When life gives you kumquats…

…make a salad!  Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” but that is quite literally what I did the other day, instead of simply snacking on these delightful little fruits.

I love the orderly chaos that is the kitchen.  Unlike life’s chaos, there is a method to the madness:  all the chopping, slicing, dicing, sauteeing, simmering, roasting, and basting ultimately comes together to make a cohesive dish, with all its disparate components somehow harmonized.

For dinner the other night, I made a riff on Plenty More‘s Celery Salad with Feta and Soft-Boiled Egg, using instead my beloved kumquats.  So simple and satisfying.  And so therapeutic, to shift my focus to slicing everything as thinly and uniformly as I could.

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Celery Salad with Feta, Kumquats, and Soft-Boiled Egg (serves 2 as a light dinner or side salad)

Ingredients:

  • 4 celery stalks, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and thinly sliced lengthwise into strips
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp superfine sugar
  • ~10 kumquats (or as desired), thinly sliced into rings, with seeds removed
  • 1/3 cup celery leaves
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 2 tbl capers
  • 1 green chile, seeded and finely sliced
  • 1 tbl olive oil, plus extra to finish
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup (3.5 oz/100 gm) feta, crumbled into large chunks
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

  1. After slicing celery, green peppers, and onion thinly, place in a bowl, sprinkle with sugar and 1/4 tsp salt, and mix well.  Set aside for 30 minutes to allow the vegetables to soften and to draw out some of the juices, which will comprise part of the dressing.  IMG_3242
  2. Add the kumquats, celery leaves, parsley, cilantro, capers, chiles, and olive oil to the softened vegetables.  Mix gently to combine.  Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste.  IMG_3243
  3. Just before serving, carefully spoon eggs into a saucepan of boiling water and simmer gently for 6 minutes.  Run under cold water until the eggs are just cool enough to handle but still warm, then peel gently; the yolk should still be runny.
  4. Arrange the salad on individual plates, dot each with feta, and place a soft-boiled egg on top, broken in the middle.  Finish with a few drops of olive oil and freshly ground pepper and serve at once.
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Miso…hungry!

Have you ever had days when the hours flash by so quickly that by the time you’ve stopped spinning and finally have the chance to catch your breath, you realize that you’ve been running on fumes and that you are now officially…HANGRY?  Considering that I do not have that many mouths to feed (yet), this worries me a little…how am I going to feed co-dependents not so keen on fumes for sustenance?

All silliness aside, I have slowly been working on my repertoire of quick meals, precisely for these HANGRY times.  It also helps to be less than 10 minutes from a decent grocery store with organic produce.  Even in NYC, I was among the few denizens who did not routinely order delivery, to the consternation of my roommates.

One of the items I always have in my pantry is miso.  Made from fermented soybeans, miso is chock full of protein, vitamins, and minerals and adds a salty, sweet, earthy, and savory dimension to sauces, marinades, and soups.  It lends itself well to both traditional and modern cooking, and is extremely versatile.  I used it to make a quick side dish to pair with my Pan-Seared Sake Sea Bass the other night, and it made one hangry MD much happier after a long day.

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Miso Butter Glazed Mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp butter
  • 16 oz variety of mushrooms – wiped clean and sliced if larger (e.g. crimini, oyster, shiitake)
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced with white and green parts divided
  • 1 tbl white (shiro) miso
  • 1/2 tbl water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

Instructions:

  1. Heat well-seasoned wok over medium heat.
  2. Melt 1 tsp butter and stir-fry white scallion parts and mushrooms, allowing some time between stirs for the mushrooms to get some color.
  3. Combine miso, water, and sugar.  Add to mushroom and white scallion mixture, tossing to coat.  Sauce will thicken slightly.
  4. Drizzle with 1-2 tsp sesame oil, toss in sliced green scallions, and remove from heat.  Serve immediately.

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Pan-Seared Sake Sea Bass with Ginger and Scallions (serves 2)

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz sea bass filet
  • 2 tbl canola oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • 3 1/4-inch slices of ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • ~2.5-3 tbl sake
  • 1/2 inch piece of ginger, julienned
  • 2 scallions, sliced thinly on diagonal, green parts only
Instructions:
  1. Bring sea bass to room temperature by leaving out on the counter for at least 10 minutes prior to cooking.  Season liberally with kosher salt and pepper.
  2. Heat a heavy skillet over medium high heat.  Add oil and heat, adding smashed garlic clove and slices of ginger to infuse the oil while it is heating.
  3. Once the ginger and garlic are fragrant, sear fish, skin side down, about 6 minutes, or until skin is golden and fish is 3/4 cooked.  Baste a few times with oil in the pan.
  4. Lower heat slightly to medium, turn fish over and cook 2 minutes more, until just cooked through.  Transfer to heated plate and keep warm.
  5. Remove ginger and garlic used to infuse the oil, add julienned ginger to remaining oil and lower heat while ginger cooks for ~10-15 seconds.
  6. Deglaze the pan with sake, scraping up browned bits.  Remove pan from heat, add scallions and stir to wilt slightly.  Spoon scallion and ginger mixture over the sea bass and serve immediately.

Lemon Roasted Asparagus

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 bunch asparagus
  • olive oil
  • lemon zest
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Wash asparagus and trim tough ends.  Pat completely dry.
  3. Toss with just enough olive oil to coat.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Grate fresh lemon zest over to taste.
  5. Roast until crisp-tender, ~10-15 minutes.

Little orbs of good fortune

Lunar new year celebrations are full of traditions that have their origins in wishes for happiness, prosperity, and health in the coming year.  My mother even tells the story that my grandfather knew my father was ‘the one’ for her when he came by to send her family New Year’s greetings and the hoa mai tree bloomed on that very day.

Growing up, my parents liked to decorate the house with freshly cut flowers to symbolize spring.  They also always had a pretty pile of oranges and/or pomelos on display, a nod to their association with prosperity.  “Cau vua du xai,” which  translates to “wishes for prosperity that meets and exceeds your needs,” is often used as a play on words to determine the fruits displayed: cau (mang cauor soursop), vua (dua, or coconut), du (du du, or papaya), and xai (xoai, or mango).  Families will often have those specific fruits or other fruits depending on their geographic origins.

Needless to say, I have loved all the citrus that is currently in season, and now aptly available for the holiday: blood oranges, cara cara oranges, meyer lemons, and…kumquats!  They are different from other citrus because the sweetness lies in the peel, while the pulp and juice are actually quite tart.  Eaten whole, these delightful little orbs are an eye-popping burst of sweet-tart flavor.  People often gift kumquat trees during the new year, with the thought that the more abundant the kumquats, the more luck and prosperity will come to your family.

Fortune aside, I have been having fun experimenting with them in my kitchen.  It’s been a busy weekend of traveling to see friends, but just before I left, I made a spiced kumquat compote and spiced kumquat and almond tea cakes.  Enjoy!

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Spiced Kumquat Compote (makes about 1 cup)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup thinly sliced kumquats, seeds removed (about 8 oz)
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 1/2 tsp grated ginger

Instructions:

  1. Thinly slice kumquats transversely into rings and remove seeds.
  2. Put water and honey in heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the honey.
  3. Add kumquats, cinnamon stick, ginger, and star anise to the water and honey.  IMG_3256
  4. Simmer uncovered (think gentle bubbling) for about 30-35 minutes, until the mixture thickens.
  5. Remove from heat, discard cinnamon and anise, and store in sterilized jam/marmalade jar.

Enjoy the warmly spiced, citrusy compote on bread, muffins, with cheese and crackers, or in the following tea cakes!

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Spiced Kumquat and Almond Tea Cakes (makes ~12, inspired by Tartelette)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 stick (113 grams) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cup (150 grams) powdered sugar, unsifted
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup (100 grams) ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup spiced kumquat compote (recipe above)

Instructions:

  1. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
  2. Butter 12-sized muffin pan or baking tins (your preference).
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. Cream together butter and powdered sugar using an electric mixer.
  5. Add vanilla and then the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  6. Add flour and ground almonds, mixing another 30 seconds.
  7. Fold in the spiced kumquat compote.
  8. Divide the batter into prepared tins, top with either fresh or poached kumquat slices and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown (baking time may vary depending on cake tin size).

Happy New Year!

IMG_3030 Cung chuc tan xuan!  Xin nian kuai le! Growing up, I took for granted that we would always celebrate Lunar New Year by going over to our grandparents’ house, where my grandfather would put on his traditional blue robes and gift us with lucky red envelopes after we had wished him “prosperity, happiness, and more than 100 years of long life.”  He never seemed to mind hearing that over and over ;).  I did not realize then how much I had internalized or how much I would miss the traditions my parents sought to pass on to us, even as they lamented how U.S. celebrations paled in comparison to their memories.  I used to dress up with my friends in grade school and give our classmates a mini-presentation on Lunar New Year traditions and foods.  I should have had an inkling then of how much I had absorbed.

My first lunar new year away from my family was buffered by being in Boston, where there was a vibrant Asian community and college student groups got together to share the holiday.

In medical school, however, I had a taste of the disappointment my parents likely felt the first time they celebrated after leaving their homeland.  While I was excited by the holiday and its associations with spring (in California, anyway), my classmates were surrounded by snow piled several feet high and oblivious to why they should think about wearing red or eating noodles, sticky rice cakes, or dumplings.  So…I took matters into my own hands, and decided that I would cook as much as I could on my own.  I spent an entire day making nian gaoluo bo gaojiao zi, abalone, fish, noodles, chinese broccoliand cha gio.  It was a little crazy, but the best form of procrastination I could have wished for, and brought the holiday spirit even all the way out to the snowy tundra.

J loves dumplings so much that he has a bottomless stomach for them, so we made a batch a little while ago.  It seemed appropriate to make some today, and perhaps to share our recipe version.  As with many home recipes, quantities are more like guidelines and should be adjusted to personal preference.

Pork, shrimp, and leek dumplings (makes ~90)

Ingredients:

3 packages of round dumpling skins (about 3o per pack)
1 lb ground pork (not too lean)
1/2 lb shrimp, shelled, deveined, and finely minced
1/2 bunch of chinese chives, finely minced (about 3 cups chopped)
~1/2 napa cabbage, finely chopped (about 4 cups chopped)
~1-2 tsp grated ginger (optional)
kosher salt, divided use
freshly ground pepper
~1 tbl oyster sauce
~2 tbl soy sauce
~1 tbl Shaoxing wine
~1 tbl sesame oil
~1 tsp sugar
small bowl of water (for sealing the wrappers)
canola oil (for cooking)

Instructions:

  1. Lightly salt chopped cabbage and set aside for about 15 minutes at room temperature.  Squeeze cabbage in a cheesecloth, clean dish towel, or your hands to drain excess water.
  2. Combine pork, shrimp, napa cabbage, chives, and ginger in a large mixing bowl.  Season with oyster sauce, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, sesame oil, and sugar, using hands if necessary to mix very well.  Check seasoning by cooking a small dollop of the mixture in a skillet over medium heat.  Adjust with further salt, sugar, and pepper to taste.
  3. Working with one wrapper at a time in the palm of your hand, spoon ~1 tbl of the filling onto the center of the wrapper.  Moisten the outer edge of one side of the wrapper with your index finger.  Fold one edge over and pleat – you can start from one end and pleat to the other, or pinch the middle together first and pleat from the middle to the end, one side at a time.  Be sure to press pleats tightly to seal. *
  4. To cook, you will need to cook in batches since they can only be cooked one layer at a time.  Heat 1-2 tbl canola oil in a nonstick pan (ceramic, cephalon, etc) over medium high heat.  Place the dumplings in one layer (flat side down) into the pan.  They should sizzle!  Let the dumplings cook about 2-4 minutes so that the bottoms become golden brown.  Add enough water so that there is about 1/4 inch of water in the pan, cover, and reduce heat to medium.  Cook for another 5-7 minutes, or until the water evaporates and you again hear the sizzling.
  5. Serve hot, with soy sauce, which can be mixed with black vinegar, sesame oil, hot chili sauce, chopped ginger, garlic, and/or scallions.

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*if freezing, place dumplings in single layer on a tray and freeze the entire tray until the dumplings are frozen. Then remove them and pile them individually into a freezer bag.

Mini quiches for everybody!

Even when I was younger, I never felt that enthusiastic about the rigmarole of Valentine’s Day.  I’m hardly alone in thinking this, regardless of being single or in a relationship.  J and I were even dismayed last year when we made the mistake of going out for dinner during the weekend, and found that the menu for the pink and red holiday had been extended to the entire weekend.  Ugh.

That said, there is much joy to be found in life’s little pleasures and small, everyday gestures of love and affection.  For me, that means cooking and spending time with family and J.  I made these mini mushroom, spinach, and proscuitto quiches for an impromptu brunch with his family yesterday.  Crustless and portion-controlled, these savory bites were full of protein, vegetables, and flavor!

Mini quiches

Mini Mushroom, Spinach, and Proscuitto Quiches (makes ~12)

  • 2 small shallots, sliced
  • 1/2 tbl butter
  • 1/2 tbl olive oil
  • 10 oz crimini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 6 slices proscuitto (~3 oz), coarsely chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup 1% milk (or skim milk)
  • 1/3 cup grated cheese (fontina or gruyere; I used white cheddar since that’s what we had)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Lightly coat a 12-cup nonstick muffin pan with olive oil.
  2. In a nonstick skillet, heat the butter and olive oil.  Add the mushrooms, shallot, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cook until shallots are soft and the mushrooms are dry and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat and stir in the baby spinach until the spinach is just wilted, but still bright green, 2 minutes.  Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. In the same skillet over medium heat, crisp the proscuitto.  Set aside.
  4. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, egg whites, and milk until well combined.  Season with a little salt and pepper.  Stir in the cheese.  Divide the egg mixture evenly between the muffin tins, filling them about halfway.  Top evenly with the mushroom and spinach mixture and then the crisped proscuitto.
  5. Bake until the quiches are well risen, golden brown and set, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Bisous, bisous, bisous!  Quiche, quiche, quiche!  😉

and to all, a good night!
and to all, a good night!

On rain and kneading

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This past weekend was spent close to hearth and home, escaping the wind, rain, and fog outside.  January has been relatively dry (too dry), and rain was desperately needed on this coast.  I’ve enjoyed the sunshine, but was so glad to welcome the rain that I went running outside, quieting my own inner thoughts by watching the stormy seas.

Once back inside, I decided to try baking a wheat baguette for the first time.  From scratch.  I have never tried making my own bread, and in NYC I was spoiled by being near Maison Kayser,  where I discovered the Baguette Monge and realized what Colette meant by saying this in my favorite Pixar movie, Ratatouille:

“How do you tell how good bread is without tasting it? Not the smell, not the look, but the sound of the crust. Listen [bread crackles].  Oh, the symphony of crackle.  Only good bread sound this way.”  
screen-shot-2013-08-01-at-9-11-15-amI am not a huge bread-eater, but I can definitely appreciate a good crusty baguette, and there are certain dishes that beg for a freshly baked slice of bread to sop up the good flavors – cioppino, Vietnamese bo kho, mussels in saffron broth, shakshouka…

And so, here we go!  My first attempt at a wheat baguette, based on Dan Leader’s 4-hr Baguette (perfect project for a rainy day):

Dan Leader’s 4 Hour Baguette (Wheat version

For full step-by-step pictures go here.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups tap water, heated to 115° F
  • tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour*
  • tsp kosher salt (3 tsp if using Diamond Crystal kosher salt, i.e. 3/8 oz)
  • Canola oil, for greasing bowl
  • 1/2 cup ice cubes

Instructions:

  1. Whisk together water, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl; let sit until yeast is foamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add both flours, and stir with a spatula until dough forms and all flour is absorbed; let dough sit to allow flour to hydrate, about 20 minutes.
  3. Add salt, then transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutesIMG_3166
  4. Transfer dough ball to a lightly greased bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and place bowl in a cold oven or microwave. Let dough rest until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
  5. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and shape into an 8-inch x 6-inch rectangle. Fold the 8-inch sides toward the middle, then fold the shorter sides toward the center, like a T-shirt.
  6. Return dough, seam side down, to the bowl. Cover with plastic again, and return to oven. Let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  7. Remove bowl with dough from oven, and place a cast–iron skillet or pan with oven-safe handle on the bottom rack of oven; position another rack above skillet, and place a baking stone or upside down or rimless sheet pan on it.
  8. Heat oven to 475° F.
  9. While oven is heating, transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and cut into three equal pieces; shape each piece into a 14-inch rope.
  10. Flour a sheet of parchment paper on a rimless baking sheet; place ropes, evenly spaced, on paper. Lift paper between ropes to form pleats; place two tightly rolled kitchen towels under long edges of paper, creating supports for the loaves. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let sit until it doubles in size, about 50 minutes.IMG_3168
  11. Uncover; remove towels, and flatten paper to space out loaves. Using a sharp razor, knife, bread lame, or scissors, slash the top of each baguette at a 30–degree angle in four spots; each slash should be about 4 inches long.
  12. Pull out the oven rack with the stone or baking sheet on it and, using the corner of the parchment paper as a guide, slide the loaves, still on the parchment paper, onto the baking stone or pan. Place ice cubes in skillet (this produces steam that lets the loaves rise fully before a crust forms).
  13. Bake the baguettes until darkly browned and crisp, 20 to 30 minutes; cool before serving.  Enjoy the symphony of the crackly crust!IMG_3172 IMG_3174

Not anywhere nearly as good as Maison Kayser, but such huge satisfaction from knowing I kneaded and baked that bread myself!

*I initially tried 50% whole wheat flour, which yielded a denser, heartier loaf.  I liked both.

Good things come in small packages

When people ask me if I like surprises, I’m usually a little wary…I’m not that into surprises, particularly if they involve some sort of unwanted public attention or an ‘adventure’ I’m not quite prepared for.  That said, I do like spontaneity, as any of my sometimes exasperated friends and family will attest…as structured as my weekdays can be due to work, my weekends often devolve into spontaneous mini (mis)adventures as I bumble around doing errands, chores, and whatever else catches my whimsy, in the kitchen and outside of the house.  In the cities I’ve lived in, I often can not resist the urge to explore yet another neighborhood or find an excuse to get outside to satisfy my restlessness.

In the kitchen, one package I never mind opening is anything en papillote.  I first tried the technique a few years ago, and recently rediscovered the delight of being presented with a ‘surprise’ for dinner.  😉 This is a wonderful, light, and elegant way to serve salmon, which packs a powerhouse of omega-3 fats, lean protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12/B3/B6, selenium, and phosphorus.  The recipe is also easily adapted to use other ingredients you may have at hand – capers and lemons, tomatoes and olives, asparagus and leeks – the possibilities are endless!

Salmon with Citrus and Fennel en Papillote (serves 2)

Ingredients:

2 skinless salmon filets (about 4-5 oz and 1 inch thick), preferably wild

4 tsp olive oil, divided use

1/2 small blood orange, thinly sliced

1/2 lemon (I used Meyer), thinly sliced with seeds removed

2-3 tsp lemon juice (from other 1/2 of lemon)

1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

4 sprigs dill, roughly chopped

kosher salt

freshly ground pepper

parchment paper

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Cut four 12-by-17-inch pieces of parchment paper. Fold each in half crosswise to make a crease, then unfold and lay flat.

2.  In a bowl, toss together 2 tsp olive oil, sliced fennel, blood orange, and lemon slices.
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3.  Season salmon fillets liberally with salt and pepper.

4.  Arrange fennel in a small mound on parchment paper near the crease.  Place salmon on top of the fennel and drizzle with 1 tsp olive oil and 1 tsp lemon juice.  Top with dill and then layer orange and lemon slices on top, alternating slices.
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5.  Fold each piece of parchment over, then make small overlapping pleats to seal open sides, creating half-moon-shaped packets.

6.  Bake on rimmed baking sheet for about 10 minutes, until packets are slightly puffed.
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7. Transfer to plates and carefully cut packets open with kitchen shears or a small knife.  Enjoy!
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