are good, but even better with kimchee.
The duck legs are amazing and were surprisingly simple to make. While the dish was braising in the oven, I had enough time to make the sides. Those duck legs are going to become a favorite, I can just tell!

Dave's Pre-Birthday Dinner

Dave's birthday was on the 18th, during which we went out for a nice dinner at Commonwealth restaurant in San Francisco, but the day before the actual birthday dinner, I asked him what he wanted me to make for his pre-birthday meal, and he said, "Pork chops with cabbage" and "Chocolate cake", none of which were my favorite things, but I guess that was the point, to request things that I would never make spontaneously but that he wanted to eat.

The pork chop recipe was from a Fine Cooking magazine article, still available free on-line here. It is a marvelously simple recipe to throw together and appears more complicated than it actually is to make. We paired it with a very nice Gewurztraminer from a new winery that we discovered on our most recent trip to the Anderson Valley in February:

The smell of pork chops was too much for Huxley, who can be seen here shamelessly employing all his guiles to extort food from the humans:

He did get the cork from the wine bottle, which he heartily approved of. Here is what was left after he was done "tasting" the wine:

Dessert was the aforementioned chocolate(-and-almond) cake, from this cookbook:

We paired it with some nice Oloroso sherry:

Not too shabby a dinner, but I think Dave enjoyed it more than I did. Huxley definitely loved it. He got to chew on the cabbage core and had pork bone snacks for several days afterward. So, what's my kind of dinner (as opposed to Dave's)? The next two posts will reveal!

Cleaning out the refrigerator

To-day was unseasonably warm in San Francisco (temperatures in the 80's) and I didn't feel like stopping at the grocery store on the way home, yet wanted a nice meal because 1. it was Thursday and thus almost the weekend and 2. I felt like celebrating what felt like the advent of spring on such a nice, warm day after all the rain we got the last two weeks. Also, because it was so warm, the meal couldn't be too heavy (so the slow-cooked chicken with caramelized onions and cream that Dave wanted is out). And the meal had to come together with the produce that was already in the house. Well, we always have on hand staples such as rice, onions, garlic, bacon, frozen ground beef, frozen green peas, chicken broth, and all the spices imaginable. And I had half a head of cabbage left over from Dave's pre-birthday dinner. So, when I found the recipe for "Cabbage and chopped meat paella" in this book

it couldn't have been more perfect! The only substitution I had to make was to use green peas instead of julienned snow peas.

Here's what it looked like before we dug into it:

Yes, that's crisp-fried and crumbled bacon sprinkled on top. Yum! Bacon is like the most perfect food. The flavors were built up from a sofrito base of sauteed chopped onions, chopped serrano pepper, and chopped ham. Then, finely-sliced cabbage was added (Huxley LOVED gnawing on the cabbage core!) and then the rice was stirred in and then chicken broth kept simmering with a pinch of saffron was added, together with previously-browned ground beef and chopped scallions and a generous amount of that nice Spanish smoked paprika that I always have loads of in my pantry and the frozen green peas. 10 minutes on top of the stove and another 10 in the oven and some standing time and dinner was ready!

Some chilled Cline Mouvedre Rose wine was just perfect with it and with the warm evening. And, best of all, I got to clean out the refrigerator and use up some of the produce in it. We bought a really big tub of Kimchee from the Korean supermarket in Oakland last weekend and space is getting to be a premium so it was good that I got to make more space for... leftovers??!!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Less Can Be A Lot More (The best roast chicken!)

My very first cookbook was Madhur Jaffrey's "An Invitation to Indian Cooking", which, in retrospect, was a great starting point for learning to cook.

Indian food tastes pretty good even when made at the hands of someone who doesn't really know how to cook. The abundant spices easily cover up any mis-steps and less-than-pristine ingredients. We were poor starving graduate students at the time and couldn't afford fancy groceries, and, more to the point, were car-less and trapped in a place and in a time that in sum was not particularly known for the variety, availability and quality of produce. In those days, I would choose a recipe to make based on the list of the ingredients. I figured that the longer the list, especially in the form of spices, the better it would come out. I was correct on that point! We had many marvelous meals from that cookbook, which I still own and is tattered and splattered with food residues now. One of my favorite dishes was the lamb korma. Take at look at how long the list of ingredients is!

It was pretty crazy, but because I learnt to cook exclusively from cookbooks, I thought nothing of working 12 hours in the lab, coming home and then making a meal from scratch from one of these recipes. I thought that was how people cooked every day! I suppose, in consequence, we have always eaten very well and deliciously. There was no fast, throw-everything-together sort of cooking at my place. I was making slow food long before it became fashionable!

However, as I have expanded my horizons to other cuisines, moved to Northern California - the birthplace of cooking by doing as little as possible to pristine produce- and, finally, gotten tired of cooking elaborate meals every night, I have come to appreciate the genius of simple recipes that work. The genius in these recipes have their proof in dishes that, because of particular cooking techniques, great ingredients and just the right balance of flavors, taste like something you'd have sworn was a lot more complicated to put together than a brief perusal of the recipe might suggest.

Last night, I discovered just such a gem of a recipe that I plan to make many, many times again. It is from the latest cookbook by my favorite experts on Moorish food:

This recipe had just 4 ingredients, not counting cooking oil and water, which would have dis-qualified it from consideration 15 years ago.

But I chose it because I wanted to cook out of this cookbook, which was a recent acquisition that I had not previously made use of, and because I thought it would be a good way to use the sumac that my mother-in-law had brought home all the way from Turkey and was kind enough to share with me.

What a treasure I found! It really had all the elements working for it. Great cooking techniques to draw out and build the flavors: chicken was first seared in a pan to crisp the skin and then roasted in the oven; great ingredients: the best, freshest sumac ever straight from a Turkish market and the best pine-nuts ever (Dave called them "grey-market pinenuts" because he'd acquired them from a chef who had personal connections for the most pristine produce); great flavors in the crisp, brown chicken skin and dark meat combined with a great sauce that formed from roasting the chicken drippings with spring onions, sumac and pine nuts.

I made a side dish of green beans with garlicky tomato sauce, fenugreek seeds, fresh red chillis and coriander to go with it. It was from the same cookbook and was quite unusual and delicious.

The whole dinner took less than an hour to make - 10 minutes to sear the chicken and another 20 minutes to roast it, during which I made the beans. Not really fast food, but it was so good you might have thought that it took me much longer to make.

We had a Cline Mourvedre to go with it, which was a little heavy but I thought went well with the sumac in the chicken and the fenugreek in the beans.

Dessert was some of that marvelous Madeira from our stash that we smuggled back from Portugal.

Here's to discovering more recipe treasures in the future!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Knit Top/ Burdastyle 09-5-103A

I am way overdue for a sewing post. I have been sewing lots but if I don't get a picture immediately and end up wearing the outfit a few times, I lose interest in documenting my creation.

I recently re-made this top and managed to get a picture of it upon the first wearing!

This is the top that made me realize that I'd been sewing one size too big in Burdastyle knits! I first made this top in a black cotton jersey about a year ago and it was far too large in the chest and had major gap-osis problems. So I remade it one size smaller at the shoulders and bust, this time in a navy blue cotton/lycra knit. Much better!

I have to remember that I am a 38 in Burdastyle wovens but a 36 in knits. Somehow this makes me happy, as though I have magically gone down a whole size!

Malaysian Fresh Spring Rolls (Popiah)

Things always cluster in threes, they say, so I feel compelled to complete what appears to be a series about my favorite childhood Nonya foods with the third entry: Fresh Spring Rolls, or "popiah". We frequently had popiah as an appetizer to be followed by either Sarawak Laksa or Hainanese Chicken Rice. At a kopi tiam (casual food court), the popiahs would arrive assembled and ready to eat. My third aunt often had popiah parties, where one would assemble one's own popiah out of prepared ingredients; this is how I serve popiah at home. So, without further ado, this is how we eat popiah at Chez Huxley Wuxley.

First, you need to get together these ingredients:

Wrapper skins, preferably Menlo wrappers (these are made in Menlo Park, CA and are available in most Asian groceries/supermarkets; in Kuching, you would just buy a bunch of freshly-made skins from your favorite popiah lady):

Condiments, including Hoisin sauce & Sriracha hot sauce, lettuce leaves, and freshly ground roasted peanuts:

Thinly-sliced, steamed chinese sausage:

Blanched bean sprouts, thinly-sliced plain omelette, and thinly-sliced fried tofu cubes (the last is optional because I decided I don't really like them):

And, most important of all, popiah fillling, consisting primarily of jicama (recipe follows):

To make popiah filling, saute 4 finely chopped peeled garlic cloves and 3 tablespoons finely chopped dried shrimp (previously softened in hot water) in 2 tablespoons oil until fragrant. Mix in 2 medium peeled and julienned jicamas and about 6 finely julienned black dried chinese mushrooms (previously soaked in hot water to soften), turn heat to low and cover and cook gently for about 10 minutes. The jicama will release moisture and steam in its own juices. When it is cooked to your liking, make a sauce with 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons oyster sauce, 1 tablespoon sesame oil and 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Make a well in the vegetables, pour in the sauce and let cook a little before stirring to mix. Cook over low heat and reduce until mixture is somewhat dry. Add about a cup of peeled, coarsely chopped fresh shrimp and mix until shrimp is cooked through. Turn off the heat and mix in some chopped scallions.

OK, now you are ready to assemble your popiah. First layer your plate with a Menlo wrapper, place a lettuce leaf on it and drizzle hoisin sauce and sriracha hot sauce over the leaf.

Then place a little of the popiah filling, the blanched bean sprouts, the sliced omelette and fried tofu on top of the lettuce leaf. Sprinkle with the sliced cooked chinese sausage and ground roasted peanuts.

Then roll everything up like a burrito. This is what Dave's looks like:

You are ready to take a bite!

Yum! There is the crunch of the lettuce leaf, the crisp-cooked jicama and the bean sprouts; the savory-sweet-spicy flavor of the condiments, the chinese sausage and the cooked sauce; the umami-ness of the fresh & dried shrimps and the mushrooms; and the nuttiness of the ground roasted peanuts. Somehow everything comes together magically to make - you've guessed it - the most delicious spring roll ever!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Very English Meat Pie

Dave brought my attention to this hilarious interview of his favorite chef in San Francisco:

Offal Chef Chris Cosentino Is Happy to Make a Meat Dress for Lady Gaga

The title says it all. The funny thing is, I can totally envision a tripe dress looking like an ethereal white tulle gown. You absolutely have to read the article; it is too funny for words but this guy can totally make fish sperm taste good (I would know: I've had it at his restaurant).

Anyway, all the talk about offal reminded me of a meat pie recipe from an article in the New York Times magazine that I had once made because the recipe was associated with Fergus Henderson, another chef proponent of offal and author of the cookbook "The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating", whom we had actually sat behind once during a memorable dinner at Chris Cosentino's restaurant.

I always thought of it as "Fergus Henderson's Meat Pie" but when I dug up the recipe, it was only associated with the guy insofar as the use of the optional "Trotter Gear" in the meat pie. Now, it was a Sunday when I thought to make the pie, and my butcher shop where I might have gotten some pig's trotters was closed, so I opted to use the suggested cheddar cheese substitute instead. So my version of the pie didn't have much to do with offal, but oh well. Maybe next time...

We had it with peas on the side, not mushy peas like they would have had in London, but nice barely-cooked peas. And a pint each of Anchor Christmas Ale! There was enough left over for several lunches and dinners. That stuff is really filling. Maybe I'll make it again in a few years, perhaps with the Trotter Gear this time.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hainanese chicken rice

In my last post, I said that Sarawak laksa is the best dish ever, but another dish that comes a close second when it comes to childhood comfort food that I crave, is Hainanese Chicken Rice. Luckily, this dish is easy to put together with widely available ingredients and requires no covert smuggling of secret spice mixes from halfway around the world. In fact, I made it once for a dinner party many years ago at my friend Amanda's and it was the hit of the party. Amanda kept asking me for the recipe but I never got it to her, in large part because my version of Hainanese Chicken Rice is an amalgam of two different recipes, from these two cookbooks:

so it wasn't an easy matter of just sending her photocopies of the recipes; I'd have to stipulate which parts I used from which recipe and when. In a way this post is for Amanda: after more than 5 years (!), here is the Hainanese Chicken Rice recipe you asked for. Sorry for the delay, but better late than never, right?

First, what is Hainanese Chicken Rice? Again, it is one of those wonderful Sarawak Nonya dishes that is somehow more than the sum of its parts. There is rice cooked with shallots and garlic and rendered chicken fat in a good chicken broth, served with poached chicken marinated with a dark sauce and a dipping sauce of fresh red chillies, ginger, garlic, chicken broth and lime to pull it all together. But what a dish! I cannot really describe the unctuous mouth-feel of the rice, the delicious tang, heat and gingeriness of the dipping sauce, and the silkiest, tenderest chicken you have ever tasted.

Here is a picture of my most recent attempt:

The cucumber salad on the side is not authentic, but I think it goes beautifully with the traditional chicken, rice and dipping sauce. The recipe for the cucumber salad is from the New York Times, originally intended to accompany bluefish and rice. I have also served it with Vietnamese grilled meat patties; in fact, it pairs wonderfully with any South East Asian rice-and-meat dish, and especially Hainanese Chicken Rice, which is traditionally served with cucumber slices.

Alright, this is how I make Hainanese Chicken Rice:

Take a small chicken (about 3 pounds), trim it of excess fat and rub all over with salt. Reserve the trimmed fat - you will use it for the rice later on. In a large pot big enough to hold the chicken, boil 8 cups water with 8 cloves garlic (in their skins, smashed) and 5 slices fresh ginger (smashed). Lower the chicken into the pot, immersing it in the boiling water, weighing it down if necessary. Cover and boil for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the chicken sit in the hot water without removing the lid, for 2 hours. At the end of the 2 hours, remove the chicken and plunge into ice-cold water for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the rice. Render the chicken fat (there should be about 1/3 cup), throw out the unrendered brown bits and then sautee 3 chopped shallots and 3 chopped garlic cloves until light brown. Add two cups jasmine rice (or a long-grained rice) and sautee briefly to coat the grains. Add 4 cups chicken broth (it can be from the water used to boil the chicken, which is now a stock) and salt to taste, bring to a boil, give everything a good stir and then lower the heat to low and cover tightly. The rice is done when the liquid has been absorbed and there are steam holes on the surface of the rice, about 20 minutes.

When the chicken is done, tear the meat from the carcass. Make a marinade by mixing 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup chicken broth, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon oyster sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Mix the chicken meat in this marinade.

Make the dipping sauce. Now, this is the most important part of the dish. It is absolutely essential and brings everything together. Do not even think of attempting this dish without the dipping sauce! Mix together: 5 fresh red chilies (stemmed, seeded and chopped) or 1 1/2 tablespoons or more (or less) of sambal oelek if you are too lazy to stem and chop fresh chillies (which is what I do), 4 cloves chopped garlic, 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger, 1 teaspoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, the juice from one lime and 1/4 cup chicken broth. I usually taste and may add more ginger, lime juice, salt or sambal oelek. It should be tangy and gingery, with a nice fresh red chilli flavor. The chilli has to be red chilli, no green chilli substitutions!

To serve, place a portion of rice with some chicken and dribble dipping sauce over all. (I like to dribble a lot of dipping sauce; in fact, back home we use it like a dressing). Place a portion of the non-authentic cucumber salad on the side. This may not be traditional, but I promise you, it makes the dish even better! Sit back and enjoy!

Amanda, I hope you like the post and will let me know how the dish turns out when you get David to make it!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Borneo cuisine: Sarawak laksa

This morning, during breakfast with the Sunday New York Times, I was thrilled to see that they had written a very nice travel article about Kuching, a town on the island of Borneo that I had grown up in. The writer highlighted various things that immediately brought back fond memories, including a mention of my favorite dish in the whole world: Sarawak laksa, which he describes as a fiery noodle soup. It is hard to describe what laksa tastes like to the uninitiated; somehow the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so simply to say that it consists of rice noodles bathed in a spicy, shrimpy, coconut broth and garnished with shrimp, shredded chicken, beansprouts and strips of omelette is not really doing it justice. Sarawak laksa is like the best thing you have ever tasted multiplied by ten. Here is a picture of it in the New York Times print article (the on-line article is missing this picture for some reason)

So, the way you might enjoy laksa without having to travel halfway around the world to Kuching is to acquire the laksa secret spice paste mix, perhaps from a friend or relative visiting you from Kuching who has smuggled this precious substance in a suitcase that has miraculously escaped detection by the Beagle Brigade at San Francisco airport. The precious bricks of laksa paste are kept in a safe place in your refrigerator and only very rarely broken out for very special meals. As you use up more and more of your stash, you start to hoard what you have left very jealously. Home-made laksa might be had no more than once a year, unless you can locate someone who can smuggle this stuff for you more frequently than once every few years.

I decided that the nostalgia induced by the article was a good enough reason to break out the second-to-last brick of laksa paste I still have in my refrigerator. It looks like this:

and is actually quite simple to use. First, you make a good stock (preferably from shrimp heads, or chicken or pork bones if you can't locate shrimp heads) and then you add the laksa secret spice mix and boil it in the stock for about an hour. You then strain the result and add coconut milk. Separately, you cook peeled shrimp and chicken in the stock and shred the chicken. You make an omelette and cut it into strips. You boil some rice noodles and drain them. Then you assemble the famous laksa dish. In a bowl, you add a nest of rice noodles, top it with some crunchy bean sprouts, the shredded chicken, the shrimp and the omelette strips. Then you ladle the laksa broth over all, sprinkle with cilantro leaves, a squeeze of lime, and serve. Voila!

The most delicious dish in the world. Ever.

In Kuching, laksa is a morning breakfast dish. If you venture out looking for a bowl any later than 11 am, you are bound to be disappointed. We had this for dinner tonight, but I am really looking forward to my breakfast tomorrow morning.

Huxley Beagle was very excited about laksa. He sniffed the air very intensely and was more doggedly hanging by the stove waiting for me to drop food than usual. I think he senses that the humans are eating the best thing ever, too! He would like Kuching. All the outdoor hawker centers where people eat and drop food he can scavenge, the giant rafflesia flower that smells like rotting meat - it would be paradise for a beagle!