Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Chocolates, Three Ways

 Last year, as part of the Food 52 Secret Swap , I made ninjabread cookies, which were adorable (and I'm pretty sure my giftee liked them too). This year, in the interest of time, I decided to make chocolates instead.
Now, these were supposed to have been one box of simple caramel filled chocolates. I'd already made the first batch, and then my friend Tiffany came over. Tiffany makes her own caramels during the holiday season, and after scolding me for using storebought ("If you'd told me, I'd have made a fresh batch for you!") she took a look at what I'd done, saw all the leftover chocolate, and said, "Hey, I bet we can come up with a few more ideas. You've got some sea salt, right? And what about cayenne pepper?"

Three hours later, we had not only regular caramel chocolates, but chocolates with sea salt and cayenne spiced ones as well. After we packed them all up and tied the boxes together tower-style with a gold cord, I had to admit that it looked pretty elegant. And a heckuva lot more fancy than my one little white box.

The recipe itself is pretty simple. The hardest part is waiting for the chocolate shells to harden up before they're filled. But really, you can knock out a batch of these in an afternoon.

 Chocolate Caramel Chocolates

1 bag chocolate chips
1 bag soft caramels (individually wrapped)
1 candy mold
1 food grade paintbrush

Melt half of the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl. To do this, put the chips in for 45 seconds to a minute. Pull them out and check. If the chips haven't started to melt, nuke them again for 15 seconds at a time, checking each time (don't burn them!) Once they start to melt, pull them out and stir like crazy until there are no longer any lumps.

When the chocolate is smooth, put a tablespoon in three of the mold indentations. Swirl the paintbrush around to cover the sides and bottom of the indentation. Do your best to cover as much as you can--remember, this is the shell for your caramel filling. Repeat with the rest of the indentations, and when you're finished, put the mold in the freezer for about 15 minutes or until the chocolate is solid.

As the chocolate is setting, start unwrapping your caramels. Depending on the size of your mold, you may need one half to one whole caramel. Roll each caramel into a ball. Set them aside.

Once the chocolate is set, pull the mold out of the freezer. Take a ball of caramel and firmly (but not too hard!) push it into the indentation so that it spreads out into the shell. You don't want the caramel to go over the edge of the chocolate--preferably, it'll stop just before that edge. When all the indentations are filled, take the leftover melted chocolate (you may have to reheat it) and spoon it over the caramel and the indentation. Smooth it out with an offset spatula (if you have one) or the back of a butter knife (if you don't), and put it back in the freezer to set for another 15 minutes.

When the chocolate has set again, pull the mold out of the freezer and gently twist or push to remove the chocolates. Arrange stylishly or eat them all!

Sea Salt Chocolates

Melt the original half of the chocolate chips with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of whipping cream, stir like crazy, sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt, then set aside to cool.  Use this instead of the caramel. When the chocolates are completed and out of the mold, put them on a plate and nuke them for 5-10 seconds to soften up the top, then sprinkle them with another pinch of sea salt.

Cayenne Pepper Chocolates
Follow the instructions for the sea salt chocolates, but add a pinch of cayenne instead of salt. For the top, sprinkle with red crystals if you've got them, or even a flake or two of red pepper.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Crab Feast!

For the last couple of years, my friend and I have gone to Half Moon Beach's Pillar Point Harbor to get crab at the beginning of the season. This year, we called ahead and reserved crab from the Cricket crab boat . As usual, not only did we plan on making crab rolls, but we put together a pumpkin soup too. I couldn't find my original recipes, so I had to create new ones. But with Google's help (and my friend's expert cleaning and cracking skills), we came up with a really, really tasty dinner.

Here's a few helpful hints for making these rolls:
  • Line your crab cleaning station with old towels, newspapers, anything to soak up all the liquid. And there WILL be liquid, even after baking. Personally, I prefer a large bowl or pan. After all, why waste good potential crab stock?
  • To kill your crabs as humanely as possible, I recommend putting them to sleep first. We pack our crabs in ice the moment we get them, and then cook them as soon as we take them out. If ice isn't possible, keep them as cool and wet as you can, and put them in the freezer for about 15 minutes before you cook them.  If you can't freeze them, split the head in half, placing the tip of the knife between the eyes and pushing down hard.
  • If you don't live in New England and you can't get your hands on Pepperidge Farm Top Sliced Hot Dog Buns (often used to make lobster rolls on the East Coast), find a Fuddrucker's and buy some of their hot dog buns (yes, they will sell them to you straight off the cooling rack). They make a darn good substitute.   
  • What do you do if your partner is allergic to crab or other shellfish? Swap out the crab for another meat, like shrimp, fish or chicken, or even surimi, a.k.a. fake crab. (Beef or other red meats may not work as well for this recipe.)  You can also make the sauce as spicy or tame as you wish--my husband's version got an extra dollop of red pepper flakes, as well as some chili sauce.
If anyone is interested, I'll post the pumpkin soup recipe. But however you make it, enjoy!
New England Style Crab Rolls

  • 2 2 lb crabs
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/2 teaspoons celery seed
  •  1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 top-split hot dog buns 
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Meanwhile, put a wire rack on a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet. Set this aside. Place a steamer insert (or a loosely crumpled "snake" of aluminum foil) in the bottom of a large lidded stock pot and add 1 inch of water. Put the lid on the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Open the pot, put the two crabs in as quickly as possible and cover pot. Let steam for exactly two minutes, then transfer to rack set in baking sheet.Bake them for 15-20 minutes.

While the crab is baking, make the crab roll sauce. Combine the mayonnaise, celery seed, lemon juice, salt and pepper and mix well. For a bit of spice, add red pepper flakes, sriracha sauce, or even chili sauce. Set aside. 

Once the crabs are cooked, let them cool off enough to handle, pull off the top shell and pull the body apart. Check the meat and be sure it's a solid white, as opposed to translucent--if it's not white, put it back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes. Once you're sure the meat is done, continue the process of  cleaning the crab.

Once the crab is cleaned, combine the meat with the sauce. Set the filling aside.

Put 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan over medium heat. When it starts to foam, place the rolls into the pan on one side. When that side is golden brown (make sure to check every few seconds--it goes fast!) flip it over and do the other side.

Put the toasted buns on a plate and fill them with the crab filling. Stuff your face!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Vietnamese Pho

I've made pho before, but it was with powdered pho broth and it wasn't very good at all. Then, I discovered a recipe from Cook's Magazine that cut down the cooking time to about an hour, and was delicious to boot. I did, however, have to pass it by my friend Michelle (author of the Mommy Misadventures blog) and The Hubs (tm), her Vietnamese husband.

Michelle loves to cook as much as I do, but when she saw the recipe, she winced. I could almost see it through the Facebook post.  "I gotta call BS on the fundamentals. I'm glad that it tasted good for you guys but I'm sorry, that makes my head spin on the the broth," she told me. "I can see that it's a shortcut recipe but OMG the cook in me is hopping up down saying, 'But, but, but that's not how you do it!' It'd be like making pecan pie with Log Cabin Syrup." She was right--I couldn't argue. The Hubs (tm), being a short-and-to-the-point kind of man, noted that since pho was the national dish of his home country, he was a little sensitive to how Western cooks "seem to love butchering ethnic dishes." Again, no argument from me (collard green eggrolls? Vegan soul food? I'm not too sure about that either...).

But being the generous person that Michelle is, she didn't leave me in the lurch. I was given a from scratch pho recipe to try. Her version makes about four quarts of stock. Both recipes call for meat to be boiled with the broth to give it that delicious meaty taste, but the only meat I had was the stuff I was saving for the pho itself. Not to be outdone, I grabbed my jar of Better Than Bouillon beef stock. As for the rest of the ingredients, you can find them at a specialty store or at a local Asian store. If you're really stuck, do what I did and do a Google search for them.

 I will say that this recipe will take about four to six hours to make, but It. Is. Worth. It. If you start it on a Saturday morning, like I did, you'll be able to set it and forget it, and take care of other stuff. Like laundry. And oven cleaning. And getting melted chunks of plastic off your cooking rack (don't ask).

2 lbs beef bones (you can probably get them from a good butcher, or even at your local Asian store)
1 lb brisket, cut into chunks (or 5-6 teaspoons of Better Than Bouillon beef stock)
1 onion, halved
1 4 inch piece of ginger, peeled
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons yellow rock sugar (or one large piece of yellow rock candy, or two tablespoons of regular sugar)
6 star anise pods
6 whole cloves
Salt (skip if you used the beef stock)
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 package thinly sliced beef chuck (or another pound of brisket--see directions below)
1 package dried rice noodles
1/3 cup cilantro (optional)
Lime wedges
Onion slices
Hoisin sauce
Sriracha sauce

Bake the beef bones at about 425 for an hour until browned and charred. 

If you're using the brisket chunks for the broth, add a little oil to a non stick skillet and brown them well on all sides. Set them aside, leaving the stovetop on, and wash and dry the skillet. Cut the onion in half and char the onion and ginger on the stovetop 
(if it's electric, you'll want to cover your coils with a piece of foil). In the meantime, if you're using the brisket as a topping, place it in the freezer for about half an hour. Pull it out of the freezer and slice it as thinly as possible with a sharp knife, then place the slices on a plate and put them in the refrigerator to stay cold. 

Put the skillet back on the stovetop and toast the spices quickly until fragrant. 

Put the brisket chunks (or the Better Than Bouillon) into your crock pot or large pot and cover with water, roughly four quarts (filtered, if possible). Cover the crock pot and set it on high (or turn your pot on high till it starts to boil, then turn it down to low). Remove the meat after about 4 hours, if using; let the bones and spices continue to simmer up to another 2 hours for maximum flavor. Feel free to add more water if needed. 

Strain out the solids and discard, eexcept for the meat! Save that for the pho. If necessary, season the broth to taste with more salt, fish sauce  and sugar.

To serve as pho, follow the directions on the rice noodles to cook them. Put them into a bowl and add boiling hot broth to cover. Add a few slices of brisket, cilantro, lime, onion, and hoisin and sriracha sauce. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Lugaw, improved

A Filipino friend of mine brought a potful of stew to a party once. It was a delicious mixture of rice and chicken, cooked in chicken broth and seasoned with ginger, fish sauce and soy sauce. "What is it?" I asked after my second bowl. "Lugaw," he said.

Ever since then, I've been trying to recreate that stew. The first time, it was too bland--too much rice, not enough seasoning. The next few times, it was so salty that no one could eat it. Apparently, combining fish sauce, soy sauce and canned chicken broth is a really bad idea.

UPDATE: I made this recipe again, added a few things (people use garlic in their lugaw?) and left others alone (the chicken is still there!).I think I cobbled together a pretty darn good recipe--it's better, and a lot faster, than my previous version. Enjoy!
Lugaw/Arroz Caldo

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 2-3lb. chicken, cut into serving pieces
1/2 a small onion
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and julienned (or use two teaspoons of ginger powder)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons fish sauce
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup uncooked white rice, rinsed and drained

Heat the oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the chicken pieces to the pot, along with a cup of water, and then cover the pot. Allow the chicken to cook (covered) over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes, until about a cup of liquid is left in the bottom of the pot.

Remove the chicken and set aside. Add the onion and minced garlic. Saute them until the onion is translucent and the garlic is lightly browned.

Add the julienned ginger, soy sauce, and fish sauce to the pot and stir. Continue cooking for 2 more minutes until the ginger becomes fragrant. If you're using powder, save it for the next step.

Add the chicken  and the broth to the pot (and the ginger powder, if you're using)and water, if needed, to completely submerge all of the chicken pieces. Add all of the rice to the liquid in the pot and cook over medium heat until the rice is soft and the porridge reaches the desired consistency--this can take 20-40 minutes depending on how thick you want the porridge. If the porridge becomes too thick, you can add water to thin out.

For Lugaw, serve the porridge in bowls as is.

For Arroz Caldo, remove the chicken meat from the bones and add the meat back to the porridge. Arroz Caldo can be topped with sliced hard boiled eggs, fried garlic, sliced scallions, additional fish sauce, ground black pepper, fresh kalamansi, anything you feel like.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


So what's okonomiyaki (OH-ko-no-me-YA-kee)? Think pancakes, except more savory and with bacon and veggies instead of blueberries or other fruit. This is one of my favorite dishes in the world, mainly because you can throw almost anything into it.

I live within ten minutes of two different Asian stores, so the recipe I've posted here is fairly traditional. In many of these stores, especially Ranch 99, you might even be able to find okonomiyaki flour or mix-- but there are a number of substitutions you can make if you can't find some of the ingredients. You can use cake flour, potato starch and chicken stock for the wheat flour, nagaimo and dashi, and you can skip the tenkasu (or use panko or even Rice Krispies). For the oko sauce, you can combine 1 teaspoon of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of ketchup, and 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce. Use Miracle Whip for the kewpie mayo. And as for the other ingredients, remember, you can use any kind of veggie or meat you want.

Since this process has a few steps, I'm going to try something different...I'm adding more pictures. Let me know what you think!



1 cup wheat flour
2/3 cup dashi
2 Eggs
1/4 cup grated nagaimo (mountain yam)

STIR INS (bottom, clockwise)
4 cups cabbage, shredded and roughly chopped
2 cups bean sprouts
6 strips bacon, cut in half

Not pictured:
2 stalks green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup tenkasu (Tempura bits)

TOPPINGS (top left to right)
Okonomi Sauce
Kewpie Mayonnaise  
Katsuobushi (Bonito Flakes)
Furikake (dry rice seasoning)

1/2 cup Raw shrimp cut into approx 1cm (1/2") chunks    
1-2 links Chinese sausage, cut diagonally
1 oz Beni Shoga (Pickled Ginger)

In a large bowl, whisk the okonomiyaki flour and dashi/stock until smooth. Add the eggs and combine.

Add the grated nagaimo. (Try to freeze it before you grate it, otherwise you'll have a gooey,slimy mess. The smallest holes on the grater are traditional, but I prefer the bigger ones--it's faster.)

 Add the other items (but not the bacon or toppings!) and mix lightly.

 Heat a skillet on the stove and add a tablespoon of oil to it. Swirl the pan to coat it with the oil. (I add a tiny amount of sesame oil for taste, but it's optional.)

 Add half the mixture to the pan. Press it down to the best of your ability with a spatula. It should take up most of the pan. Let it cook for three minutes or until browned on one side.

 Place the bacon strips on top of the oko and (carefully) flip the whole thing over. You may need another spatula for this, but it's OK if it gets messy.

Let it cook until it's brown on the other side and the bacon is cooked, about 4 minutes. Flip it one more time and cook for another three minutes.

 Slide the Oko onto a plate. But wait, there's more! Drizzle the okonomiyaki sauce and the kewpie mayo over your oko. Sprinkle the furikake and katusoboshi on top.

Eat it while it's hot!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Gumbo Part II--A Confession

So I decided to make gumbo for dinner tonight. In reviewing my recipe, I realized that you, my dear readers, have been bamboozled. Yes, the earlier recipe is my dad's. Yes, he really did put cream of chicken (and occasionally cream of mushroom) in his recipe. But... hang on, I need a moment...

*takes a deep breath and lets it out*

I've only made it that way once.

I have a lot of health issues, and I knew that adding cans of soup to my food was not a good way to manage them. I also discovered that Alton Brown, my favoritest food chef ever, had a recipe for gumbo too. So I decided to take mine and combine it with his and see what we got. So here is my revised and renewed gumbo recipe.


1/2 cup, aka 4 oz flour (preferably by weight)
1/2 cup oil
10-12 crayfish, whole (optional)
1 lb raw, head and shell on shrimp
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
4-8 Louisiana hot links, sliced into rounds
1 whole chicken, cut up into parts
1-2 crabs, washed and cut up into quarters, legs removed and set aside
1 package chicken gizzards (no hearts)
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon file powder (if you made a brick roux)
1 pot of cooked rice

Put the flour and oil into a large, oven safe pot and whisk it together. Place the whole pot into the oven at 350 degrees for an hour, or until the roux has cooked to a dark brown or brick color (peanut butter color is fine too).

While the roux is cooking, take the heads off the crayfish (if using) and the shrimp. Take the shells off the shrimp too, putting the heads and shells into a small pot. Put the shrimp meat and crayfish bodies aside. Cover the heads and shells with water and bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour.

Prep the vegetables. Set aside. Do the same with the hot links and chicken, as well as the crab (gizzards too, if they need to be cut apart).

Once the roux is done, pull it out of the oven and put it on the stove. Add the spices. Add the vegetables and cook them, stirring, for about seven to eight minutes.

Strain the shrimp stock you just made from the heads and shells. Discard the heads and shells and pour what's left into the pot as you whisk. Add the hot links and chicken, as well as the crab and gizzards. Turn the heat up to a boil, then down to medium for 1 hour, or until the liquid reduces and the meat falls off the bone. Add the shrimp and crayfish. Stir in the file, if using.Turn off the heat and let the gumbo sit for at least ten minutes.

 Serve with a pot of rice.