Lob-stah salad

During my (all too brief!) second stint on the East Coast, J and I took advantage of my proximity to Maine to take a short detour there after visiting some friends in Boston.  He regaled me with tales of his college/medical school travels, while I sat back and enjoyed the drive through New England’s lushly green roads.  We ended up grabbing a lobster lunch at Chauncey Creek, and it was wonderful!  Fresh, sweet lobster, a walk on the beach, the warm mugginess of summer – what a great memory of New England summer days from college.

I made this refreshing and light salad the other night for dinner after finding some lobster tails on sale at the grocer’s – my fishmonger is quite good, and I couldn’t resist them after wandering by after work.  American lobster, specifically Californian or Maine lobsters, are a great sustainable seafood choice.  It is also a great source of lean protein with a good dose of zinc and selenium.

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Lobster, Avocado, and Grapefruit Salad (serves 2, adapted from here)

Ingredients

  • 3 lobster tails
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped shallot
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 1/2 -2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pink or ruby-red grapefruit
  • 1 firm-ripe California avocado
  • 1 oz baby arugula (2 cups)
  • Coarse sea salt to taste (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Plunge lobster tails 8-quart pot of boiling salted water . Cook, covered, over high heat for about 6-7 minutes from time it enters water. Transfer with tongs into an ice bath.  When lobster is cool enough to handle, remove meat from tail, keeping meat intact. Chill lobster, covered, until cold.
  2. While lobster chills, stir together shallot, lemon juice, and table salt in a small bowl and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Add oil in a stream, whisking.
  3. Cut peel, including all white pith, from grapefruit with a sharp knife. Cut segments free from membranes and transfer segments to paper towels to drain.
  4. Halve avocado lengthwise, discarding pit. (Save 1 half, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for another use.) Halve remaining avocado half lengthwise and peel, then cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices.
  5. Cut lobster tail meat crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Divide avocado and all of lobster meat between 2 salad plates and arrange grapefruit around them. Top with arugula and drizzle with dressing. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt (if using) and serve immediately.

Feeling green…

My brownstone apartment in NYC was south-facing, which meant that it was sunny and bright throughout the year, even during the short days of winter.  I took advantage of this to have my own little window sill garden in the city.  At one point, though, the herbs were more like a jungle – they liked the sun and plant food a little too much and I was too busy to prune them back.  Fortunately, my roommates didn’t seem to mind.

I just recently purchased a basil plant and was inspired to make an avocado based basil salad dressing, something akin to the dressing used for one of J’s favorite salads at Trader Joe’s – a chopped field greens salad with chicken, Israeli couscous, and a basil vinaigrette.

The avocado herb dressing is quite versatile, and can be adjusted to the preferred consistency – left a little thicker, it would be a great dip.  Made a little thinner w/ additional olive oil and/or lemon juice, it makes a luscious salad dressing that goes well with kale salads, radishes, and other bold greens.

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Avocado Herb Dressing

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup avocado, cubed
  • 3.5 oz Fage plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 large garlic clove clove, smashed
  • 2 tbl chopped scallions
  • 2 tbl chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup packed basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • ~2.5 tbl ponzu, or 1 tbl white wine vinegar + 1.5 tbl lemon juice
  • 4-5 tbl good olive oil
  • 1.5 tbl honey
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • freshly ground pepper
  • red chili pepper flakes (optional)

Instructions:

Place all of the above ingredients in a food processor or small blender and process until smooth.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  If dressing is too thick, add water in small amounts to thin dressing to desired consistency.

Dress salad and enjoy!

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back to basics . . .

Sometimes, you just want to strip things back to the basics.  Unfortunately, life really doesn’t seem to work that way, instead only getting more complicated with time.  Growing old makes one long for simpler times, as cliche as this may be.

Lately, I have felt as though I am constantly in ‘fight or flight’ mode, trapped by circumstances beyond my control and to which I can only react.  I have been trying to make the best of it and to focus on what I can do, but it is hard not to worry and fret about the things beyond my reach or influence.  Hence, back to basics this weekend for me, and focusing my energy on even mundane things that keep me centered.  I need to fight my tendency to look at things from too many angles and just pare things down.

College was my first time away from home and also my first time being truly away from the comfort foods of my mother’s and grandmother’s kitchen.  There were times when I really did not find anything appealing to eat in the dining halls … and since I felt guilty eating out when I already had a meal plan and didn’t really have the funds to be doing so all the time, I had to figure out other ways to adapt.  One of them was by simply steaming tofu with a little soy sauce, scallion, and sesame oil, which were readily available at the very consistent (and boring) salad bar.   J claims to have taught his cousin Nancy this ‘dish,’ but I think anyone with Asian roots would have thought to put these ingredients together instead of eating raw, naked tofu on a pile of lettuce.  Regardless, it was a tasty, easy, and basic combination that tasted of home, evidently for all of us!

I have since prepared tofu many different ways beyond this basic preparation, and a day like today called for comfort food.  Enter: steamed fragrant jasmine rice, stir-fried seasonal sugar snap peas with ginger and garlic, and this robustly-flavored tofu dish:  Black Pepper Tofu.  A riff on a familiar dish, inspired by none other than Ottolenghi.

I ran across the recipe in BOTH my Ottolenghi cookbook and Food52’s Genius Recipes cookbook, which attests to its flavor and appealing textures.  I had to modify it, though, because 11 tablespoons (150gm) of unsalted butter does not belong in my comfort food repertoire…

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Black Pepper Tofu (serves 2)

Ingredients:

  • ~3 tbl canola or grapeseed oil, divided use
  • ~9.5-10 oz (270 gm) firm tofu (1/2 block)
  • cornstarch, for dusting
  • 3 small shallots, thinly sliced
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1.5 tbl finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 4 fresh mildly spicy chiles, thinly sliced
  • 1.5 tbl dark soy sauce
  • 1.5 tbl low sodium light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp black bean soy sauce
  • 1 tbl sugar, or to taste
  • 1.5-2 tbl coarsely crushed black peppercorn (adjust to taste)
  • 6 scallions, cut into 3 cm (1.25 inch) segments
  • sesame oil, optional
  • Instructions:
  1. Cut tofu into 1 inch square cubes.  Toss tofu with cornstarch to coat, shaking off excess.
  2. Heat 2 tbl oil into a large well-seasoned wok over medium-high heat.  Add half of the tofu cubes to the oil in a single layer.  Pan-fry, turning them around as you go, until they are golden all over and have a thin crust.  Transfer finished tofu onto paper towels and repeat with second batch.   (You may need to use additional oil for the second batch.)
  3. IMG_3557Drain remaining oil and wipe out the wok.  Add 1 tbl oil to the wok over medium heat.  Add shallots, chiles, garlic, and ginger.  Stir-fry, stirring occasionally until the aromatics become softened and fragrant.  Add soy sauces and sugar and stir, and then add the crushed black pepper.  Adjust seasoning to taste.
  4. Add the tofu to warm it up in the sauce for about 1 min.  Stir in the green onions, and drizzle with a few drops of sesame oil, if using.  Serve hot with steamed rice.

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Eating the rainbow

a little earlier this month meant eating swiss chard in multiple ways, since I was a little overzealous at the farmer’s market and it was so beautiful and vibrant that I couldn’t resist.

Swiss chard is a nutritional powerhouse — an excellent source of vitamins K, A, and C, as well as a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, and fiber.  It’s also quite colorful and pretty, so it’s as pleasing to the palate as it is to see on the plate!

So what did I do with all the rainbow swiss chard bursting from my fridge?  I made  Crispy Za’atar Salmon with Sauteed Swiss Chard, Grilled Chard with Fava Bean Salad (it’s all about the stems in this particular dish!), and Swiss Chard Cakes.

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Crispy Za’atar Salmon with Sautéed Swiss Chard (recipe adapted from here).

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Four 6-ounce salmon fillets, preferably skin on (about 3/4-inch thick)
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 teaspoons za’atar seasoning
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound Swiss chard, stems cut into 1/2-inch slices, leaves roughly chopped
  • 1 tbl lemon juice, or to taste
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1. Heat oil in a large nonstick pan over medium heat, add onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften and begin to caramelize, about 8 minutes.
  2. While onions are caramelizing, drizzle 1 tablespoon oil over both sides of fish fillets and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Rub each side of each fillet with 1 teaspoon za’atar.
  3. Add chard stems to the onions in the nonstick skillet and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in chard leaves, salt and pepper to taste, and lemon juice.  Cover and cook until chard leaves are wilted, 2 to 3 minutes more.  Adjust seasoning.  Divide among four plates and wipe pan.
  4. Re-heat non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, and add 1 tablespoon oil. Once the oil is hot, add fish to skillet, skin-side down, and sear until skin is golden brown and crispy, 4 to 6 minutes. Flip fish and cook until fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork, 1 to 2 minutes more.
  5. Serve fish atop the sauteed chard and onions, crispy-skin side up.

**for a more substantial dish, you can stir in cooked israeli couscous or orzo with the chard.

Grilled Rainbow Swiss Chard with Fava Beans (recipe here)

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds rainbow Swiss chard stems and center ribs cut out (reserve leaves for another use)
  • 1 cup shelled fresh fava beans (1 1/4 pounds in pods) or shelled fresh or frozen edamame (soybeans; 3/4 pound in pods)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 small garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons chopped oregano
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • chopped parsley (optional, for garnish)

Instructions:

  1. Halve chard stems crosswise and cook in a large pot of boiling salted water until just barely tender, 3 to 5 minutes (depends on thickness). Cool in an ice bath, reserving cooking water, then transfer to a plate.
  2. Return salted water to a boil and cook beans in boiling water 3 minutes, then drain and transfer to ice bath. Gently peel off skins (if using edamame, don’t peel).
  3. Toss chard stems with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Oil grill rack, then grill chard stems, covered only if using a gas grill, turning occasionally, until tender and lightly charred, about 7 minutes. Cut into 1-inch lengths.
  4. Cook garlic in remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, stirring, until just pale golden. Add oregano, beans, and chard and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Transfer to a serving dish and stir in lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with parsley.

Sharing is caring

At least, that’s how my office staff feels, and once a month, our ‘staff spirit’ committee organizes a potluck to bring people together for at least one lunch.  My first office potluck’s theme was “The Last Supper” and everyone was asked to bring dishes that began with their last initial.  It was a fun theme and I brought noodles (japchae) and Nutella Banana Bread.  YUM!

For this last potluck, the theme was Asian food.  I was pressed for time so chose to do something super easy and Americanized, but at least somewhat healthy and hopefully appealing to the masses.  Who doesn’t love chinese chicken salad?  Unfortunately, it is usually laden with fried wontons and syrupy dressing … so I decided to make my own version of Kale Chinese Chicken Salad.  As a heartier green, the kale would remain nice and crisp even an hour or two after I tossed the salad in the dressing – just what I was looking for!

Preparation was made exceedingly easy by a trip to my nearby Whole Foods – after snagging one of their flavorful rotisserie chickens and a bag of their Harvest Sensations Kale Salad mix, I was all set to go!

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Kale Chinese Chicken Salad (serves 6-8)

  • 1 package of Harvest Sensations kale salad mix (contains kale, shredded carrot, purple cabbage – about 6-8 cups of de-stemmed kale leaves)
  • 1 small 2.5 lb rotisserie chicken, meat shredded
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Ponzu juice (or just more lemon juice)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil or canola oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
  • 15 wonton wrappers, thawed and cut into 1 cm strips
  • vegetable oil spray or mist-o

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray wonton strips with a little vegetable oil and distribute evenly in a single layer on a large cookie sheet.  Bake ~6-8 minutes or until golden-brown, stirring half-way through to allow for even crisping.  Set aside.
  2. Whisk together soy sauce, lemon juice, ponzu (if using), sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl, then add sesame oil and grapeseed/canola oil in a slow stream, whisking until sugar is dissolved and dressing is combined well.  Adjust seasoning to taste.
  3. Toss chicken and scallions with 1/3 cup of dressing in another large bowl.
  4. Toss kale salad mixture with enough remaining dressing to coat, massaging in the dressing.
  5. Add chicken, scallions, cilantro, almonds, and sesame seeds to the kale and toss well.
  6. Just before serving, top with wonton crisps.

Optional additions: blanched snow peas or sugar snap peas, mandarin orange slices (pith removed).

Tastes like summer – bright yet smokey

J says he dislikes May in California, because it seems so dreary compared to back East, where May is gloriously welcomed with sunshine, al fresco dining, skirts and open-toed shoes, and lighter fare.  We have had some beautiful days along the coast, though, so I think I may beg to differ.

Perhaps it is the tantalizing nearness of summer that led me to make a refreshing zucchini salad for dinner the other day.  Topped with smoky seafood spiced with paprika and garlic, it was a collision of the bright and bold flavors of summer.

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Corn and Zucchini Salad with Smoked Paprika Seafood (serves 2)

Ingredients

  • 2 ears of corn, husked
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 small zucchini (about 3/4 pound), thinly sliced lengthwise on a mandoline
  • 2 tbl coarsely chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tbl coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2.5 tbl  olive oil
  • 2 tbl Meyer lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup seafood blend from Trader Joe’s, defrosted and patted dry
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 tbl olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika

Instructions:

  1. Cook corn in a large pot of boiling salted water until bright yellow and tender, about 3 minutes; transfer to a plate and let cool.
  2. Cut kernels from cobs and place in a large bowl.
  3. Add zucchini, basil, parsley, 2.5 tbl oil, lemon juice and red pepper flakes and toss to combine; season with salt and pepper.  Let sit for at least 10 minutes to marinate.  Divide between two plates and set aside.
  4. In a small skillet heat remaining 1/2 tbl olive oil over medium heat.
  5. Add garlic cloves and cook until just fragrant.  Add paprika and stir to combine.
  6. Increase to medium-high heat, stir in seafood and cook just until opaque and slightly caramelized at the edges.  Do not overcook.
  7. Top zucchini salad with seafood and serve immediately.

On carrots and Mother’s Day

I wasn’t able to visit my mother for Mother’s Day, but of course she was in my thoughts as we all honored our mothers and all that they have done for us.  It only becomes clearer with time how much they have given and continue to give.

I love to cook because one of my favorite memories of my mother is her willingness to come home and try out new recipes and flavors with us, even when she was working full time.  She would come home after sharing lunch with her diverse co-workers and interrupt our usual weekday rotation with novel recipes like salmon hand-rolls and other ideas she would get from her friends.  Before kids, she would even send my dad to work with home-made cream puffs.  We were all lucky.  She does best with what she knows, and what she knows, she does extremely well.  And now dad has decided to join the fun and is starting to experiment in the kitchen, too.  My sisters blame Food Network and Bobby Flay – I think it’s also a way for him to find a new hobby and give my mother a break in the kitchen.

I haven’t been posting much because I’ve been a bit swamped, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been in my kitchen.  I simply retreat to simple salads and stir-fries.  And I try to find ways to simplify prep…like in this salad, a version of Ottolenghi’s Spicy Moroccan carrot salad.  I was so excited to find preserved lemon at Trader Joe’s that I had to buy the entire jar to bring home for experimenting (I get excited by little things like this).

I decided to post this today because I have recently been obsessed with rainbow carrots.  Today, I am reminded that as a little girl, my mom would give me carrot sticks to munch on whenever she shredded them for cooking.  And I’d happily snack on them, not simply because she told me ‘they make your eyes bright,’ but because I actually loved the crunchy sweetness.  ::shrug:: I was a weird kid with healthy tastes.

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Moroccan-spiced Roasted Carrot Salad (adapted from Ottolenghi’s Spicy Moroccan carrot salad in Plenty)

Ingredients:
1 lb rainbow carrots, cut into 3 inch batons
1-2 tbl olive oil, plus extra to finish
2 shallots, thickly sliced
1/2 tsp honey
salt
pinch ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground coriander
3/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/2 tbl Meyer lemon juice
1/2 tbl chopped preserved lemon
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped, and extra for garnish
1/4 cup Greek yogurt, chilled

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. In a medium bowl, toss together carrot batons, ~1 tbl olive oil, shallots, honey, salt to taste, and spices.
3. Transfer spiced carrot mixture and unpeeled garlic onto a lined cookie sheet and roast until carrots are caramelized and tender-crisp, about 15-20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. Squeeze roasted garlic out of their skins, smash, and whisk together w/ lemon juice, 1 tbl olive oil, and chopped preserved lemon.
4. Add the roasted carrots to the lemon-garlic mixture and season with salt to taste.
5. Before serving, stir in the cilantro, taste and adjusting the seasoning as needed. Serve with a dollop of the yogurt and drizzle of olive oil as well as cilantro garnish.