Showing posts with label scallops. Show all posts
Showing posts with label scallops. Show all posts

Eat Drink Style A Dinner for My Uncle - Braised Lamb Shanks, Black Cod with Mushroom Dashi, Poached Octopus and Seared Scallops

A Dinner for My Uncle

It was 1983 and I had just woken up from a long nap on the plane. My mom quickly tapped on my shoulder and pointed out the tiny window. I was groggy and disoriented from my first airplane flight (Pan Am!) – but my eyes grew wide open. To this day, I can vividly recall the yellow lights of Hong Kong's harbor and Kowloon City. I could see large junk ships sprinkled all over the green water and cars cruising the streets like fish swimming in a two-way stream. My mom was from Macau, now the Las Vegas of Asia, but had moved to Hong Kong to work. She then moved to the United States in the early 70s to pursue a more opportunistic life as many Asians did. She got married a few years later and had me and my sister. It was now eleven years since she had left her father and brothers and she was happy to come back to Hong Kong now with her own family.

For first time visitors to Asia, it is usually quite a disorienting, stimulating experience. Like life on fast-forward. We filed out of the airplane, picked up our luggage and proceeded through the long hallways towards the exit. As we got closer, I could hear indistinct chatter from people and cars honking. I was taken aback by how many people were waiting to pick up their friends and family. The lighting was a bit dim and casted behind the crowd. At my age and size, everyone seemed like a giant silhouette to me. It was daunting. But all of a sudden, my mom sped up ahead of me and my dad, who was holding my baby sister. We could see a man behind the rail waving vigorously with a huge smile on his face. This has to be the Uncle my mom had spoken about so often. "Kow-fu", as I would learn to call him, which means "mom's younger brother" in Cantonese Chinese. I didn't know him but I knew I liked him the second he picked me and my sister us up for a hug. It was 1983 and I was now in Hong Kong with my new family.

The details of the trip were blurry after the day at the airport. I can only be reminded of the activities we did through pictures. A lot of photos of us at restaurants with "lazy susans" on the tables. Photos of us on random park slides. Anonymous old people holding us. Anonymous people with terrible 1980s fashion holding us. But one thing we'll never forget is the feeling of love that my Uncle gave us and that constant smile that could only come from a good relationship between him and my mom.

In the next 27 years, we had visited and seen my Uncle at least 8-10 times. But this time, he was coming back to Los Angeles to visit my family. I had grown a lot since then and I am now married myself. He had met Jeni before but this time he would be stepping into our house. It was now my turn to make him feel the way I felt when I met him that day at the airport in Hong Kong. If I had to write about the impact of my "Kow-fu" on our life, it would be a long series. But what do you give someone who pretty much has everything, has seen a better part of the world and indeed lives a life rich in so many ways. And as I've learned and preached throughout my time writing this blog is the importance of food, friends and family. In almost everything we do, food does bring us together. As children, we all hated being force-fed by family. They weren't trying to make our lives difficult, they were just trying to provide sustenance and love.

With that, I decided to show my appreciation for my Uncle and Aunt visiting from Hong Kong with a home-cooked meal. With Nathan and Karen McCall's wonderful offerings, local farmers market and great wine from Jill Bernheimer's Domaine LA, I was able to prepare a California-ish menu.

Kowfu Dinner Scallops

Seared Diver Scallop with Piquillo Pepper Sauce & Spanish-style Green Beans
Recently, the scallops at McCall's have almost been as large as a hockey puck. The bigger ones are obviously meaty yet can be challenging to cook since you stand a better chance of undercooking it or "cracking" the scallop - a HUGE pet-peeve of mine. In that case, less is more theory comes in to play. If you don't think you can handle the large size scallop, get two smaller sized ones. If you haven't had piquillo peppers before, you may want to start using them over red bell peppers – they are so sweet and subtly smokey. You will usually find them jarred with olive oil and water. I recommend Bajamar, which McCall's and La Española (Harbor City) has. If not, Trader Jose will work just fine.

Diver or Dayboat Scallops
Roasted Piquillo Peppers
Wax beans
Whole Dried Peppers (I like Thai, spicier than Mexican and Italian)
Heavy whipping Cream
Chicken broth (optional)
Smoked paprika
Olive Oil

(1) Blanch the wax beans prior to cooking them in the pan, it'll make your life much easier. Bring the water to a rigorous boil, add two tablespoons of salt and a shot of olive oil. Add the beans and cook for about 3 minutes, strain the beans and shock them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Remove from water and dry with paper towels. These should have a nice crunch to them, but not a raw taste.

(2) In a blender, add about 3-4 pieces of the piquillo peppers, one clove of garlic and a little cream. Blend it and add cream and stock as needed for a nice consistency. Add sugar for some sweetness. Don't worry about it being too chunky. Upon service, you will heat the sauce up in a pan with some butter and smooth it out. Salt and pepper to your taste. If you want, you can blend it for another few minutes. Set the sauce in a pan on low heat as you'll be serving it right away over the scallop.

(3) In a skillet or iron pan, keep the heat on high. Make sure the scallops are COMPLETELY DRY before seasoning them with S&P. The more moisture your scallop has, the more difficult it is to get a nice caramelized "cap". The heat must be high but not to the point it is "cracking" your scallop open. You have to babysit scallops or they will lose control. They'll drop out of school, starting doing drugs and you'll never hear from them again. 3-4 minutes per side depending on the size of your scallop. Set aside.

(4) Sauté the beans on super high heat. They have already been cooked but you want that last kiss of heat from the skillet. Add olive oil, toss in the beans. Add garlic, dried chili peppers, smoked paprika and S&P to taste. When I cook this, it takes no more than 1 minute because my skillet is smoking hot. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the dish and serve. The sweetness of the scallop blends really well with the smokiness of the piquillo peppers and spiciness of the sautéed green beans.

A Dinner for My Uncle

Poached Polipolata Octopus with La Quercia Pancetta and Baby Potato & Celery Salad
This is inspired by one of my favorite Italian dishes in Los Angeles. Both Osteria Mozza and Osteria Mamma (ex-Chef of Osteria La Buca) offer a tasty, poached-octopus salad. The former cooks the octopus with the "fabled wine cork method" and finishes it off on the grill. The latter poaches the octopus in water and offers a lighter, delicate version of this famed Italian dish. I chose to follow the latter because I didn't have time to do a final char. And since an octopus lacks bones and sinews, there is no need to do excessive braising. The preparation of my 4 lb. octopus took no longer than 1 hour 15 mins. After all, you are not serving the whole octopus, only the tentacles.

Baby potatoes
La Quercia pancetta (any will do, even Nueske bacon)
Special occasion olive oil
Regular olive oil

(1) Wash the octopus, touch its eyeballs and say "sorry". You don't want to submerge the octopus in hot, boiling water because it will curl up really quickly and tighten all the tentacles. Instead, add the octopus to a pot and fill it with cold water. Add 2-3 tablespoons of salt. Bring the octopus to a boil (probably 10-12 minutes) and immediately cook on low heat. The key here is to check Mr. Octopus every 15 minutes. You do not want a mushy, overcooked octopus – it's gross. Cut a piece of the tentacle off and try a piece from the wider part of the tentacle. If it tastes soft yet still meaty, you're good to go. Cut off all the tentacles at the base and add them to an ice bath. Discard the head. Remove the tentacles once they are cold and pat them dry. Mix some olive oil with the tentacles in a bowl and keep it refrigerated. You are prepping them for sautéing or grilling.

(2) Boil the potatoes til they are in between hard and fork-tender. Shock them in ice. You will be cutting them into small pieces and want a somewhat nice bite to them - not mashed potatoes.

(3) If you are grilling the octopus tentacles, make sure they have a nice char on high heat. You want that nice grill taste. If you are sautéing, cut the tentacles up into 1/4" - 1/2" pieces. Sauté on high heat in a skillet with garlic and a little white wine if you'd like.

(4) Cook pancetta until they are slightly crispy. Pat them dry with a paper towel.

(5) Mix the tentacles, potatoes, celery, pancetta and chives in a bowl. Cough it up, and use the SPECIAL OCCASION olive oil since this will make or break the dish. You use cheap olive oil, it will taste like styrofoam. People will know you're cheap, delete you off Facebook and never speak to you again. S&P and lemon juice.

Kowfu Dinner Black Cod

Pan-Roasted Black Cod with Matsutake and Bun Shimeji Mushroom Dashi
The black cod at McCall's is intensely fresh and fatty. It is almost impossible to overcook this fish but the most desired part of this fish is a nice crisp skin. I've messed up on this in the past. If you overcook the skin it'll be blackened. If you undercook it, you'll get this soggy, scab-like texture which can be undesirable. In this dish, the moist fish is combined with the earthiness of Japanese mushrooms in a light dashi stock. Dashi is a key Japanese stock that is made with fish powder, bonito fish flakes, sea kelp (kombu), sake or mirin and salt. The result is a broth that can be sold as a soft drink. I've cooked this dish many times and my guests have always been happy. If you don't want to make your own broth, you can just buy a bottle of udon/somen/tsuyu sauce. From there, add shitake mushrooms, bonito flakes, soy sauce and sugar and just achieve the taste you're looking for. It should be slightly sweet and salty and match the milkiness of the black cod.

Black cod (skin-on)
Your choice of Japanese mushrooms (I used Beech, King, oyster, Matsutake)
Shichimi Togorashi (Japanese 7-ingredient chili pepper mix)

Dashi Ingredients
Dashi-no-moto fish stock (comes in large box or packets)
Shitake mushrooms
Bonito flakes (katsuoboshi)
Soy Sauce
Sake or Mirin

(1) I am very bad at measurements and just eyeball everything – tasting as I go. Start out with some water in a pot and add soy sauce. Throw in about 4 dried shitake mushrooms and a handful of bonito flakes and lightly bring water to a boil. Then add about 2-3 tablespoons of the dashi no moto fish stock powder to get that 'fishy' taste you have in good miso soup. From here it's a game of adding sugar and more soy sauce to achieve the final taste. Again, the result should have a nice hint of sweetness, fish, mushrooms and smokiness from the bonito flakes. Set on the side on super low heat. Bring to a boil upon service.

(2) Keep your oven on at 450 degrees. Sear the black cod in a oven-safe skillet (meaning no plastic handles) on medium to high heat and carefully watch that skin. You'll know the skin is being cooked on too high of heat when your smoke alarm goes off and you'll know the skin is being cooked on too low of heat when the fish starts sweating out the water. It has to be in between. I'd say 5-6 minutes on the skin side and then toss it in the oven for about 4-5. Keep checking the fish by jiggling it. It should be done when it's not like jello, and not too firm.

(3) Sauté the mushrooms of your choice on high heat and add a little bit of the Japanese 7-spice pepper mix.

(4) Now you're ready to serve. You want to add piping hot broth AROUND the fish. Pretend your black cod is a castle perched on top of mountain of mushrooms, surrounded by a mushroom broth moat and garnished with microgreen trees. Make sure the broth does not touch the fish. Protect that castle. Enjoy.

Kowfu Dinner Lamb Shanks

Braised Lamb Shanks with Serrano Chile Salsa Verde and Lazy-man Lentils
I felt a braised dish would be a great way to end a dinner. To me, a braised dish is the epitome of a home-cooked meal by a loved one. It's comforting, tasty and very tender. There aren't too many things that would suck as a result of a braising in a Le Creuset pot. Instead of doing the usual wine-braise, Nathan and I had discussed a beer braise with veal stock instead of chicken stock for that extra shot of slight "gameness". Often times, red wine can make a dish too "heavy" and this new plan offered an escape from food coma. For the salsa verde, I searched high and low for a good recipe. Many suggested either boiling the tomatillos, blending the tomatillos raw or roasting the tomatillos. Boiling would take away from the taste a little. Blending raw tomatillos would result in a super sour taste. I went with roasting because I like the taste. As for the lazy-man lentils, what I mean by that is use Trader Joe's pre-cooked ones – it'll save you so much time. Upon service, just wake it up with some chicken stock, garlic and butter.

Ingredients for Lamb Shank Braise
Lamb Shanks
Mire Poix (onions, carrots, celery)
Bay Leaves
Veal Stock Demi-glace (available at McCall's, if not use chicken stock)
2 cans of lager/light beer (I used Sapporo)
Red Wine (for color)
Chicken Stock
Whole bulb of garlic

Ingredients for Salsa Verde
8-10 Tomatillos (green tomatoes)
1 large onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
cilantro bunch
lime juice (if needed)
Chicken broth (optional)
Serrano or jalapeno chiles

Lamb Shanks

(1) In a dutch oven (Le Creuset), brown the shanks over high heat. The browner they get, the more flavor and better looking they'll be. Use salt and oil freely since you want to get a nice browning. This takes about 10 minutes. Remove shanks and place in a bowl. Keep the oil in the dutch oven.

(2) Sweat the mire poix for about 8 minutes and add 4-5 sprigs of thyme, 2-3 bay leaves and a beheaded bulb of garlic (don't bother peeling the garlic).

(3) Add shanks back in and add about 1 cup of red wine for color, 2 cans of beer, 3-4 tablespoons of cumin and chicken stock until the shanks are submerged. Add 2-3 scoops of veal demi-glace. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Have your oven on at 500 degrees and move the pot inside once it has come to a boil. Braise for 2.5-3 hours and check at the 1.5 hour mark to make sure the liquid has not evaporated too fast. You'll want to add more chicken stock and flip the shanks upside down to "repair" the dried out side of the shanks.

(4) Salt to taste, or add water if it's too salty. Keep this in the oven on the lowest setting or on the stove at simmer until service. You'll want to use a fork to pull the meat off the bone and make sure you suck that marrow out of the lamb bones while you're at it – so good.

Salsa Verde
(1) In a mixing bowl, toss the tomatillos, chiles, garlic and onions with some olive oil. Roast them at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until they are tender. In a blender, toss them in and add salt to taste. It should still be sour enough, but have some lime juice on reserve just in case. I also used some chicken stock and extra pieces of raw onion to "kill" off the sour taste. This was tasty.

After four courses, some ice cream and ample wine, I could see that my Uncle and Aunt were ready to fall asleep. I didn't cook the fish as nice as I wanted to because I had to cook for 7. I knew some of the dishes were too different for them being from Hong Kong. But at the end, my Uncle assured me that there is nothing better than a homecooked meal. He has eaten everywhere in the world but would pick a meal with family over anything. And I couldn't agree more. All of the effort Jeni and I put in was worth it. I then looked at my little 4 year old nephew and thought about the day he would hopefully cook for me and I then understood how my Uncle felt at that moment. So to my "Kow-fu", thank you for being a great Uncle and for everything you've done for my family. Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style McCall's Meat & Fish Company - A Return to Cooking

McCall's Main

Right before our amazing trip to Southeast Asia, Jeni and I were burdened with some drama that almost caused us to cancel our trip - I was going through a separation with my employer. Besides feeling confused and down, we were now in a situation that many people feared - financial hardship in this economy. We had also spent a good sum of money on the flights and lodging and had no way of really turning back. The thought of trying to enjoy delicious food in another country with no job was difficult. But I always try my best to be optimistic. I said to her... look, this is inevitable and we'll be alright. We can't let something like this hold us back. We love to travel and we will make this happen.

In addition to the layoff, we were also dealing with a bad living situation. My landlord had really destroyed the joy in living in Silver Lake. We would both come home from work and feel this negative energy. We were very unhappy with her management and it got to the point where we actually felt suffocated and took out our frustrations on each other. The landlord had horns, fangs, hooves and claws and we resided in her compartmentalized hell. So you can see the combination of not having a job, financial hardship and life in a jail cell was really too much to handle at one time. We were in a huge rut.

But on New Year's eve, as we waited for the countdown in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I turned to her and promised her that we would have a great year. That I would find a job immediately and we would move to a better place. And she smiled in accordance.

Within a few weeks after we got back from Southeast Asia, I was able to explore the freelance lifestyle and I have vowed to never go back to full-time ever again. I think this was the work style that I had always been looking for. It takes a lot of hard work and determination to make it as a freelancer but the rewards are solid. The pay is better, the hours are great, I could work on and off-site and I am essentially my own Creative Director. I also have more time to focus on our photography business. I felt like a huge block had been lifted off my chest and I was once again, happy to be back in the workforce.

If it weren't for Jeni's frequent searches on Craigslist, we wouldn't have found our dream place... a Silver Lake duplex with the coolest landlords and neighbors. Finally, a landlord that didn't have four legs and a tail. This place had everything going for us... an extra bedroom to set up our photo studio, a backyard with market lights, a large kitchen with chalkboard paint on the walls and most importantly... a FREAKING washer & dryer. Long gone are the days of running down to use the coin-op washer and dryers. I can't tell you how many times I've been a quarter short on drying my red silk boxers and had to drive over to get change and come back - ugh. For a married couple, moving from an apartment to something that resembles a house is a huge step. I think for a month straight, Jeni told me everyday how much she liked the place like a broken record. I was very happy as well.

And this brings me to the last event that is really making this a great year for us. This may sound strange because of its relation to food... but I believe that even a small business can really change a community. There's Ricky Piña of Ricky's Fish Tacos, Peter Bahlawanian of Spice Station, Jason Kim of Forage LA and of course, Nathan McCall's and Karen Yoo's McCall's Meat & Fish Company. I can't express the wonders McCall's has done for us, and I'm sure, for the many patrons that live in the Silver Lake/Echo Park/Los Feliz area.

The kitchen at our last place was way too tiny. Jeni and I have ran into each other many times and you can imagine how bad it would be if we were both irritated, wielding sharp objects. I eventually started cooking less because I couldn't stand the kitchen. It was small, dimly lit and at one time, our cabinets were breeding grounds for creatures that made even the Orkin guy say, "That's gross". We ended up eating a lot of crap for dinner and it just wasn't healthy.

But when I walked into McCall's for the first time, I saw the rays of the sun beam down on me. I suddenly missed being in the kitchen. This was awesome. I could get virtually ANY meat that was served in our favorite restaurants. We bought smaller portions and had the ability to control the butter intake which is so overdone in haute cuisine. The fact that they were chefs and willing to tell you how to cook their products was indeed a blessing. In one month, I had visited at least 15 times. I'm now on their meat stalker list and under constant supervision by the police. At times, I've thought about asking Nathan and Karen if I could just bring a frying pan, portable burner and some tongs to cook right on the spot. I'd get the boot for sure.

When you have access to better ingredients and cook at home, you can make food that is not only tasty but also healthier. When I worked in a restaurant, I was shocked by the amount of butter used in the food. The food I cook usually has no butter and although it is necessary in some dishes to bring out flavor, fresh ingredients go a long way with good salt, freshly cracked peppercorns and citrus juice.

So here are a few things that I've cooked using McCall's meat and fish, fresh vegetables from the Hollywood Farmer's Market and spices from the Spice Station. My return to cooking couldn't happen without them, a little downfall in life and of course, my supportive wife. I thank all of the aforementioned for re-inspiring something I really enjoy doing.

McCall's Slider

McCall's House Burger Blend Sliders with Fried Quail Egg & Gruyere Cheese
It is rare that I'll eat a hamburger. Before the rise of gastropub burgers, you had Fatburger, In & Out and the fast food chains. I love Fatburger, but sometimes, it's just a lot of meat to eat. So that's why I opt for a diet version of the classic hamburger. McCall's offers a nice house blend. I marinated the meat with kosher salt, fresh black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, Worcestershire Sauce and my secret lover, Maggi. The longer you let the meat marry with the flavorings, the better it'll be. Pack the ground meat tightly to hold in the fat, and using your palms, roll the meat into a 'handball'. Then lightly squash the patty to get a nice burger shape. I recommend cooking thicker patties versus thin patties because you can have more control with the done-ness of your patty. Thin patties cook way too fast. The key to making this taste good is how long you cook the quail egg. Over medium heat, it should take no longer than 3 mins to cook a quail egg. You want the yolk to break as you bite into the slider. Add a thin slice of gruyere cheese and your favorite toppings and you're good to go. I served this with an heirloom tomato and arugula salad. Delicious AND light.

McCall's Scallops

Seared Scallops with Sauteed Maitake Mushrooms and English Shelling Peas
McCall's never runs out of their scallop supply, and if they did, I would go insane. They are better than any place I've bought them - better than Whole Foods and Fish King. But the key is to know how long to cook them. A dried out scallop gives you a nice FAIL stamp. One of my favorite cooking utensils is my 12" Lodge cast iron skillet that I got at Surfas for around $35. This thing is the shit. You can cook anything on it and it heats evenly. For scallops, it adds a beautiful brownish sear like the restaurants. I sear scallops with just salt and pepper on low-medium heat, never high, because excessive heat will make the water in the scallop evaporate, causing the scallop to 'crack open'. Because you're using a skillet, the heat stays longer in the skillet even after turning down the heat. And before I've seared my first scallop, I've already got the skillet turned on low heat for at least 10 minutes. I served these with delicious Maitake mushrooms from a new mushroom vendor at the Hollywood Farmer's Market. He has over 20 types of mushrooms to offer and even has a worker guarding the Chanterelle section... which if you don't know, costs nearly $25 a POUND. If you haven't had English shelling peas, these are like Nature's Skittles - so sweet and crunchy.

McCall's Manila Clams

Manila Clams with Chorizo de Pomplano and Smoked Paprika Wine Sauce
When I first saw these clams at McCall's, I didn't think much of it due to its larger size. For me, larger clam means more of a stronger taste that can be off-putting. But these were so sweet and better than Manila clams I've purchased at Asian grocery stores. I love serving steamed clams with some sort of cured meat and I found my favorite chorizo (Chorizo de Pomplano from Spain) this time at the Silver Lake Cheese Store. It has a nice amount of fat and a nice sustaining spice kick. I simply sauteed the chorizo cubes with some Cipollini onions, garlic and chives, and steamed them in a white wine and butter sauce. My in-laws sop-mopped all the sauce with bread. Delicious!

McCall's Corned Beef

Corned Beef Brisket with Boiled Vegetables
With a few days before St. Patrick's Day, we didn't have enough time to cure anything. We called McCall's to see if had any beef brisket and told us about a purveyor he works with in Burbank. Because he's a chef, I trusted him on this and ended up buying 6 lbs... spending over $50 on something I was accustomed to paying $1/lb before when I was a poor college student. Along with the in-laws, we destroyed the 6 lbs. of meat in one night. It was SO GOOD. You could actually taste the flavor of the beef. This is further evidence that McCall's does their research with purveyors.

McCall's Skatewing

Rosemary-Battered Skate Wing Fillets
I came in as I usually do and checked out the fish. They usually have the usual suspects like Scottish Salmon, Black Cod, Halibut and Monkfish. Then I saw skatewing and immediately remembered the time I ate a Korean-version of it at Deep End Dining's place. It was ok and nothing to write home about. So I said no to that. Then Chef Karen Yoo basically called me out on it and gave me guilt trip. I smelled the fish and there was an interesting odor to it... almost like bleach or lye. I was a bit hesitant and went ahead and prepped it at home. And this is where I knew that Nathan loved what he did. While I was prepping the skate wing in some lemon juice, I received a call from Nathan. He told me that because I was concerned with the odor, he went ahead and did his own taste-test and recommended soaking it in lemon juice prior to cooking. I thought it was great of him to take his own time and tend to customer needs. He also recommended cooking the skate wing with the brown butter-swirl technique, where you basically melted butter until it foamed up and swished the pan around so that the butter would lightly 'poach' the skate wing. This technique is difficult because if you get the pan too hot, the butter will blacken. You want the butter to become a light brown foam, but not blackened. The texture of the fish was simply awesome but I had a difficulty getting used to the taste of the fish. I would try poaching this in olive oil and herbs next time I cook with it.

McCall's Arctic Char

Pan-Roasted Arctic Char and Farmer's Market Medley with Mint Soy Sauce Sambal Oelek Creme Fraiche
What the hell is going on in that picture? I have no idea, but it was delicious. The first time I had Arctic Char was at San Francisco's Bar Crudo, one of my fave SF restaurants. It was served raw and a bit more complex than salmon. That's because the Arctic Char is a hybrid salmon-trout found in the most northern part of the Atlantic Ocean. This fish can handle extremely cold water due and when you cook this fish, understand why it's so moist and tender. I have to say that this and the black cod at McCall's are truly high-grade. Even if you overcook either of these fish, the fish will still be very moist and edible. I marinated this fish with smoked paprika, cumin, coriander Seeds, chili de arbol, bay leaves and expensive-ass olive oil. The green, grassy kind, not EVOO. Using the Lodge cast iron skillet, i sear the Arctic Char on medium, careful not to overcook the skin since it is one of the best things about eating this dish. The skin is crisp like a chip if cooked correctly. I sear the fish skin-side down first for about 5 minutes and finish it in the oven at 350. Always take out the fish earlier than expected because even when it's out of the oven, the stored heat will continue to cook the fish through. I served this with some veggies I bought earlier in the morning and lightly tossed them in one of my fave sauces. I LOVE mixing creme fraiche with spices. This time, I mixed in some soy sauce, sambale oelek for kick and chiffonaded mint leaves. We both ate this dish in under 7 mins because it was so light and fresh.

McCalls Meat and Fish Company

Seared Kurobuta Pork Chops with Curried Cauliflower and Swiss Chard
I really don't know where else you can find Snake River Farm's pork aside from Snake River Farm. This purveyor puts out some really tasty American style kurobuta pork. If you've never eaten kurobuta pork, it's best to describe it as kobe pork. This meat is a bit more rich and fatty but the taste and tenderness are simply amazing. One of these chops is good enough for the both of us. I served these with sauteed Swiss chard and cauliflower that has been roasted in the oven with curry powder, salt and olive oil.

Because of McCall's, Spice Station and the Hollywood Farmer's Market, we've changed a lot of our bad habits. We buy groceries as we need and cut down on food waste. We buy better proteins and eat smaller portions. We're supporting local businesses. And ultimately, we're doing better for our bodies. We are of course spending more money, but we believe it's important you know what goes into your stomach. If you haven't seen Food Inc., you'll understand where all of this is coming from. Thanks for reading and I hope that you find your inner cook once you visit McCall's.

McCall's Meat & Fish Company
2117 Hillhurst Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 667-0674

Spice Station
3819 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(323) 660-2565

Silver Lake Cheese Store
3926 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(323) 644-7511

Hollywood Farmer's Market
Ivar & Selma Avenue
Hollywood, CA 90028
Sundays 8am - 1pm

Eat Drink Style Dinner For the Newly Engaged

For those that have been through a wedding, not as a guest, but as a bride or groom, you probably remember how difficult it was to devote more than a handshake/hug and 30-second chit chat. You have anywhere from fifty to five hundred fifty people to say hello to and the clock is ticking. At our reception, we seriously had no longer than 15-20 seconds to greet our friends and family. And we felt horrible. We loved everything about our wedding. From having the private ceremony in Las Vegas to the chill, taco-catered reception in a quaint art gallery in Filipino Town. We wanted to be with our loved ones more than anything and it was simply impossible to hangout with our guests without disrespecting someone else. It's the one thing we regret the most but we decided that could at least make an attempt to hang out with our friends before their lives changed for the better as a married couple. We would simply invite them over for dinner and drill them with our wedding questions like they were in a smoky dungeon equipped with a swinging lamp.

In the last few months, three of our friends got engaged and standing on the other side of the fence, we couldn't help but be stoked for them. They are glowing like glow sticks at a warehouse rave. Since cooking for eight people can get a little crazy, we decided to split up the nights. And I apologize to MK & LY and YS & NS for not remembering to take photos. I was hustling and bustling as fast as I could. But I can assure you, you got the wilder, more inebriated D who wasn't afraid of taking bizarre photos. I've known MK and YS since college and it was comforting knowing they had found the one to move on with.

For them, I decided to go with a family style meal. Recently, Jeni and I have been eating weekly at Forage. Such a simple yet smart concept and Lucque's alumnus Jason Kim's cooking is homey and comforting. We also just got back from Fez, Morocco and were stocked up with some of the most amazing spices the world has to offer – for like nothing. I was dying to use these spices. If you haven't been to the Spice Station in Silver Lake or Santa Monica, it's a cook's paradise and you'll find yourself tossing out those spices that were there before you were even born. Here's what we had.

Moroccan Beef Stew with Daikon & Carrots
I got this one spice mix that contained cumin, cinnamon, coriander and all spice. It is amazing and used pre-dominantly in tagine dishes. I learned that cumin is used in Morocco both for flavor enhancement and digestion, so we bought a lot. I slow boiled some chuck roast for 5-6 hours in chicken broth, tons of the Moroccan style spices, a few shots of Maggi sauce (hehe) and a little bit of red wine for color. I used daikon versus potatoes because I like the sweetness daikon gives to a stew/soup. It's the same vegetable used to create that beautiful sweetness in Vietnamese/Chiu Chow noodle broths ("hu tieu"). You have to take out the veggies after 1.5 hours because you don't want them to turn into unrecognizable pulp. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley and serve over rice or cous cous. Everyone liked this but I was pretty annoyed by the beef, as it could've been more tender. I'd use short ribs next time.

Skillet-Killed Smoked Paprika & Rosemary Shrimp
This is a guaranteed shrimp recipe that will make you even eat the shells of the shrimp if you were that hungry. In a mixing bowl, I throw in peeled, headless shrimp (or keep the shell on, but cut the shell over the vein so the marinade can seap through), 2-3 cloves of garlic chopped, generous amount of smoked paprika and the sprigs of 2-3 rosemary leaves. Add olive oil and sea salt and mix it up. Refrigerate for no more than 5-6 hours. I call them "skillet-killed" because I crank the heat on my stove, which happens to have much higher BTU's than the average stove. I keep my cast-iron skillet on until it starts smoking, and then keep it going for at least 5 minutes. By now, your dead shrimp are shivering in fear for the unthinkable... a quick sear. The secret is to keep them cooking on one side and to start looking at flesh of the shrimp. If it's translucent it's not done, If it's white on the outside but the center is slightly grey, take it out. Once you take it out, it's still cooking. Like grilled/cooked meat, you have to let the shrimp's "juice" redistribute. Meaning, don't eat it right away you pig. If all is done right, you should have shrimp that has an unbelievable "crunch" to it. Eat the tail too, mmm.

Curried Cauliflower
This is about the simplest side dish you can make. It's tasty and healthy. Break up a cauliflower into manageable florets. Too small they become crumbs, too big they won't cook through in the middle. In a foiled, baking sheet, add a lot of olive oil over the cauliflower and a generous amount of curry powder – depending on how curried you want it. Add sea salt, mix and throw in 400 degree oven for about 20 mins. Check for your desired doneness. Mix in some chopped parsley or even dried cranberries and toasted almond slivers.

Pedro Ximenez's Lentils
I don't know who Pedro Ximenez is but I do know that he makes a killer sweet sherry vinegar that will set you back a whopping $25. But don't shrivel in cheapness just yet, this stuff is magnificent on salads, fish and probably knife wounds. If you had to invest in two things that would take your cooking to another level, it would be that $35 can of extra virgin olive oil and $25 P.X. sherry vinegar. Again, we ate some great lentils in Morocco and we're all about it right now. I boiled some green lentils and added some pickled red onions and parsley. From here it's about finding the right balance of sea salt and Pedro Ximenez. This was really good. I vote for Pedro.

Saffron, Dried Cranberry & Garbanzo Mint Cous Cous
I love cous cous because (A) a stoned college kid could make this and (B) it's light and healthy. Cous cous are basically larger granules of semolina flour and can be cooked in less than 6 minutes. From there, it's up to you to get creative. I added some really nice $35 olive oil, mint, saffron, dried cranberry and garbanzo beans.

Turkish Oregano Quick Pickles
I bought some Turkish oregano at the Spice Station and decided to make some quick pickles, aka "quickles". I think Josef Centeno of Lazy Ox Canteen does a great job of pickling, as do the Animal guys. You have to have vinegar to cut through your food and cucumbers, radishes and onions are the best pickling vessels. In a bowl of water, I added some white wine vinegar, sugar, a tiny bit of salt, crushed chili arbol and a few tablespoons of the Turkish oregano. I threw them in the fridge for a good 2 hours and they came out really well. This cut through the richness of the Moroccan stewed beef and lentils.

After we ate, the real damage started to happen as we whipped out more wine and desserts from Porto's. And then the absinthe came out. Then the whiskey. Then the rum. Then the impromptu backyard "dance" party and photo shoot. Please do not post those on Facebook, thank you. Good times.


For the second night, our friends TP and EY came over. After seven years of dating, they decided it was time. For their wedding coming up, they've been doing the Insanity Workout. Just how insane-in-the-membrane is it? TP told me that he burns about 870 calories in 30 minutes. Hey, did you know that's equivalent to one bread stick at Olive Garden?

So for this dinner, we decided to go light and stick with seafood. We couldn't do two nights in Morocco and went with an Asian theme. With great wine from Jill Bernheimer's Domaine LA, we began the dinner party journey.

Salmon Sashimi & Quail Egg over Yam Noodles

Salmon Sashimi & Quail Egg Yam Noodles
Salmon sashimi is about 40 calories per piece and high in Omega 3 fatty acids. But the best part of this dish is the usage of yam noodles made from the konjac plant known as shirataki. They are ZERO calories. Don't me ask how that is possible. They are somewhat bland but with a little bit of soy sauce, Japanese soup stock or ponzu, and you're good to go. I served the shirataki with salmon slices, raw quail egg, pickled cucumbers and a few pinches of powdered Sichuan red peppercorn. For the sauce, I simply bought a bottle of udon/soba soup stock and fixed it up with some water and mirin. If you're really into textures, I'd suggest adding salmon fish eggs (ikura), sea urchin (uni) and Japanese mountain yams (yamaimo). This is one of my favorite quick-fix dishes to eat.

Seared Scallop with Yuzu Edamame Puree

Seared Scallop with Yuzu Edamame Puree and TINY Piece of Nueske Bacon
Scallops are about 200 calories per piece and simply one of the best types of seafood out there. It tastes good pan-seared, "cooked" Ceviche style or simply eaten raw. I can't live without scallops. Versus doing a potato or parsnip puree, I decided to use edamame beans which are super tasty. In a blender, I combined one pack of already-shelled edamame, a few dashes of soy sauce, salt and a tiny pinch of sugar. I added a little bit of water to help the blender out. This will take a few minutes to finish as you have to gradually add water to create the puree. If you are impatient and add too much water right away, you can turn this into a watery soup. Taste as you go along and make sure it has a velvety consistency. I like to heat the puree in a small frying pan over low heat to keep it hot. You have to make sure not to burn the puree so you may need a little water to replace whatever evaporates from the heat. Optional: a tiny slice of butter can be used to give the edamame puree a slight sheen. Before placing the seared scallop over the puree, add a few dashes of Yuzu juice. This adds a nice citrus taste that wakes up the scallop and puree. Yes I know, you see a piece of bacon there. Well I didn't say the WHOLE meal was healthy.

Pan Roasted Black Cod with Bun Shimeji Dashi

Pan-Roasted Black Cod with Bun Shimeji & King Mushroom Dashi
I've made this dish many times for J and my family, it's just a simple comforting dish and its very light. For my picky Chinese parents to ask for seconds, speaks volumes. For details on this dish, click on the previous link. The only thing different about this dish was not having Nathan McCall's usual black cod. So I ended up finding some pretty fresh whole black cod at the new Woori market in Little Tokyo (formerly Yao-han/Mitsuwa). They scaled and quickly filleted the black cod for me. At home, I got to play with my sashimi knife and clean up the fish more as there were still bones and blood lines. FUN FUN FUN. TP & EY ended up with a second round of this and ended up taking whatever I had left home.

Like Friday night, we kept going after the wine. Desserts. Whiskey. Rum. 90s music. It was a great night. To MK & LY, YS & NS and TP & EY, I'm glad we all got to spend 4-5 hours eating and drinking – you guys are great friends. And we look forward to seeing you for 30 seconds on your wedding day! Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style A Fall Soiree - Man vs. the Wood Fire Beast

Fall Decor

We all have our fears, whether or not we're willing to admit them. But we're all human beings, and it's one of the many things that sets us apart. I've got a whole list of them. For example, I loathe the glaucoma machine at the optometrist's office. You know the one that blows AIR into your eye at like 528 mph. It takes me a good 4 minutes per eye and I wish I was a pirate or cyclops so I'd only have to endure the suffering for 4 minutes total. Another thing I fear is anything in tiny dot patterns. Blackheads, blueberry pies and bad 80s polka dot clothing. I'm not sure why but I think it might have to do with this cartoon I've watched before... where this character had 18 eyes on his face... all blinking at different times. Weird I know. And finally... my apparent condition of bakephobia. I've talked about it in my pizza posting a few weeks back and just can't get myself to appreciate baking because of the necessary precision and limitations set by recipes. I own about 30 cookbooks and because of my short attention span, rarely follow all the directions in them. I use cookbooks merely for the ingredient listing and I adjust accordingly to my own tastes. I also leave out measurements in my cooking posts because not everyone out there trying the recipe will like it. Some may want it spicier, sweeter or saltier. And you can't please everyone, especially when it comes to catering.

I baked a few weeks back, and I can honestly say that baking is an uncharted sea for me to navigate through. I want to learn how to bake. There is an inherent art and beauty behind the combination of eggs, flour, salt, sugar and yeast. Every country in the world has some sort of baked food, with bread being the most basic form of sustenance. In the wonderful book, Sauces, the author talks about the usage of bread as dinnerware. Wood and metal plates were just too expensive to mak during the 13th century in Europe, thus came the idea of bread bowls and flatbread. Not only would you not have to hold 300 degree stew in your own lap or hands, you could eat it afterwards! Genius. Imagine if we had to eat paper plates. This book by the way isn't entirely about making sauces, but explains how food has come to be over time. It's awesome. Did you know that Europeans actually used a form of fish sauce back then?

I started working with a group of nice people that run an event planning group called Fresh Events Company. Through a friend, we were brought together for this fall-themed party in Hollywood Hills. The client requested pizza made with their wood fire oven. It's tough enough dealing with an oven in a gig because you have to parcook food for holding, now I have to battle a monster: a wood fire oven.

Setting up a wood fire oven is similar to building a campfire. You set one large log in the oven as a 'backstop' and rest smaller pieces of wood on it, making sure that air is allowed to ventilate under the wood. You can't do more than two big pieces at a time otherwise the wood to fire ratio is knocked off balance and you're left with a slower temperature increase. It's hard to explain and I found myself scratching my head and swearing as I tried it out before the event. The client and I met again on another weekend before the event to practice the wood fire oven. In about four hours, we reached the temperature of 600 degrees. It's not the internal temperature of the oven that needs to be 600 degrees, it's the bricks that form the oven floor that need to be heated. I smiled when I saw the glowing embers of what was once wood. In the four hours it took, I had to come back every 15-20 minutes and feed it some more... much like a baby that wants to keep eating. Once you reach 600 degrees, the next goal is to make as much floor space as possible. Using a long metal spatula, we pushed all the coals to the left side, including the large backstop log. The client than grabbed a wet towel and wrapped it around the spatula and 'wiped' down the oven floor. It's ok if you get a little bit of ash on the bottom of the pizza, it only makes it look more rustic.

I quickly ran into the kitchen and pulled out my pizza dough from the fridge. Threw some flour on the counter top, rubbed my hands together like a gymnast, without the tights of course, and started massaging the ball of dough. After making a disc shape, I did a few rotations using my knuckles to stretch it. This takes skill because if you pull too hard, you'll tear the dough. No no no. For rookies, the rolling pin is still the best. I used my asian style rolling pin, which is smaller than the standard rolling pin, but without the handles. The smaller ones are used for making dumpling skins. Once the dough was as thin as it could be, I carefully laid the dough on a wooden pizza paddle with some flour beneath it. Flour works better than cornmeal in the case of the wood fire oven because it has a higher cooking temperature. If you're making pizza in a conventional oven, cornmeal on a pizza stone will be fine. I then added olive oil (vs. using tomato sauce), two kinds of cheese (a container of four cheese and mozzarella) and the appropriate accoutrements – the client requested portobello mushroom, white truffle oil and thyme. I carefully held the paddle and handed it to the client. He carefully guided the paddle into the oven mouth as if he was feeding a big monster. As soon as he pulled the paddle from beneath the pizza, I heard the most beautiful sound ever: the searing of fresh dough on hot oven bricks. 30 seconds later, the left hemisphere of the pizza was already bubbling... as high as 1.5 inches. The edge of the crust slowly blistering with dark spots. Another 30 seconds later, we used the spatula to rotate the pizza so that we could cook the other side. For a total of 2 minutes in the oven, something extraordinary comes out of the oven. He pulled out the pizza and set it on a table. I almost shed a tear because it was so beautiful. The cheese was bubbling quietly and the crust so fluffy and 'pillowy'. We all took a slice of pizza and sank our teeths in for that familiar and nostalgic food we've all grown up with. As I ate, I watched for the client's reaction and they loved it. I felt so much better doing a practice run and knew things would work out nicely on the day of the event.

Fall Decor

This catering event was very different than many others I've worked. For the first time, I was working with an event planning group. Not only did it mean that there would be decorations and invitations being taken care of, I had people to take care of the front of the house, meaning the wait/bar staff. It is HARD working the kitchen AND front of the house. I could focus more on cooking the food vs. running around like a lunatic.

Although it rained the night before, the dampness had evaporated and left a nice waft of cold air. I couldn't imagine cooking during the heatwave we had two months ago. Many of the decorations used by Fresh Events had orange, brown and yellow leaves, which were really nice.

Fall Decor

Woodfire Oven

And there she is, the wood fire beast. Inside the cavity, there's about 3 sq. feet of space, not very big. That's why it's important to slowly burn wood vs. stuffing it. Four hours to get it going, 2-3 minutes to cook your food. As it sounds, it's a lot of work, but the results do not lie.

Woodfire Oven

A close-up of the wood fire oven. Here, it's at about 425 degrees. By the time you're ready to cook, you shouldn't have any flames at all.

Wood Fire Oven

I gave this thing more attention on that day than I do with J. She wasn't happy with me, but she was very happy about the pizza.

Scallop, Shrimp & Avocado Ceviche

Scallop, Shrimp & Avocado Ceviche
I love love love ceviche and was dying to serve some food on white spoons. Whenever you can get the client to interact with the food, versus picking it up with greasy fingers and napkin, you whet their appetite. I "cooked" 32-40 size shrimp with baby scallops in lime juice for about 4 hours. Any longer, you may risk the chance of having no taste whatsoever. I added tiny-brunoised cuts of red bell pepper for color, green jalapenos for spice and put a small wedge of avocado and cilantro leaf on top. For some additional flavor, I added one of my favorite ingredients, smoked paprika. Client loved this.

Bacon Wrapped Dates with Parmesan & Goat Cheese

Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Parmesan/Goat Cheese
AOC and my friend Immaeatchu have made me love this appetizer more and more. The combination of sweet dates, goat/Parmesan cheese and salinity from the crispy bacon make it one hot kid on the block. There are two main types of dates out there: medjools and deglet noors. If you're going to use medjools, you might want to cut them in half lengthwise because they are huge. Dates may not appeal to everyone because they've got that sticky chew. I prefer deglet noors because you can pop them in one bite and are actually very easy to work with. There are recipes that call for goat cheese or Parmesan, why not bring the best of both worlds and do a 50/50 ratio? You can use a toothpick or skewer (put 7-8 of them on one stick) to secure the bacon if you're worried about them falling apart. Bake for 5 mins on one side at 400, then flip over and bake for another 7-10 mins until bacon is somewhat crispy... just don't burn the bacon. I saw guests take 2-3 at a time, popping them like they were tater-tots.

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus Bundles
Everyone loves bacon and everyone loves prosciutto. For this dish, I cut the asparagus into 7" lengths and bundles of three using the prosciutto as 'tape'. Lightly spray some olive oil on the bundles and add a TINY bit of salt only on the asparagus. Fresh black pepper and lemon juice for a kick. These were very fun to eat.

Portobello & White Truffle Oil Pizza

Portobello & White Truffle Oil Pizza
And finally, the product of four hours of constant nurturing, arguing and making up: the portobello mushroom, white truffle oil and thyme pizza. These came out beautiully and guests kept requesting more and more truffle oil. Whoa, too rich.

By the end of the night, everyone had so much to eat, including my staff. It's too easy to get pizza'd out, but it was the crust that we kept coming back to. So soft and pillowy.

Great clients, excited guests, wonderful event planning group, loving gf and sister, loyal friends and one angry, tempermental 600 degree oven. That's the best way to sum up one of the smoothest events I've ever worked. Thank you to the McK's, Fresh Events, staff and to you for reading.

Eat Drink Style Goodbye to BR... For Now: Five-Spice Braised Pork Belly with Apple/Cinnamon Brussel Sprouts and Roasted Kabocha Risotto

My good friend BR is leaving for New York to pursue her lifelong dream of being an advertising account executive. I really think she's going to New York for the food and bars that close at 4 am. And the 15-degree weather I experienced only 2 weeks ago really adds to the long list of New York's benefits. I first met her at our last agency and since then have become good friends. She's competed with me in the first annual Iron Chef Souplantation competition and shared a Happy Hallmark Day. As a goodbye, I promised to cook her dinner. She was the one after all that hooked me up in 'the restaurant'. Which has led me down the path as a part-time caterer. And she's also introduced me to the wonderful art scene in LA.

Her bf, C, and her arrived at my place around 8, only to find me running frantically in the kitchen. I had become so used to prepping food the night before and underestimated the time it would take to cook this much food. Luckily, a bottle of wine, sake and a trusty connection to YouTube is all you need to ameliorate your guests hunger.

Ika Salad with Sesame-Miso Dressing
We wanted something light and what immediately comes to mind, is anything from the sea. With the help of Angelo Pietro, a simple, yet healthy salad of thinly-sliced squid, mixed greens, thinly shredded scallions (korean style), radish sprouts and mixed greens.

Seared Scallops with Soy-Yuzu Beurre Blanc

I love anything seared and yuzu-endowed. I bought these 'japanese sashimi-grade' scallops from Trader Joe's for $10. Sashimi-grade my ass - maybe this is what Todai uses. I usually get mine from Restaurant Depot in a large paint bucket. I made a simple beurre blanc with shallots, vinegar, soy sauce, cream and yuzu. I was very disappointed with the taste of the seared scallops, but I was fortunately saved by the sauce. Garnished with a few microgreens, this is a light and pleasant appetizer.

Pork Belly: Up Close and Personal
There's nothing I love better than pork belly. I love it braised Chinese style in pickled vegetables. I love it in ramen. I love it seared to a nice crisp. I had a nice pork belly dish in San Francisco's Blue Plate a few months ago and loved how it was the perfect block of meat, cooked tenderly with a generous layer of fat. I started braising this the night before with a simple mire poix (onions, carrots, celery), chicken broth, black peppercorns, garlic, ginger and an aromatic rub consisting of all-spice, coriander seeds, anise and cloves. The smell was great. My neighbor's dog started scratching on my screen door. He wanted a quick taste haha. Sorry buddy... only if you leave town. Anyway, I braised this at 425-450 for nearly 3 hours and simmered it on low right before serving.

To go with this, I thought a nice bitter vegetable would go well with the sweetly-spiced pork. I chopped up some brussel sprouts (mini Cabbage-like veggies) and sautéed them with bruonóised apple-smoked bacon and fresh cinnamon-flavored apples. The combination was great but a little too much on the cinnamon spice. It lingered forever.

As the base, I made roasted kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) risotto. I started getting into risottos after I had them at Japanese-style Italian bistros. Places like Musha in Torrance and Blue Marlin on Sawtelle Blvd. have risotto. To make this, you simply roast some kabocha rubbed with olive oil and a tiny bit of salt. I then took them on a rollercoaster ride in the food processor - adding water and oil to help the purée process out. Simply add the kabocha purée to your delicious risotto and adjust the salinity and sweetness. That's it.

Overall, everyone loved the perfectly tender pork belly but felt the cinnamon was overwhelming in the veggie stir fry. The risotto turned out nicely. Warning with risotto, this must be eaten right away. The second it starts to harden, it won't be as good.

We finished the night with some red wine, sake and more YouTubing. To BR, I wish you luck on your next endeavor and remember, what you think is a cat in the streets of New York probably isn't a cat. Always, Dylan. Thanks for reading.