Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lucky Foods For The New Year

New Years is a time to ring out the old and ring in the new. It's a time to forget the past and make a clean start. It's a time for resolutions! Instead of depending on fate to increase your good fortune why not enjoy a meal to give you some good luck!
There are a variety of different foods you can eat on NYE & New Years Day to improve the odds that next year will be a good one. Of course this varies from culture to culture.
Here are the six major categories of auspicious foods.
GrapesNew Years revelers in Spain consume 12 grapes at midnight - one grape for each stroke of the clock. This dates back to 1909. Each grape represents each month, so for instance if the 3rd grape is a bit sour then March might be a rocky month. For most the goal is to swallow all the grapes at the last stroke of midnight, but Peruvians insist on 13 grapes. 1 for good measure.
Cooked Greens
Cabbage, collards, kale, and chard are consumed at New Year in different countries. Their greens look like folded money and are symbolic of economic fortune. The Danish eat stewed kale sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, the Germans eat sauerkraut (cabbage), while in the Southern US, collard greens are the greens of choice. It's believed the more greens one eats the larger one's fortune next year.
Legumes, including beans, peas and lentils are also symbolic of money. Their small, seed like appearance resembles coins that swell when cooked so they are consumed with financial rewards in mind. In Italy, it's customary to eat sausages and green lentils, just after midnight - pork has its own lucky associations! Germans also eat pork and legumes, usually lentil or split pea soup with sausage.
In Brazil, the first meal of the New Year is usually lentil soup. In the US its traditional to eat black-eyed peas or cow peas in a dish called hoppin john. This all traces back to the legend that during the Civil War, the town of Vicksburg, Mississippi, ran out of food while under attack. The residents fortunately discovered black-eyed peas and the legume was thereafter considered lucky.
Pass the bean's please.
Pigs symbolize progress. The animal pushes forward, rooting itself in the ground before moving. Roast pig is served for New Year's in Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, and Austria - Austrians are also known to decorate the table with miniature pigs made of marzipan. Pork is also consumed in Italy and the US, where thanks to its rich fat content, it signifies wealth and prosperity.
FishCod has been a popular feast food since the Middle Ages. Long before refrigeration and modern transportation, cod could be preserved and transported allowing it to reach the Mediterranean and even as far as North Africa and the Caribbean. The Danish eat boiled cod and Italy eats baccala, or dried salt cod. Herring is consumed at midnight in Poland and Germany. Germans also enjoy carp and have been known to place a few fish scales in their wallets for good luck. In Japan, herring roe is consumed for fertility, shrimp for long life, and dried sardines for good harvest.
Cakes and baked goods are always served from Christmas to New Year's around the world, with a special emphasis placed on round items. Italy has chiacchiere, which are honey drenched balls of pasta dough fried and dusted with powdered sugar. Mexico's rosca de reyes is a ring-shaped cake decorated with candied fruit and baked with one or more surprises inside. In Greece, a special round cake called vasilopita is baked with a coin hidden inside.
Cakes aren't always round. In Scotland, there is a tradition called "first footing" in which the first person to enter into a home after the new year determines what kind of year the residents will have. The "first footer" often brings symbolic gifts like coal to keep the house warm or baked goods such as shortbread, oats cakes, and a fruit cake called black bun, to make sure the household always has food.
Just like there are lucky foods for the New Year there are also some unlucky foods to avoid.
Lobster - they move backwards therefore can lead to setbacks
Chicken - the bird scratches backwards, which could cause regret of dwelling on the past. Another theory warns against eating any winged fowl because good luck could fly away.
In Germany, it's customary to leave a little bit of each food on your plate past midnight to guarantee a stocked pantry in the New Year. Same with the Philippines.

So I hope this New Year Eve your grapes are very sweet, your greens are full and bring you good fortune, your black-eyed peas bring you lots of luck, your pork chop keeps you moving forward, your shrimps are large and succulent for a long life, and your "first footer" brings you lots of yummy cakes so your pantries will be full all year in 2011!
Whether you are superstitious or not just enjoy your New Year's celebration what ever it may be. Eat what you want, as much of it you want, and when you want. After all, I will see you at the gym New Years day. Or really January 2, 2011 once the hangover wears off.
Have a Happy New Year and thank you for the support in 2010. 2011 is looking very promising & tasty.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Another Kung Pao Christmas

I absolutely love this time of year. We all get to surround ourselves by those we love the most. Everyone must eat, but the meaning of what, when, how and with whom we eat with are all cultural inventions. In America, the food of ones ethnic group symbolizes tradition and community. Hanukkah came and went to early this year, but I don't mind! In fact I like when Hanukkah does not fall on Christmas. I can not see myself eating Latkes (potato pancakes) on Christmas.
I am Jewish and I celebrate Christmas. I get just as excited about it as anyone else. Like most who celebrate Christmas I surround myself with those I love the most, but my choice of food is Chinese Food. I have to have it either on Christmas Eve or Christmas. I am not sure how this Jewish tradition started but I think it has to do with Chinese food restaurants being just about the only restaurants open on Christmas. Its a tradition I love and cherish and Christmas would not be the same to me with out it. Of course we always end the evening with a Golden Globe nominated movie.
This Christmas Eve I went with some very close family friends of mine who are Jewish as well to eat Chinese Food and see a movie. Normally we would have ventured to the trendy China Max. One of my favorite Chinese Food places. We would of ran into others from "the tribe" and enjoyed our meal but this year I wanted to try someplace different. I wanted a Kung Pao Christmas Adventure.
Some good friends of mine who are foodies and have amazing palates had suggested to me to try Spicy City. It is located in the same shopping center as China Max which was a perfect plan, in case the Spicy menu scared us away. So I took their suggestion and we went. Spicy City was slammed. Every table was filled with families and this place is authentic. There was not another Jew in the place as they for sure were all at China Max. We put our name on the pad of paper and there were 6 ahead of us. We waited 45 minutes and during that time the paper filled up with others waiting behind us for a table. 2 sheets were full of names. I knew Spicy City had to be good. We are all so excited to eat and had the dishes we wanted to order picked out by the time we sat down.
Now just about everything on the menu is spicy. After all Spicy City is the name of the restaurant. On the menu they have 1, 2 or 3 chili's listed next to the name of each menu item to distinguish how spicy the menu item is. There are very few without chili's, but don't worry we found a few. None of us are too crazy about really spicy food and we wanted to be able to eat the food and taste the flavors so we told our waitress we don't want anything to spicy. It was almost as if our waitress new what to expect from us. Most of us from "the tribe" cant handle all that spice but a rare few can. I admire you.
Many of the menu items we picked were suggested to us by my friends and thank god for them. Great suggestions!
We order the Green Beans. I don't know what kind of spice they were mixed with but they were amazing! It was like a sweet browned garlic & soy sauce. Not spicy at all and so flavorful. A favorite for sure. They were cooked to a perfect crisp.The Kung Pao Chicken was so good. It had the perfect amount of spice and the flavors were amazing. Like no other Kung Pao Chicken I have ever had before. None of us dared to eat those spicy red peppers but that didn't effect the dish at all! YUM!Eggplant with Garlic Sauce was my personal favorite. I love Chinese eggplant and this dish was sweet and delicious. Not too spicy at all. I loved it!
The Beef Chow Mein was delightful. So good!
The last dish is the Special Fried Shrimp. The perfect amount of breading and the shrimp cooked to perfection. It was the best fried Shrimp I ever had, but it lacked flavor. It would of been nice with a dipping sauce or something to go with it. After all the flavors we tasted from the other dishes this was bland and mediocre.If you love spicy food this is the spot for you. I was so happy to know that those who don't love spicy food can still partake in amazing Chinese food and Spicy City will make it how you like. No attitude here at all. Spicy City is my new favorite. Goodbye China Max.
After dinner we went to see the movie True Grit. It was a perfect Christmas Eve. Amazing Chinese food followed by an amazing movie with amazing people. I hope you too have a Merry Kung Pao Christmas. Celebrate how you like with those you love the most. That's what this time of year is all about.
Now off to celebrate Christmas Day with my second Family. They are Italian and are serving homemade pasta & lasagna at 2:00 pm. I LOVE Christmas!
Spicy City
4690 convoy street ste 107 san diego ca. 92111

Friday, December 17, 2010

You Gonna Eat Your Tots?

Chef Rich Sweeney recently took over the space in Hillcrest that was formally known as Busalacchi's on Fifth. Sweeney was the former Executive Chef at Confidential downtown and was a contestant on Bravo's Season 5 of Top Chef.
At R-Gang Eatery Chef Sweeney proves that Retro-American food can be gourmet with out being snooty. Most of the classic dishes on the menu are twisted around and refueled, which left me saying "yuuuuuuuuum" and left me feeling the way comfort food makes you feel. Damn good!
We started with the House Made Tater Tots. I can't remember the last time I ate Tots, but I know never had Tots like this before. We got the Traditional Tots - Cheddar and Chive Tots served with Chipotle Ranch. They were so good. The outside was crispy and in the inside oozed cheese and chives.
Also on the menu are Philly Tots - Stuffed with Grilled Steak, Sauteed Peppers, Caramelized Onions and served with a Cheese Wiz Sauce. I heard from Chef Sweeney himself that White Trash Tots might be back on the menu soon - Stuffed with Spam & Velveeta and served with Ketchayo (ketchup & mayo). As if plain Tots aren't trashy enough? Gotta love it! Also he mentioned a Top Secret Tot that he will be featuring on his New Year Eve menu. I can only imagine what that would be.
For the main course we shared a vegetarian dish Quinoa Stuffed Pepper - Roasted Bell Pepper stuffed with Southwestern Quinoa and served with a Marinated Grilled Vegetable Skewer and Garlic-Thyme Balsamic Reduction. I loved this dish. Quinoa is my new favorite grain so I love seeing it used in different ways. The veggies that were stuck on the rosemary sprig skewer included brussel sprouts, mushrooms, zucchini, and onions. It was delicious!
We also shared The Not-So-Short Short Rib. This is absolutely no lie. I had no idea how big a bone could be and it was at least as big as my forearm. After all size is everything right? (Sorry, I had to throw that in.)
This meat-falling-off-the-bone slow braised bone-in beef short rib is served with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Honey Glazed Carrots, Goat Cheese Demi-Glace and Fried Onion Strings.
The only complaint about this dish is the carrots could of been a little more cooked. To much bite for my liking. But who needs carrots when you have a bone that size on a plate in front of you?
To wash it all down, or more like stuff us all up, we had to try the Smoked Gouda Mac n Cheese with Toasted Butter Cracker Crumb Topping. I thought this mac n cheese was good. We ate the whole thing but I am sucker when it comes to mac n cheese. Really anything with pasta. Was it my favorite and the best I ever had? Probably not, but I had to try to see. I will continue my search for the best.
As if I wasn't full enough we ordered dessert. It was some sundae with chocolate covered bacon. Not my first choice but I tried it. I wont be trying it again. I like my meat left out of my dessert thank you. The people next to me had the S'mores Casserole and it looked great. That is what I will get next time. I love s'mores & casseroles! What a combo!
R-Gangs food shouts FUN and that is exactly what you get. The restaurant is casual and inviting. The staff was extremely friendly and seemed really excited about every dish on the menu. Rightly so as some are really off the wall. You can check out the full menu here. Overall expect a good meal and a good time.
I would go back to check out their brunch. I hear they have bottomless Mimosas!!! How FUN will that be?!?!
Food & Fun, Refueled
R-Gang Eatery
3683 5th avenue san diego ca. 92103

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Holiday Cookie Monster

The Holiday's are here and if this isn't the time of year for baking cookies then I don't know what is.
I think anyone who loves food and sweets gains the holiday 5 pound muffin top this time of year...some of you maybe more some of you maybe less? I am carefully trying to not let mine get to out of control, but hey its the one time of year where we get to indulge so why not do it right and enjoy it. The new year is coming and there is plenty of time to work it off before bikini season. So make sure you enjoy this time of year and eat, drink, be merry & bake cookies. Lots of them.
If you are looking for some amazing holiday cookie recipes then look no more. Here are some from my favorite blogs that I follow.
Sparkling Ginger Snap Cookies

These tiny bit size cookies by 101 Cookbooks are made with 2 kinds of ginger and shaved chocolate. Also you can mix them by hand so no need to dirty your mixer. You can read more about them and find the recipe here.
Swedish Rye Cookies

These not-to-sweet shortbread cookies are powder-kissed with confectioners sugar and made with a blend of rye and whole wheat pastry flour. (which can be substituted for unbleached all-purpose flour if you prefer). The secret ingredient is a butter / cream cheese combination for the dough rather then just butter. Her inspiration for that was the love of toasted rye bread with cream cheese. Not a bad combo. Another one by 101 Cookbooks. You can read more here.
Ice Cream Cones & Santa Sugar Cookies

These cookies from Bakerella are so cute I had to share them with you. If you bake then I am sure you have made sugar cookies before. She used a chocolate sugar cook recipe from the book Cookie Craft but you can probably just look one up on-line. To see how to decorate them and learn more click here.

She even included a PDF that you can download and use a template for those who of us who art not artistic.
All you need is one cookie cutter in the shape of an ice cream cone.

Flip it over and its a Santa. Love!

Pistachio Meringues

I wish I had a box of these meringues by Chocolate Shavings right now. To see the recipe click here.
Also found on Chocolate Shavings is this next recipe adapted by Giada De Laurentiis.
Ricotta Lemon Cookies with Lemon Glaze

The ricotta keeps the cookies moist, them lemon give them a a little sour punch and the sweetness of the glaze is the perfect combination for me. They are on the top of my list to make this holiday season.
Click here to see the whole recipe.
Coconut Chocolate Bars

I don't think I fulfilled & satisfied all the chocolate lovers so I had to add one more.
These bars also by Chocolate Shavings look to die for. Who doesn't like toasted coconut and chocolate. Another amazing combination. You can see the recipe here on Chocolate Shavings.

Embrace the Holiday Cookie Monster in you. I know I am.
Happy Holiday's

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Creamy Roasted Garlic & Red Pepper Hummus

Once you make this homemade hummus you will never purchase store bought hummus again. It's light and creamy and last about 1 week after making it. Hummus seems to be my favorite snack right now and this vegetarian appetizer is made for garlic lovers. You can use less garlic if you prefer so don't fear the full head of roasted garlic it calls for. Also the base of the recipe is yours to do what ever you want with. You can substitute the red peppers for roasted poblano peppers with cilantro, roasted eggplant, or you can keep it simple not add any veggies at all. It's fantastic for just plain hummus. If you do decide to make plain hummus make sure to include garlic. About 6 cloves and no need to roast them.
This recipe makes 4 cups so feel free to cut this recipe in half.
3/4 cup water from the canned chickpeas
1/2 cup tahini (sesame-seep paste)
1 whole head of roasted garlic
4 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice (1 lemon)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
kosher salt (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 (19 ounce) cans unsalted chickpeas (garbanzo beans) rinsed & drained. Reserve the water.
2 red peppers
Preheat over to 400 degrees
Cut the top of the garlic clove off so all the cloves are exposed. Drizzle with a little olive oil and salt and pepper and wrap in foil.
de-seed red peppers and cut in to large chunks brush with olive oil and put on a baking sheet lined with foil with the garlic and roast the peppers for about 30 minutes. Just so the edges turn black and peel starts to blister. Leave the garlic in for about 45 minutes.
When done take out and let cool. Once red peppers have cooled peel the outside skin off. Squeeze out the garlic cloves from the head of garlic.
Place water, tahini and garlic in food processor; process until smooth. Add juice and remaining ingredients except the peppers. Once blended until smooth check the consistency. You might need to add a little more water at this point to get the right consistency. Also add about 1/2 tablespoon of salt. Blend and taste. You might have to keep adding pinches of salt until you get the flavor you are looking for. Once you have the flavor and saltiness you want add the peppers and blend until smooth and creamy. Taste one more time to make sure the seasonings are good. Serve with pita chips!
Enjoy your homemade hummus!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

Almost one year later after my culinary frenzy in San Fransisco I attempted a recipe that I discovered one night out with my cousin at Zuni Cafe. As soon as we sat down at our table and ordered a bottle of wine my cousin put in our order for the Zuni Roast Chicken. It takes 1 hour to make so you have to order it as soon as you get there.
On our way out I saw the Zuni Cafe Cookbook for sale at the bar. I swear it had a glow around it. As I thumbed through it looking for only one recipe, The Zuni Roast Chicken, I found it. That is when I decided this cook book had to be mine.
With my cousin being in town from San Fransisco for this past Thanksgiving I decided to bring Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad from San Fran to So Cal. It came out exactly like Zuni Cafe and all I kept thinking was why did I wait one year to make it. Probably because the recipe in the book is 5 pages long. But don't let that discourage you from making it. Its mostly filled with helpful tips which will perfect this recipe which has minimal ingredients that you might have stored in your pantry. I will try to take the most important parts of the recipe & method for you and simplify it as much as possible but the more you read the recipe the better luck you will have with it.
The bread salad is amazing but optional as the chicken is so versatile and appealing you will want to serve it often accompanied by your favorite side dishes. The first time you make it you have to make the warm bread salad. It's quite decadent and rich and that is the only side dish you will need. Well that and a good bottle of Pinot Noir to wash it down of course.
The Zuni Roast Chicken depends on 3 things, beginning with the size of the bird. I couldn't find birds smaller then 4 pounds and those seem to work great but the smaller you can find the better. I suggest calling your butcher ahead of time to see who has the smallest pasteurized birds.
The second requirement of the method is the high heat used to roast the chicken. Using 2-3/4 to 3-1/2 pound bird will flourish at high heat, roasting fast and evenly, with lots of skin per ounce of meat they are virtually designed to stay succulent. Make sure you get a whole fryer.
The third requirement is salting the bird at least 24 hours in advance but I salted ours 3 days ahead. This improves flavor, keeps it moist and makes it tender. No trussing is necessary as you want the skin to blister and color and no extra fat is needed on the chicken. The skin of the chicken has enough.
The chicken is the method and the bread salad is the more about the recipe. Its a scrappy extramural stuffing, it is a warm mix of crispy, tender, and chewy chunks of bread, a little silvered garlic & scallion, a scatter of currants and toasted pine nuts, and a handful of greens, all moistened with vinaigrette and chicken drippings. That's right...CHICKEN DRIPPINGS!
You have to get chewy peasant-style bread with lots of big and little holes in the crumb. I went to Bread & Cie and bought Ciabatta bread. It was perfect!
You use a half loaf per chicken. Stay clear of sour dough bread as it is way to rich for this recipe.
For 2 to 4 servings
For the Chicken:
One small chicken, 3-3/4 to 3-1/2 pounds
4 tender sprigs of one of the following: fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary, or sage, about 1/2 inch long (I used thyme)
Kosher Salt
about 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
For the Salad: Generous 9 ounces slightly stale open-crumbed, chewy, peasant-style bread
suggestion-ciabatta (not sour dough)
6-8 tablespoons mild-tasting olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
Salt & freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon dried currants
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar or as needed
1 tablespoon warm water
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2-3 garlic cloves, slivered thin
1/4 cup slivered scallions (about 4 scallions) include a little of the green part
2 tablespoons lightly salted chicken stock or lightly salted water
A few handfuls of arugula, frisee, or red mustard greens, washed & dried
Seasoning the chicken: (1 t0 3 days before serving: for 3-1/4 pound chickens at least 2 days)
Removed & discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside & out to avoid the chicken steaming.
Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets and use your finger to loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using a finger, shove an herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.
Season the chicken liberally all over with salt & pepper (3/4 teaspoon salt per pound of chicken) Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity, on the backbone. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.
Starting the bread salad (up to several hours in advance)
Preheat the broiler
Cut the bread into a couple of large chunks. Carve off all the bottom crust and most of the top and side crust. Brush the bread all over with olive oil. Broil very briefly and crisp and lightly color the surface. Turning once. Trim off any badly charred tips. Cut into bit size wads (2-to-3-inch), you should get about 4 cups.
Combine 1/4 cup of olive oil with Champagne vinegar and salt & pepper to taste. Toss about 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette with the bread chunks in a wide salad bowl. The bread will be unevenly dressed. Taste one of the more saturated pieces. If it is bland add a little salt and pepper and toss again.Place the currants in a small bowl and moisten with the red wine vinegar & warm water. Set aside.
Toast the pine nuts in a skillet on the stove. Set aside.
Roasting the chicken and assembling the salad:

Preheat over to 475 degrees. (depending on your oven you may have to adjust the heat to as high as 500 degrees or to as low as 450 degrees) If you have a convection function on your oven, use it for the first 30 minutes; it will enhance the browning, may reduce overall cooking time by 5 to 10 minutes.
Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger then the chicken, or a 10-inch skillet with a metal handle. Preheat roasting pan in the oven or skillet on the stove. Wipe the chicken dry to prevent sticking and set breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.
Place in the center of the oven and it should sizzle and brown within 20 minutes. If it doesn't raise the temperature until it does. The skin should blister. If the chickens begins to char or fat is smoking, reduce the temperature by 25 degrees. After 30 minutes turn the bird over. Roast for another 10-20 minutes, depending on the size, then flip back over to re crisp the breast skin, another 5-10 minutes. Total oven time will be 45 minutes to an hour.
Place a spoonful of the olive oil in a small skillet, add the garlic and scallions, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until softened. Don't let them color.
Scrape into the bread and fold to combine. Drain the plumped currants and fold in with the pine nuts. Dribble the chicken stock or lightly salted water over the salad and fold again. Taste a few pieces of the bread. If its bland, add salt, pepper and or a few drops of vinegar and toss well.
Pile the bread salad in a 1-quart baking dish and tent with foil leaving the sides open; set the salad bowl aside. Place the salad in the oven after you remove the chicken from the oven.
Finishing and serving the chicken & bread salad:
Remove the chicken from the oven and put the bread salad in for 15 minutes. Let the chicken cool a bit before serving it. This will make the meat more tender and succulent. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set aside on a plate. Carefully poor the clear fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add the drippings to a saute pan with about a tablespoon of water and place over medium-low heat. Make sure to scrape all the brown bits a stir them to make them soft.
Remove the bread salad and add it to a salad bowl. (It will be steamy-hot, a mixture of soft, moist wads, crispy on the outside but moist in the middle wads, and a few downright crispy ones) Drizzle and toss with a spoonful of the pan juices and add the greens and a drizzle of the vinaigrette and fold well. Taste again.Cut the chicken into pieces, spread the bread salad on the warm platter and nestle the chicken in the salad...and serve.I know you will enjoy every bite and DO NOT wait 1 year to make this recipe. It's to good to do so.