Thursday, February 16, 2012

Play on Poisson Cru

I so badly wish I had an exotic story about my trip to Tahiti that inspired this dish, but I sadly don't. I've never been to Tahiti, and actually have an uneventful story of how this dish was born. I'll try to fluff it up for you.  A couple of weekends back, I had the Food Network on as background noise while I was scooting around cleaning. Giada DeLaurentiis came on, which did excite me, but was not suppose to disturb my cleaning spree. I soon I found myself drawn to the T.V., parked on the couch and rewinding segment after segment. It was a show about her visit to Bora Bora. It was gorgeous but there was something about Giada. Then I realized what was really pulling me in, Giada had an amazing happy glow and beaming smile to her. I watch her often, she always seems happy, but in Tahiti, she became electric. I'm sure it was an amazing trip, but I like to tell myself that I understand something special about Giada, a complete stranger to me. I have heard down the pipeline that Giada studied Anthropology at UCLA, which has a cunning similarity to a certain Bleu Goose you may know (ehem). This in mind, I believe that every pupil of the study of Anthropology has a certain intrinsic need to be immersed in different cultures, thriving on discovering how other people live and eat in their environs. I get this. I have that same intrinsic need and when it is fulfilled, I to become electric. That being said, the Poisson Cru made several appearances in Giada's Bora Bora trip. In the show, the traditional Poisson Cru (which means raw fish in french) consisted of cubes of the catch of the day, raw Ahi, fresh lime or lemon juice, tomatoes, green onion, cucumber and shredded carrot immersed in coconut juice. The dish I made is quite different but turned out to be Todd's all time favorite dish I have ever made him. For me, that is the biggest success I have had in the kitchen to date! At the time I made this, did not want to drive to Whole Foods for sushi grade fish, so I used a Mahi Mahi which I encrusted in macadamia nut and panko, it just sounded good to me. I had some organic, farm fresh leek on hand, so I used leek instead of green onion, threw in some mandarin oranges that I thought would add some sweetness and some avocado, just because I love it. This dish was a bevy of textures, flavors and was so incredibly light and refreshing, it was also ridiculously easy to make.

If Poisson Cru had a Cousin...
2 Mahi Mahi filets
1 1/2 cup of macadamia nuts - finely chopped or pulsed in the food processor
1/2 cup of panko
3 limes
1 egg, raw
1 cup of shredded carrot
1 cup of shredded broccoli
1 cucumber, chopped
1 leek, chopped
1 can of mandarin oranges
1 avocado, chopped
1 can of light or regular coconut milk
5 mini heirloom tomatoes, quartered
 salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large dish or bowl combine carrots, broccoli greens, cucumber, leek, coconut milk, lime juice of two limes and salt and pepper. Chill for at least 30 minutes. In a shallow dish combine macadamia nuts and panko. Salt and pepper if desired. Squeeze lime juice of one lime over Mahi Mahi, dip in egg, press into breading mix and thoroughly coat the fish. Place in a lightly greased pan and bake for 10 - 15 minutes, until golden brown. Set aside to cool. Add mandarin oranges, avocado and tomatoes, into the chilled bowl, lightly mix. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the fish on the side or right on top and enjoy! Extra bonus: Todd loved this with a little sriracha on it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

February is for Fluttering Hearts

Happy Valentine's Day!
This day always fascinates me.
 I'll start with a little history: I am truly blessed to come from a home full of love. Two parents, they met on a blind date when they were sixteen. My dad, actually proposed to my mom on their first, blind date, she of course thought that he was crazy but that didn't scare her off. Six years later, it turned out that they were both wildly crazy, crazy about each other. My dad proposed marriage to my mother, then was drafted (as I proudly mention) as a conscientious objector in the Vietnam War. My mom was here, in California, feverishly planning the wedding of her dreams and I'm sure, fighting grim fact that my father could have very likely never returned to her. A year of thousands of miles of separation, letters that seemed to take decades to arrive and the scarce phone call that was a third party call with the army, my parents had no easy form of communication. A year of tortured hearts, these were the times saturated in romance. Love is never easy, but for them, their romance was bare bones, no modern day luxuries to help them out, no Skype, no text, no email, just a good old fashion strong beat of the heart. My dad returned to California after a year in Vietnam, of course forever changed, but something has always told me he left the negative in Vietnam. I've never heard him talk about the horror he must have witnessed, only the beauty, the kindness of the people, the joy helping Vietnamese orphaned children and the beauty of the land. With this, he returned home, to my mothers love, and three days later, stood at the alter, at the wedding my mother planned. They have been married for 42 years, they created a strong, loving, happy family that has overcome hurdles of life and shared a blessed amount of the joys in life. They are the epitome of love, partnership and romance, I still to this day catch them secretly slow dancing in the kitchen and stealing flirtatious glances of one and other. This kind of love has been a blessing to watch. It's taught me so much, so much of what a real commitment to someone really means and what it takes to have a deep love with longevity, such a rare thing in the world today. Due to this love, Valentine's Day growing up, was always heavily celebrated. My parents made it a point to make it a family affair, getting us heartfelt cards and meaningful gifts and always having a family dinner together. It was our time to celebrate what made our bond so strong, our love that was derived from my parents amazing bond. This was all wonderful, until I became a young woman. Single for many, many years of my young adulthood, and the definitive hopeless romantic, what I saw from my parents became such an unobtainable thing in my mind. Dating loser after loser, sprinkled with the few good guys (just not good for me, guys) I became what every woman fears: the bitter Betsy. After Valentine's Day failures, or more appropriately, catastrophes, I grew to loathe the day and feel that what my parents had was so rare; I could never find it myself. I lived for the phone call with my parents on Valentine's Day and the sweet gestures of occasional flowers sent by family, for that is all I had for many, many Valentine's days. (This leads me to share, one of my all time favorite things to do, ask a woman, any woman, to recount their worst Valentine's Day. I guarantee, every woman has at least one terrible, horrific story, I for one have many that serve as wonderful entertainment now). Then are the years when you just give up. “Who needs a man? There are no good ones left. I’m a capable woman, I can go at life alone and be happy,” so was my inner dialogue for so many years. Honestly, some of the best Valentine's days, those were the nights spent with dear friends, most likely, single friends and most likely, lots and lots of hard alcohol. In this stage, it seems as though the world is against you, single person. Everyone around you in a relationship is disgustingly cheesy and overt about how much they are loved and how lucky they are. And there you are, with your scotch, you are a good person just clearly unlovable – though it feels society is saying to you on this day. It sucks, I wont lie, but we are all that single person at least one (some many more than one) Valentine’s Day.
So here I am, full circle, from hopeless romantic, the fun flirty happy single girl, the heartbroken single girl, the girl laughing hysterically -having cocktails with her girlfriends, the girl who feels she will be alone forever, the girl who really thinks life would be better as a lesbian (that’s how much she hates men), the strong heartbreak survivor and now, I just so happen to be the madly in love, elated girl. Back to my childhood happiness on Valentine's Day and just starting to really understand and really see that deep love that my parents have. I think it’s important on a day about love, to not only celebrate your love but embrace what brought you the love you have in your life, all forms of love and respect all people who are on their journey to finding love, whatever stage they may be in. I will try on this day not to be grotesque about my happiness, but to share it tastefully and to keep near and dear in my heart all of my life stages. For it is all of our experiences, that lead us to our destiny.
So, on that extremely personal and mushy note, I’ll switch over to the fun stuff. This year, Todd and I decided to celebrate low key. Both of us hate Valentine's Day, prix fixe menus, my experience is that the food is always twice the cost and half the flavor. Both of us, love the idea of celebrating our love, but steering away from the cheesy or the tacky that it seems America falls victim to on this day. We will be enjoying a casual, delicious meal together, some Schramsberg champagne and some tasty desserts. On a humorous note, we sent out the above silly little Valentine's Day cards to our loved ones, silly is perfect because we are definitely silly people. I saw the idea on Pinterest and got the template off of the internet (my attempt to give due credit). I wish everyone, a wonderful holiday filled with love, laughter and smiles.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wild, Alaskan Sockeye Salmon with Nutricilicious "Mock" Romesco Sauce

I'll be honest with you; I've been a little leery of posting lately. As typical as can be, my New Year resolution is to really vamp up my health routine. The first two weeks of January, I spent very carefully monitoring every meal, as I got more comfortable and aware of my healthy, soon-to-be lifestyle habits; I have also grown more daring in the kitchen. Don't get me wrong, I'll still venture down to fattyville sparsely, but I'm saving those culinary journeys for special occasions and times when I can widely disperse calories i.e. share with friends. In this effort, I have proudly stuck to extremely healthy diet for the past month, one that heavily consists of veggies and fish, lots and lots of fish.

Some would call me a “pescasnob,” a title I'm honest enough to embrace. Over the years, I have grown extremely choosy about the fish I eat; perhaps I'd credit my college Marine Biology field study of a fish farm in San Diego as the precursor of my “pescasnobbery.” I try to stay on top of fish seasons around the world and really honestly avoid anything farmed unless I'm being a polite dinner guest. My happiest purchase is a fresh, never frozen, wild fillet, although it’s luxury. As fate would have it, Todd, is the definitive Pacific North westerner - I wouldn't be surprised if he has eaten salmon that he caught with his bare hands out of a creek. I was pretty shocked when we first started dating that my fishie ways didn’t even seem to faze him, as most people inquire quite a bit about my preferences. As you should now expect, today’s recipe includes a gorgeous fillet of wild Alaskan sockeye salmon, sadly frozen because it’s not in season but it was still pretty good. Buying fish can become a daunting task; there is key jargon that can really help one narrow down what the catch of the day on your dinner table should be. Generally, I veer away from farmed fish, one because when I visited the fishery there were hundreds of thousands of large fish cramped in too small of quarters, visibly swimming in their own waste, yes, waste is ladylike talk for poop. That turned me off quite a bit but if I tuck that mental image branded in my memory away (the very tactic I must employ to get anything McDonald's down) I still have another hurdle that is quite hard to clear. When fish is farmed, I have no way of knowing the environ in which it is raised but also any additives, colors, preservatives, antibiotics, genetic modification, use of growth hormones and the such. These questions and standards should also apply to any and all meats. I will state that I know Whole Foods does have an extremely high standard with their farmed fish; it is free of the nasty stuff I mentioned above and is sustainably farmed, as always, there are exceptions. I will also state that I believe that the nutritional value of eating farmed fish may perhaps outweigh the negative aspects and it is much much more affordable choosing farmed, but my personal goal is to stick with the all natural, wild, sustainable fish. Some key words that might help guide you through the process of purchasing fish:

Wild: Caught in nature. Be aware that scientists believe that around 2050 wild caught will not be available in stores due to over fishing (see sustainable).  
Farmed: The fish was raised in a commercial facility
Sustainable: the method to obtain the This means that we seek fisheries that keep fish populations abundant, rather allowing overfishing to occur. It also means that in the process of fishing or farming, impacts on the ecosystem are minimizedfish is environmentally responsible, this takes into account the impact on the ecosystem, and the population of the type of fish is abundant enough to not be depleted or over fished. Farmed fish can also be farmed sustainably, it doesn’t necessarily mean wild.
 Fresh: Never frozen, fresh off the boat. Yet, be cautious, a fresh fish can sit in a store for up to nine days, never buy dry, discolored, milky looking or smelly fish.  
Previously Frozen: This is pretty clear, but its defrosted fish. This is necessary for fish out of season and from geographically far locations. Some fish we frankly will never get to eat fresh.
Best general tips: Know your fish species, know the seasons, and keep in mind your geography and what naturally inhabits in your nearest body of water. Do a little research and find out what are the sustainable species for your geography. Also, look into available apps to help you with your fish choices, yes, there are apps for this too!

So, you’ve researched, you’ve learned, you have the perfect fillet sitting beautifully on a plate in your kitchen, what to do from there? Here is a little simple recipe that Todd and I made to jazz up a wild Alaskan Sockeye salmon dinner. To note, Alaskan salmon is sustainable for California and this was previously frozen, it’s a little early for the season. We made a "mock" romesco sauce, which was perfectly pink to match the natural pink of our wild salmon. I say "mock" because I definitely went way off the traditional Spanish recipe in order to make this as healthy as possible. This was light and flavorful, nor could I feel it sticking to my ribs during my run (major plus). I will be adding this to my usual rotation of fish recipes.

Salmon with “Mock” Romesco Sauce
2 fillets of salmon of your choice (we splurged and had 6 oz verses the standard serving size of fish, 3 oz.)
1 large tomato
1 red bell pepper, stem and innards removed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/8 of a cup of sunflower seeds

1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
Salt to taste
In a preheated oven at 425 degrees, place tomato, bell pepper and garlic in a baking pan for 20 minutes. Remove, cool. Take the tomato, bell pepper and garlic and puree in a food processor, add sunflower seeds, bread, vinegar- pulse until well blended and still thick. Salt to taste, it will need salt. Spread sauce on top of the salmon, place in a baking dish and cook at 425 degrees for 7-10 minutes, sauce side up, skin down. Enjoy!