July 30, 2013

Hibachi Style?

The Thrill of the Grill
Of all the decades, and definitely not including Saturday Night Fever, the 70s were not my favorite. Don't even try to formulate an argument with me, because I survived wide-wale cords, feathered hair and cherry bomb lip gloss. Plus, I get bonus points for emerging the decade relatively unscathed even after consuming large quantities of Pop Rocks dumped recklessly into huge tumblers of Coca Cola.

Aside from being traumatized by clothing trends and neon-hued furniture, the 70s had some pretty interesting food trends going on. Who doesn't remember those Shamrock Shakes or boil in bag Salisbury steaks? There was also an influx of interestingly themed restaurants, like the Mexican eatery with the cliff diver and the pizza parlor with the player piano. But, what I really remember was a Japanese restaurant where everyone gathered around a communal island and watched the chef mince and slice every imaginable ingredient and then toss it onto a sizzling grill to the delight of the diners. Of course, the restaurants were marketed as Hibachi Style and quickly garnered a place in our gustatory hearts.

Interestingly enough, Hibachi has nothing to do with grilling--or even food, for that matter. A Hibachi was a heater, meant to keep people warm, not cook their food. The Japanese grill that we call a Hibachi is really called a Shichirin, but somewhere along the way of developing a good marketing campaign, it was decided that Shichirin would be too difficult for Americans to pronounce.

I'll give them that. Whenever Mr. B fires up the grill for a Japanese-styled grill session, it never starts out with him saying anything close to, "Hey, would you like to have some Shichirin tonight?" Come to think of it though, I don't think he uses Hibachi, either. Usually, he just requests chicken with an 'Asian' profile and then I decide which direction to venture.

This is my classic version of a Japanese flavored grilled chicken thigh. I like to serve it with as many green vegetables as I can fit in a stir fry pan and then drizzle them with toasted sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds. Serve with steamed rice and saki.

This is one trend from the 70s that's still worth enjoying, unlike those wide-wale cords and earth shoes.

July 29, 2013

All Hail Caesar!

Grilled Caesar Salad with Creamy Dressing
In literature, Julius Caesar is best known for the line he delivers to Brutus when he realizes his confident has betrayed him—"Et tu Brutus?" Of course, by the time he utters the words, it's far too late, for his assassination is underway.

Interestingly enough, more people connect the ill-fated Caesar of literature with the Caesar salad than with the actual creator. And while I think a good Caesar salad is a pretty satisfying affair, I can't imagine ever assassinating anyone over one, even if it had a particularly good dressing.

The Caesar salad was invented by San Diego restauranteur, Caesar Cardini who owned a restaurant south of the border, in Tijuana. Supposedly, Cardini came up with the salad on a busy weekend when he was short on supplies. Not wanting to disappoint the customer, he prepared it table-side, thus turning a few simple ingredients and a salad bowl into a theatrical presentation.

Back in my undergraduate days, I spent a lot of time cursing Cardini. I devoted many years working in fine dining and one thing that was always on the menu was the Caesar salad. I  know I'm over exaggerating here, but it felt like I employed years of my life in dragging around the salad cart and making a big production over Romaine. I guess that's why I like the spin on the classic: grilled Caesar salad.  All I have to do is whip up the dressing; I leave the grilling to Mr. B.

July 24, 2013

The Ripple Effect

Blackberry Ripple Ice Cream
When I was a kid my mom only bought the store brand ice cream. Not that we knew any better—in fact, I don't think there was much of a market for gourmet ice cream back then. Now, however, when it comes to the ice cream market at my local grocery, times have definitely changed, and I can't say it's for the best.

Of course I'm all for progress and on the surface, all the new flavors sound pretty darn good. I mean, really, is there anyone who wouldn't enjoy sitting down to a heaping bowl of Girl Scout Cookie Thin Mint™ ice cream?

Growing up, the store flavors weren't quite as fancy or loaded with ingredients, but there was one that was my all time favorite—Ripple ice cream. In the summer, the freezers would be stocked with blackberry ripple and there was always the tried and true chocolate ripple. Not only was the ice cream really good, but the respective bands of blackberry or chocolate ripple were dense and the blocks of ice cream deeply veined with sugary goodness.

The best part was always the 'secret mining expeditions' that I embarked on once the rest of the family was tucked in for the night. I would carve through the container, spooning up just enough of the ripple to satisfy my craving, but careful to leave enough behind so no one would really notice. I never felt guilty either, even when my mom would lament the 'skimpy' proportions of ripple to ice cream. I never even flinched when she'd threaten to write them a letter and give them a piece of her mind.

Now that I've figured out the secret to making my own ripple ice cream, I can make the bands of ripple as loaded and thick as I want, which I do, which liberates me from having to sneak around in the middle of the night.

July 17, 2013

This One's for the Birds

A Sweet, Salty, Savory Salad
Some women line their vanities with bottles of exotic perfumes, but not me. Instead, I'm the girl with at least a dozen—if not two— bottles of exotic vinegars and citrus infused olive oils. Not only is using high quality vinegars and oils the surest way to take an ordinary dish and elevate it to the sublime, but it's also the secret to getting compliments.

Sure, perfume will catch a man's attention, but good vinegars and infused oils will catch his palate.

Last night when Mr. B cozied up to me in the kitchen and asked me what was on the menu, I was hesitant to tell him that I was throwing together a salad. After all, you may remember that I mentioned Mr. B is a bona fide carnivore and while in theory, he likes the idea of a 'Meatless Monday' or a 'Vegetarian Tuesday', theory is a lot different than actuality. But then again, since I've been married to Mr. B for quite sometime, I know how to put together a Man Salad.

By definition, a Man Salad is a salad with just enough meat to satisfy, mixed with ingredients that add texture and flavor. Including crumbles of good salty cheese, seasonal fruit and a handful of nuts is mandatory. And, of course, the whole trick to combining the flavors cohesively is in the dressing. I like dressings that enhance my ingredients and allow the flavors to shine through, which really means that I like to dress my greens with nothing but olive oil and vinegar, a pinch of sea salt and a few turns of the pepper mill.

If that sounds plain, let me introduce you to the wide world of vinegar, an ingredient that can instantly change the flavor profile of a dish in record time. My favorite product line is O Olive Oil, a line that I discovered many years ago when I was living in Northern California. Back then, they were a local company, but now, they've grown considerably. Anyhow, you can't go wrong with any of their products. In my Man Salad, I like to use their California White Balsamic. It's worth searching out, but if you can't find it, feel free to substitute another vinegar.

July 16, 2013

What the Sizzle?

Make Bacon, Not War!
This past week while Mr. B was enjoying breakfast and his newspaper and I was milling about in the kitchen just about to pour a second cup of coffee, Mr. B gasped and dropped his fork. Initially, I was startled by the sound of the heirloom silver fork hitting the china with such force that I found my ears ringing, but what really set the hairs on the back of my neck on high alert was the dead silence that followed.

Mr. B, when necessary, can let loose a volley of expletives to match the seriousness of any situation, but rarely, is he rendered speechless. Fearing the worst, I flung my dish towel aside and made haste for the dining room and there I found Mr. B, tightly clutching the newspaper, his eyes wide in disbelief.

"What is it," I implored, fearing some terrible news.

And then he began with the most dreaded of openings, "You're never going to believe this..." and commenced to read the article on the page in his hand. With each sentence and paragraph the story became more grim and sinister. By the time he finished, I could only shake my head in disbelief.

The article? There was a fight going down in San Francisco. Make no mistake, this was a brutal fight that resulted in a restaurant being shut down—indefinitely—until matters could be resolved in City Hall. The restaurant Bacon Bacon was under fire because a couple of neighbors complained about the smell of bacon. WTH? I don't know anyone—vegetarians included—who doesn't like the smell of bacon.

Anyhow, once I got over my disbelief, I made my way back to the kitchen. I still had a pound of the homemade bacon that I'd cured for my article, "Pork Belly, My Love," back in the fall, and I was determined to show my support for the cause—Mr. B and I were going to eat a pound of bacon in solidarity!

That got me thinking. The county fair starts this week, which means there's soon to be a lot of locally raised pork belly on the market. That means it's about to be bacon season again. So, here's my recipe for making bacon. Won't you join me in the cause?

July 12, 2013

In a Crisp

Cherry Almond Crisp
The end of cherry season is just around the corner, so before I try to scrub away the deep pink stains from my fingertips, I decided to say farewell in a most memorable fashion.

I'm surrounded by people who love cobblers. They plead for me to bake up doughy confections—biscuits and scones and cakey concoctions. While everyone is entitled to their own preference, I can't help wondering why they can't wax poetic for a good, crunchy crisp.

I've shared my recipe for crisps before when I threw together a delicious Peach Crisp and I'm going to do it again with my Cherry Almond Crisp. And while this is a perfect dessert to serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, I think I'm going to take my leftovers and try to come up with a Cherry Crisp Ice Cream.

How's that sound for divine?

July 10, 2013

Mr. B's Bombay BBQ

Tandoori Chicken
To say that Mr. B and I take the untraditional approach when it comes to holidays is an understatement. I've spent many Thanksgivings eating in Chinese restaurants or greasy diners. One Christmas after watching the surfers paddle out into the ocean, we found a bar with a waterfront view and enjoyed a few beers and a couple dozen oysters. It's not that we don't like the idea of tradition, but for some reason, holidays always seem to collide with our plans to do something else.

So, it was no surprise that this past 4th of July while Joey Chestnut was breaking his own hotdog eating record and millions of Americans were packing picnic baskets, we were planning on using a cast iron Dutch oven and our BBQ to cook up some delicious Tandoori style chicken.

Admittedly, when Mr. B first told me about his idea, my gut reaction was to shut all of the windows to prevent the heavy smoke from flooding the house and hide out inside until the smoke cleared and the neighbors quit threatening to call the fire department. We've been down this road before with Mr. B's extreme cooking techniques—I once watched him attempt a lobster bisque with a full-sized blow torch.

We parted ways shortly after he gave me an update that the BBQ was cranked up to 500º and that the chicken should be ready in an hour or so. I tried to distract myself with reality television, but I was curious to see how his technique was working out, so I decided to casually check up on him.

I opened the door and emerged into the hot summer day and it felt as if I had stepped into India. The air was deeply fragrant, perfumed with exotic spices. Great billows of smoke were spilling from the closed BBQ, but Mr. B was no where to be found. I called out for him, as if engaging in some childish game of Marco Polo, but there was no answer. After a brief search, I found him in the pool, floating on a raft, deep in the grasp of an afternoon nap. Clearly, the man had thrown all caution to the wind.

I cleared my throat. "Don't you think that chicken is going to burn?" I asked. He slipped from a dream and looked at me through half-closed eyes. "It smells good, doesn't it?" he asked. "I think you should check on it, " I said and went back inside to rifle through the refrigerator for Plan B. Shortly, Mr. B came into the kitchen, clutching two pot holders and dripping water. "You're never going to believe this," he said. "You have to come and see it."

I knew he was going to show me a pile of burnt chicken, but when he lifted the lid to reveal the most incredibly perfect, crisp-skinned, golden chicken pieces, my heart fluttered with excitement. Later, when we finally sat down to eat and I couldn't stop marveling at the chicken's deliciousness, Mr. B, never one to hold a grudge, smiled at me and said, "How could you have ever doubted me?"

July 02, 2013

One Cool Customer

Old School Vanilla Ice Cream
When it comes to writing my blog, I thought I'd planned for everything by backing up files and working out the details of an editorial calendar, but I never thought out about what I'd do if it became too hot to cook. And of course, it's always the one thing that you don't plan for that manages to trip you up.

It was 113º on Sunday. Actually, it was teetering on the 114º mark when I decided to wave my flag and surrender. I locked myself in the bedroom, cranked up the window unit and watched as much reality television as I could stand.

Even Mr. B knew better than to expect anything fancy, or if I may, substantial for dinner. If it was too hot to cook, it followed that it was likely too hot to eat. I knew the only option was to dig out the ice cream maker and start whipping up a glorious selection of frozen confectionaries. I'll start the week with a recipe for easy vanilla ice cream, because every one knows that good vanilla ice cream is hard to come by, but there's another, more practical reason. Vanilla ice cream is the perfect foil for the bounty of summer fruits: juicy ripe white peaches, thinly sliced, strawberries, blackberries, nectarines—you name it and it's better with vanilla ice cream.

Mr. B certainly appreciated my foresight—and the air conditioner, and I will say that while I never want to be anywhere where it's that hot again, it was an enjoyable, feed-your-inner-kid experience to lie about in bed eating homemade vanilla ice cream until my stomach ached while watching the trashiest television shows possible.