Tag Archives: seafood

Under the Calamansi Tree

As a California girl I grew up with the ubiquitous citrus trees in the yard; everyone had citrus coming out of their ears in my neighborhood. Our lunch boxes were stuffed with giant naval oranges, every mom’s kitchen had bowls of lemons and limes everywhere that were deployed for sherbets, and every kid on my block would set up a lemonade and limeade stand in the driveway.  I used to lie under the orange tree when it bloomed to just inhale the sweet fragrance.   Mom used to paint orange or lemon leaves plucked from the trees with melted chocolate and then slowly peel off a perfect glossy leaf to make decorations for our summer cakes. One horrible year our rabbit almost killed our trees by nibbling away all the bark, almost girdling them. It was a close call but we caught him and put him back in his hutch with a branch of leaves as an apology for his ongoing confinement. You just can’t trust a rabbit.

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

What we didn’t have, however, was a calamansi tree.  The Citrofortunella microcarpa, aka the Calamondin or calamansi is a tiny green/orange marble-shaped citrus fruit that tastes like a cross between an orange and a lime, and is most commonly used in Filipino cuisine.   I first got to try this charming citrus varietal during my working days at the Bank. My coworkers, who were Filipino, had weekly potlucks with lots of halved calamansi to squirt over our adobo and pancit and as a flavoring in desserts. This group loved to cook and loved to have parties and I was instantly smitten with their cuisine and their beloved calamansi lime.

I forgot about the rare calamansi until years later when I was at the Russian festival and one of the volunteers gave me a shot of a unique sour orange infused vodka. Served ice cold in tiny shot glasses the stuff was lethal and the guy explained that he found a tiny tree growing these strange round mini oranges in his back yard of his new home in Daly City.  They looked like oranges but were so tart and aromatic, so naturally he made vodka with them. What else? He didn’t know what they were called but I knew they looked familiar to me.  It was such a puzzle.

Fast forward again to a month ago when food blogger Gapultos of Burnt Lumpia. was touring his new Filipino cookbook, The Adobo Road. It was a wonderful event and the book is really exciting, a mix of traditional Filipino recipes with local California ingredients and a modern edge.  Of course Marvin’s delicious food was served and much to my delight decorating his noodles were a few halves of calamansi!

Adobo

(you will want to buy this)

One taste and suddenly everything clicked. I remembered the fruit from the bank and from the vodka tasting booth and I think I might have shouted, “That’s it!!!”   I relayed this all to Marvin and we had a good chuckle.

I have been meaning to shop in the Mission and pick up a bag of calamansi so that I can cook some of Marvin’s recipes and also infuse some vodka of my own, but again, the thought slipped my mind. However, today, my coworker brought me a treat from her weekend visit home where her grandparents were visiting from the Philippines – she brought me a bag of calamansi!

Calamansi

I was so excited! I dashed to the kitchen immediately and sliced up a few to add to my ice water. The bright flavor really perked up the stuffy afternoon. We are going through a mild heat wave and the chilled citrus tang in cool water was a most welcome treat.

A chilly treat

When I got home I washed them and piled them in my favorite souffle pan, which doubles as my fruit bowl. Humming my version of the song from Dr. No I started perusing my other Filipino friends’ blogs for recipes using calamansi.

“Underneath the calamansi tree me honey and me can watch for the moon…..”

(apologies to Diana Coupland)

My coworker had suggested making a syrup from the calamansi or just squeezing the juice and freezing it.  This bowl of calamansi is especially ripe so I must work with them quickly and I plan to zest them with my microplane grater before juicing them.  One idea I bookmarked for the juice is a marinade with soy sauce and garlic for pork or beef.  Another popular use is squeezed over fried or grilled fish.  This made me think about the delicious shrimp poke I had over the weekend with D___, wouldn’t a shrimp cervice with calamansi be delicious?  I am working on a recipe for this.

I came across Jun’s calamansi whiskey sour.  I just happened to have everything required and it was perfect (thanks Jun!) way to relax while I read a mound of cookbooks for inspiration.

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While I was relaxing a friend called and we decided to go out to a movie that started in 23 minutes at the theater down the street.   Hurriedly I made up a rather large batch of calamansi whiskey sours and strained it into a canteen, then filled up a baggie with ice cubes and added some plastic cups and shoved my illicit cocktail party into my capacious handbag. There is a reason ladies carry large handbags and sometimes my handbag is the happiest place on earth!

Dayum. Calamansi rye sour.

During the movie I poured out the heady cocktail into ice filled cups, filling our row with a heavenly scent of citrus, rye and honey. We sipped them slowly and enjoyed watching a very handsome Superman; it is truly a most civilized way to see a movie!

Tonight I will marinate an orphaned pork chop from 4505 Meats with soy and garlic and broil, and add some some sauteed baby bok choy and steamed brown rice to complete my dinner.  While this cooks I will zest and juice the remaining bowl of calamansi to be stashed in my freezer.  The rinds will go into a rather large bottle of vodka to infuse it with the sweet tang of the fruit.   A few weeks from now I will have a rather lovely bottle of infused vodka to drink over ice with splash of bubbly water or in an elegant version of a “calamansi” drop.

If you ever see calamansi in your shop or see a tree at your garden center I highly recommend you scoop them up.

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Oysterfest

This weekend I was invited to a wonderful Northern California treat, an oyster picnic at Hog Island Oyster Company. Oysters are a perfect protein and a great example of sustainable and environmentally responsible seafood farming in California. Located along the Tomales Bay, the Hog Island Oyster Company, among others, grows over 3 million oysters a year, all Food Alliance Certified Sustainable.

My friends have an annual tradition of picnicking at Hog Island with their family and friends and I was delighted to be included this year in their wonderful picnic, which includes raw and grilled oysters fresh from the bay, plus wonderful wine and side dishes brought from our homes.

For years I have had oyster parties where we would buy a couple of boxes of medium oysters from Drake’s Bay Oysters (formerly Johnson’s Oysters) and grill them over mesquite with a variety of savory sauces or just lemon and hot sauce. Drake’s days of operation are coming to a close because the National Park Service decided to shut them down, and fabricated and misinterpreted evidence and have steadfastly ignored all scientific evidence to support their claim they operate sustainably while protecting the environment. We are continuing to hope they can get the NPS to overturn their irrational and puzzling decision and listen to Drake’s and all of the environmental and scientific groups supporting them to let their oyster farming continue.

I no longer have a place to grill at home but remember my oyster parties fondly and was very excited to have a chance to join a party of oyster lovers. My dearest friends joined me, D___, my little friend Bug and L___ are major oyster aficionados also so we packed up the car and hit the road.

Love this view

The drive north and west was quite pleasant, despite a bit of traffic along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard that leads from San Rafael all the way to Highway 1. The slow pace afforded us time for a natural history lesson given by yours truly on some of the wildflowers and trees in bloom in the chaparral, riparian and redwood forest environments. We passed through Samuel P. Taylor State Park, a beloved place for creek walking, picnics and hiking, and I hope to go there soon to do some of that with my friends.

Arriving at Hog Island on a weekend is an adventure. Highway 1 is lined with cars trying to park precariously on the side of the road to access the various oyster companies and restaurants that line Tomales Bay. We were very lucky to snag the last spot along the bed of oyster shells along the shoulder near Hog Island’s spot. Each night after the oyster farm closes they dump wheelbarrows full of shells along the shoulders, where cars crunch them into pure white and rather fragrant gravel.

We trudged along, carrying our loads of picnic baskets and apparatus to the reserved group picnic tables that hug the edge of the cove. If you don’t have a reservation don’t bother going, it is so very crowded there and the lines for oysters and a spot to sit were ridiculous. Instead, buy oysters to go and find a picnic spot in Point Reyes National Seashore; there is nothing finer than slurping oysters while sitting on the beach!

Pretty sunny day
(windblown but happy with the great view)

The sunny sky dotted with dragon and dolphin shaped clouds was perfect, just enough sun, the wind was up but it wasn’t too strong and we didn’t need coats at all, which is a complete miracle for the unpredictable weather along the bay. As experienced picnickers in Northern California we were prepared for everything, including wool hats, thermoses of espresso and flasks of whiskey, to sunhats, SPF 30 and chilled wines. Both D___ and I have glorious picnic baskets with all the accourterments required for sophisticated picnicking.

I brought a foie terrine to the picnic today
(a treat from D’Artagnan)

Cheese plate: chèvre, St Andre, Dubliner
(chevre, Dubliner and St. Andre)

Fun nibbles
(a trio of fun nibbles including chicharonnes from 4505 Meats)

We laid out our pre-oyster feast of savory tidbits along with L___’s batch of divine lemon meltaway cookies, bite sized lemony buttons that were egg-free (for me!) and D___’s enormous container of beignets fried up freshly that morning, just like the ones from Cafe du Monde! She even brought along a container of powdered sugar to redust the fluffy pillows of fried dough. Such evilly delicious treats and both sweet treats were the hit of the day.

L___ looked at me with a glint in her eye and said,

“Yes, I am really going to go there…. oh yeah……. I am!”

She then spread a bite of beignet with the foie pate. Oh my stars, did that ever look amazing. I had to try it too and it was true evil genius.

An evilly brilliant idea, pâté on a homemade beignet

After a very long wait in line our oysters arrived. Oysters really are just the perfect picnic food. Contained within their rugged and ruffled shells are the perfect bite (or two) of saline, oceanic goodness. Hog Island provides each group reservation with a bag of ice, a huge bag of oysters, a tray, gloves and an oyster knife and shucking instructions if you want them, and mesquite charcoal for the grills, plus all the oysters and mignonette sauce you desire. C___’s mom brought up a pair of sauces that were sloshed on the oysters as they grilled: a red Thai curry sundried tomato sauce and a delicious garlic herb butter. I had intended to bring my amazing garlic butter for oysters but a mishap in the kitchen that morning prevented its use, next time!

LunaRaven13s photo of our oysters

(L___’s photo of our enormous sack of oysters – please check out her other photos and art here and photos of our picnic here)

Everyone got into the fun of shucking and the shucking jokes flew fast and wild. N___, D___ and I took up our knives and started prying oysters open, some to slurp just then and some to put on the grill. Even young master Bug had a go and we were soon drenched in brine and well dusted with bits of shells, miniature mussels and limpets. Oddly this year we noticed the oyster shells were really crumbly and flakey but no one seemed to mind much the bits of extra calcium in their treat. No pictures though, shucking oysters is a messy business.

My method of grilling oysters is simple. Over a bed of coals, you place the rounded side of the oyster on the grilling rack and watch them. After a few minutes liquid will start to bubble and burst out of the shell. At this point, remove them from the heat with tongs and using a towel or hot pad and an oyster knife it is quite easy to slide the knife between the two shells. Remove the top (flat) shell and discard, and cut the oyster free from its curved bottom shell. It’s much easier opening oysters this way than trying to pry them open for a raw bite. If you ever watch an oysterman or a chef at a raw bar open oysters you must understand just how physically tough they are.

Now, return the oyster in its open shell back onto the grill and dollop in a little sauce and watch them again. Remove the oyster from the grill when the sauce is bubbly. Repeat until everyone is full. If you are grilling for more than 30 minutes you will need to add a few more pieces of charcoal to the bed of coals to keep the heat going – I bank them along one side of the grill and move away the oysters from the live flame.

Mini sweaters were a big hit
(lots of wonderful wines and my mini sweaters were a big hit although the whimsy was lost on a few folks. I think they are an essential part to any table.)

The 50 pound bag of oysters seemed large but it didn’t take long to go through them all. We opened more wine and sat back and watched the beautiful view and chatted with each other in a sated fashion.

My BFFs @Biggie and R - such a fun day
(Bug is taking a break after all the pate and oysters in his glamorous Mom’s lap!)

We are all very excited about N___ and C___’s impending move to the Bay Area. I looked around the table and realized that these people, all so near and dear to my heart, were all friends that I found through Twitter.

Picnic buddies @lunaraven13 @knit1eat1 thanks for having us!!!
(C___, N___ and L___)

L__ and I met and bonded over Massa Farm’s duck harvest one year, and she knew D___ from food blogging so the three of us had a blast one night organizing a dinner of the Bay Area Food Bloggers and have been the best of friends ever since. We are like sisters and it’s a wonderful thing.

Mustache gang(the Bay Area Food Bloggers infamous mustache incident on our first excursion together)

Two years ago we had a twitter-sourced meet up of local knitters, crocheters and dyers and met N___, who is an incredible knitting designer and artist, and his husband C____, who graciously kept us company and allowed us to geek out over fiber and fun. Through the magic of Twitter and Facebook we have deepened our relationship and having them move closer is going to be fantastic.

We are planning another visit to Tomales Bay this summer for more oysters and picnicking. I shall be sure to correctly prepare my garlic butter sauce but in the interim will enjoy it on prawns and grilled fish.

Fondue of Butter for Seafood
2 cubes of unsalted butter (1/2 pound or 1 cup)
1 head of garlic, peeled and trimmed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. shallots or onion powder (if desired)

In a small saucepan over very low heat melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook very slowly without simmering for an hour or until the garlic is extremely soft and tender and yet not browned. It is very important to monitor the heat of your stove to ensure the butter does not boil and brown and the garlic stays creamy white. When the garlic is super tender use a fork or an immersion blender to puree the garlic. Add salt to taste, the paprika and the shallot/onion powder. Keep warm while grilling the oysters in a small pot on the corner of the BBQ and dollop spoonfuls into the oysters. Grill until bubbly.

Also, if you are feeling too challenged by dealing with placing the oysters on the grill to finish with the garlic butter, you can place a grill-safe skillet on a corner of the grill and fill with the butter, and plop in the oysters as you open them after their initial grilling. Your guests can use a cocktail fork or spoon to scoop up an oyster as they wish.

Printer-friendly recipe

A few notes: Please buy your oysters and seafood from reputable, sustainable sources. On the West Coast you can gather your own shellfish but the red algae that plague our waters can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP), particularly in mussels, therefore a quarantine applies to our coast from Oregon to Mexico and shellfish are generally unsafe between March and October. You can phone the Biotoxin Information Line 1-800-553-4133 to get updates on current quarantines and health advisories throughout the year. Other types of shellfish, including oysters and clams, and commercially harvested mussels from certified companies are not included in the quarantine. The commercial companies test their shellfish and are certified as toxin-free.

Perfect Protein:

This summer I will be writing about sustainable seafood as part of the Perfect Protein project, created by Eric Ripert and Mario Batali. The book, “The Perfect Protein: A Fish Lover’s Guide to Saving the Oceans and Feeding the World” by Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless, is a new, thought-provoking book on why and how we should and can quickly increase the amount of wild seafood in our oceans; as well as how as consumers we can shop and eat more of the right seafood to help feed the world, address hunger and improve the world’s health. I am proud to be part of this project this summer as I have long been a proponent of wild and sustainable fishing, whether fished by myself or by commercial sources. Since I was a teen I have carried a copy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch’s guide in my wallet, and now have their app on my phone. I love seafood, and feel especially lucky to live on the California coast with all the wonderful edible creatures off our doorstep.

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Eggless Baking: Luscious Chocolate Wacky Cake with Ganache

This Thanksgiving my family decided not to make our traditional pumpkin chiffon pie because of my current food intolerances. Sadly for me this year this amazing pie that was carefully crafted and perfected over 50 years by my maternal grandmother contains eggs, so it’s off my menu for a while.  How very thoughtful of my family to make this sacrifice on my behalf though, I was truly touched.

Before I could get too caught up in the guilt associated with voluntarily or involuntarily imposing my food limitations upon others my mom announced she would be making Wacky cake. This substitution for our holiday sweet was nothing short of stellar and we were all quite excited.

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(one bite left!)

You may have heard of the iconic Wacky cake, it has been around before the World War II. It is an eggless and butterless cake because eggs and butter were rationed during wartime and often the average family never saw these common staples. The necessity for cake, however,  did not diminish for those on the homefront and a delicious and suitable substitute stepped in to fill the gap and sweet tooth of the Nation. In today’s parlance wacky cake is vegan. It is also tremendously delicious!

I have fond memories of scarfing down still warm slabs of dense, chocolately Wacky cake in the cafeteria of my elementary school. Our highly gifted school cook, Frances, made Wacky cake at least once a month and served it heavily dusted with powdered sugar.

My sister taught me how to make Wacky cake  and I recall that she did this so that I could make it when I got home from school so that she could have it but she hotly disputes this! Mom recalls that she first received the recipe from her high school and college friend, Susie Jones.

Whatever the source, Wacky cake is a wonderful recipe. The cake has a very rich chocolate flavor from cocoa powder, like a devil’s food cake, and has a fine crumb.

Instead of getting its leavening from eggs the recipe uses baking soda and vinegar which produces a quick but short rising period. The lack of eggs and butter in the recipe results in the cake being less flexible than a egg-based cake so care must be taken if you plan to unmold it from the baking pan. The cake uses oil instead of butter and therefore one could conceivably say that this is a “heart-healthy” cake if a light olive oil or grapeseed oil is used, due to the oil’s antioxidant properties.

Traditionally the cake is mixed right in the baking pan, dusted with powdered sugar when cooled and served straight from the pan. This spared the cook additional dishes to wash up, saving money on soap powder.   My mom’s piece de resistance was to instead top the cake with a thick, rich, bittersweet ganache.

It was heavenly.

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Look how thick the ganache is on this slice of cake, how it glistens and shimmers. I do love chocolate.

Wacky Cake
1 1/2 c flour or cake flour
1 c sugar
3 T unsweetened cocoa (we used to use Hershey’s but mOm used Valhrona)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. good vanilla
1 T vinegar (white or cider)
5 T vegetable oil (grapeseed, light olive oil or canola)
1 C cold water

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

If you wish to unmold the cake, butter the bottom and sides of a cake tin and line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper, and then butter that paper too. In a mixing bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add on one side of the bowl the vinegar, on another the vanilla and on another the oil. Add all of the water and whisk together swiftly and quickly pour into the cake pan and bang it into the oven.

If you are going to serve it out of the pan, sift together the dry ingredients as above directly into your baking pan (an 8″ x 8″ square Pyrex), then make three holes in the dry ingredients. In one hold put the oil, the vinegar in the second and the vanilla in the third. Pour over the cold water and mix well with a fork and bake.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs. A bit of care must be taken when baking wacky cake to not over-bake it or it will be perilously dry.

Unmold after cool, if desired (using the wax paper lined pan) and cover with ganache, or sift over a blizzard of powdered sugar.

Great Ganache

Once you add ganache to this cake there is no going back. In fact, after making this ganache I feel like putting it on everything.

1/2 c + 2T heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. butter
5 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 T good bourbon (optional)

Place the chopped chocolate into a bowl. Heat up the cream until it is very hot but not boiling, and pour it over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is smooth. Add the butter at this point and the vanilla and the bourbon, if using. If you are not using the bourbon in the ganache, shame on you and just drink that tablespoon.

Keep stirring the ganache with a spoon, not a whisk, until it begins to thicken. When it is thicker than gravy, pour/spread it over the cooled cake. If you want those attractive dribbles down the side of the cake pour it on when the ganache is a little bit thinner, slightly thicker than chocolate syrup or caramel sauce. I prefer it on the stiffer side so that I can spread it over just the top of the cake.

If you like, you can make a double batch of ganache, and spread half of it over the top, and then let the remaining ganache thicken a bit more so that you can spread the sides of the cake.

Be sure to do what we did and carefully clean the mixing bowl with our greedy fingers and tongues.

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The finished Wacky cake with ganache was utterly delicious and was perfect with the last bit of red wine from our Thanksgiving dinner.

The best part of Wacky cake is that it is so simple to make, you can bake it up right before dinner or as an after school treat like I used to.

Saturday SF Romp

It was a soft Saturday morning in the City, the weather seemed unsure whether it was foggy or cloudy but definitely Spring was showing her cold cheek to the world.

I dressed up warmly in layers and headed to the farmer’s market with D___. Our goal: caffeine and evil breakfast goodies.

Our first stop – a rich chocolately mocha from Blue Bottle, then an evilly buttery, almond croissant. This kept us from dying of hunger while waiting in the eternally snaking line for Primavera. D__ chose the tacos el pastor while I shook things up from my usual order of chilaquiles and ordered crisp chicken enchiladas with salsa verde. Under all that lettuce was shredded chicken in a green chile tomatillo salsa inside their handmade tortillas, fried until crisp with cojita and sour cream.

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(I adore their black beans and chipotle salsa)

While we were chatting post-nosh and gazing at the varying shades of grey in the sky, the Bay and the Bay Bridge I showed off my new socks, oooh so soft and squishy!

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We cruised through the market checking out a few stalls here and there. I was on a mission for a few items: Meyer lemon rosemary bread from Trattoria, heritage dried beans from Tierra Farms and pork. My plan was to make posole, or pork and corn stew, and was delighted to find authentic Anasazi beans at the Tierra Farms stall. I also grabbed a sweetly fragrant bag of dried Ancho chiles and was enticed to buy a sachet of smoked onion salt. This is one of my favorite farmers at the market and I love chatting with Lee. She recommended using the smoked onion salt on popcorn, in fact she claims it is so shockingly good that you can’t help yourself from gobbling up an entire bowl. Well! How could I resist, right? D___ tried out their new strawberry chipotle hot sauce, sweetly zingy with a good smokey flavor.

We were planning to hit up Sur la Table but was sidetracked by the bins of richly marbled pasture raised meats of Marin Sun Farms. I spotted a fat pouch of pork stew meat, perfect for my SFe Posole Stew.

The gentleman ringing me up, Gareth Fischer, asked what I planned to do with the pork and we chatted a bit about posole and cooking and blogging when Gareth and I remembered we had met before at a wonderful dinner with his wife Maura, Traca of Seattle Tall Poppy, Luna of La Sirene Noir and Luna’s Kitchen Magic and others at the incomparable Incanto Restaurant. I promised to share my recipe and said our farewells. I will be back next week for a steak as their ribeyes looked incredible.

Onto Sur la Table, a gourmand’s version of Tiffany’s.. We felt like kids in a candy store, mock attacking each other with various implements and inappropriately modeling the goods.

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(the *other* use for a rolling pin)

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(silicone glove handcuffs)

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(tweaking the silicone, er, caneles molds)

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(a long nosed pestle??)

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(the closest I’ll get to playing the harp)

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(blender ninja)

And, for our performance art finale, how to kill a chicken.

Needless to say the store’s visitors and perhaps some of the staff were highly amused by our antics, as were we.

We did a bit of shopping inside the Ferry Building and suddenly the urge for a glass of wine sang its siren song and D__ recalled she had a chilled bottle of Chardonnay in her fridge. Full speed ahead!!

On the way we stopped in the Mission and finally visited the charming Pot + Pantry, a cookware shop. They sell unique new and used unusual cookery equipment and delightful art from Alyson Thomas of drywell art. I already own her San Francisco is for Carnivores print which makes me laugh every time I see it, but her current art show, Meat Market totally cracks me up. Her paintings of cuts of meat with racy captions is brilliant, my favorite is “Let’s Bone”.

But onto wine, watching the sunset from a comfy chair (shades of Monty Python) and a kind offer of ebi nabe for dinner, all graciously accepted.

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(ebi nabe is a Japanese shrimp hot pot, simple and delicious)

The heavy clouds finally delivered their payload and back at home I was lulled to sleep by the rain and hail rattling against the windows and the hiss of wet pavement under the cars whizzing by down below the Roost. All in all fun Saturday romp!

Paella: A Plate of Love

When I come to my parents for a visit, however brief, I know that mOm will be cooking up something special. Isn’t that what family visits are all about, good food shared with great company?

paella 2

For years, mOm has been torturing me with tales of her paella. We both have had friends that visited Spain and brought us back the best souvenir: glimmering, fat jars of saffron threads. Add to that great sources for smoked paprika, local chorizo, and seafood from the Bay Area, it all bodes well for a great dinner. For this night, mOm said she was just doing a little “motherly-type cooking”.  To me it’s anything but, it’s a plate of love!

On the way up to the country, my pal L___ and I popped in to the fun Michael~David winery in Lodi to stretch our and the puppy’s legs and to grab some great wine. Besides the amazing local cheese (Modesto), lavender spray and blueberry pie (from the winery’s family farm, the Phillip Farm) we totally scored with a case of Viogner, their Enigma 2006. Dry and crisp but heavy on the pineapple, pear and a touch of spice, this was the perfect wine with which to cook (and sip with) paella.

A tour of the living room and meet King-dog:

On our last night of our brief visit, it was paella night!!!  I played sous chef and chopped up various veggies, seafood and measured out wine (one cup for the paella, one cup for me) and so on, gently being cautioned not to cut my fingers off (really, mOm – love you!) and my perpetual reminders right back to wear an apron and take off the good jewelry, we really worked together seamlessly.

tomatoes

I love cooking with my mom, hearing stories about the recipes and family history, sharing tips we have gleaned from the net and the thousand cookbooks we devour regularly, and stories from around the small town that is now my parents home. City folk through and through, living in a small township has been quite a change for my parents, and one they have delighted in so many ways. The tales of the country are always so fun, like the time where a neighbor’s bull broke free from his pasture and ended up in Mom’s “back 40” and whiled away the afternoon eating Mom’s pears and mooing loudly. Or the colorful handyman characters who appear at the back door to ask for work, presumably when their cash runs low, but always leaving a tool or something behind, shades of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. Or, that in the country, one only goes to the front door if they are a utilities worker, the UPS driver or there has been a sadness in the family, ergo it’s best not to sit in the family room in your PJ’s after 9:00 am!

Despite all the chatter, we do actually get work done in the kitchen, omitting the multiple times dinner has been quite late whilst my dad waits patiently in the family room, listening to the classical station and very often singing along. On this night, mOm kindly let me film her making her paella, even posing the ingredients just do for the camera (see below for the video!). She is a food blogger’s mom, through and through!

The local butcher did not have the smoked salmon sausages mOm usually uses in her San Francisco-created paella, but he had a great selection of Echo Falls hot smoked salmon that would provide the necessary flavor. The zippy local chorizo was excellent, as was the fresh salmon steak that was deftly skinned and deboned and chunked up. No other fresh seafood was available this day (small township, remember?) sadly, but the well stocked auxiliary freezer produced plump prawns that were quickly thawed and drained on toweling. To add a little more variety in the protein department, fresh chicken thighs were added to the chopping board. A decent store-bought chicken broth was liberally sprinkled with russet saffron threads to infuse the broth, what a delicious aroma!

shrimp collage
(quick thaw your prawns by a soak in cold water for 5 minutes, then drain on paper toweling for 5 minutes)

The spanking brand new paella pan was christened with Bay Area olive oil from Bariani, then kissed with onions and garlic. After a brief doe-see-doe, sweet red and green bells were added to soften, then surprisingly ripe and juicy plum tomatoes danced in the pan. The star of the show was stirred in to the softened vegetal mass, Arborio rice this time. After a few slow, figure-eight swirls of the spatula, the aforementioned wine and broth, now shaded a lively orange from the saffron, were stirred in for a few minutes. Finally, the chicken and sausage were sprinkled in and pushed into the fragrant and soupy rice mixture. A bit later the prawns were plopped in, then even later the smoked salmon and fat sweet peas. One is supposed to let the rice simmer mostly undisturbed and to let it form a highly coveted crunchy crust on the bottom, but the pan was on its maiden voyage and the glass-topped stove is still a bit tricky to control at a low temperature. So we chatted, and stirred, and chatted some more, joined by the King-a-ling and my dear pal L___ and the man of the house. I just love it when every occupant of the house finds their way into the cozy, steamy kitchen that’s barely built for two, let alone five (if you count the 80 lb pooch, which of course we do, as he’s such a personality).

Finally, the paella was ready, the plump rice had absorbed the luscious juices from the vegetables, meats and broth and was ever so slightly chewy and yet tender. A quick dash to the terrace for a handful of parsley that miraculously survived the snowfall before Christmas and it was  roughly chopped and strewn upon the surface of the now deep yellow rice.  mOm topped off the steaming pan of paella with a sprinkle of sweet smoked Spanish paprika. It’s magical stuff really, just sprinkle some on your scrambled eggs one morning and you will never think eggs are boring again.

Triumphantly, the paella was paraded to the family room dining table, which was lit with fat white candles and set with the Royal Evesham Gold service, another souvenir from a lovely vacation in Great Britain years ago.

paella 1a modest portionthe evidence
(does your family count the shrimp tails after dinner? mine does, hee hee)

We dove into the pan, heaping piles of paella on each other’s plates, counting the prawn and chorizo allotment per person, joshing and ribbing each other, and toasting the cook, her helpers, tasters and for any other reason we could think of along the way.

The best part was, as we prepared to leave the next morning, mOm said casually, “I packed some paella for your dinner tonight…” Later, home alone and feeling quite blue, I remembered the bag I shoved in the fridge and heated up a full pound of mOm’s paella love, and for a few minutes I felt like we were all together around the table again, having fun and enjoying time together.

See how she made the paella here:

REC: mOm’s Paella Love

6 T Olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 red/green/yellow bell peppers, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 1/2 c. rice, Arborio or Carnaroli are good
1 c. dry white wine
5 c. chicken broth
1/4 tsp. saffron threads
Bay leaf
1 chorizo sausage, cooked, cut into chunks
4 links smoked salmon sausage, cut into 1″ pieces (or substitute a fresh salmon steak or fillet, cut into 1″ pieces and 1/4 lb hot smoked salmon, flakes into large chunks)
1 large chicken thigh, skinned, boned, cut into 1″ pieces
1 # Prawns, cleaned and peeled
1 c. frozen peas
1/4 c. flat leaf parsley
Smoked paprika
(1 1/4 # cooked lobster, cut into chunks)
(1 1/2 doz mussels, scrubbed well, beards removed)
(1 dozen clams, well scrubbed)
(1/2 # sea scallops)
Salt & pepper

Heat olive oil in a large skillet or paella pan, sauté onions and garlic until tender. Add peppers and sauté ~5 minutes. Mix in tomatoes and cook 10 minutes. Meanwhile, sprinkle saffron into chicken broth. Add rice to skillet and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add wine, broth and bay leaf, salt and pepper, stir well, simmer on medium low heat for 5 minutes.

Stir in seafood, (except smoked salmon, if using) sausages and chicken. Stir occasionally and cook until the liquid is absorbed and seafood and meats are cooked through (and clams and mussels are open). Approximate rice cooking time is 15-20 min from the point where the broth is added to the rice mixture.

5 minutes before this, add peas (and smoked salmon), gently fold in (to avoid breaking up the salmon).

Before serving, sprinkle on chopped parsley, smoked paprika, decorate with lemon wedges.

Serves 6.

We served this with a wonderful wine from New Mexico! Casa Rondena’s winery is located in Los Rancho de Albuquerque, and their winemaker and founder John Calvin makes delicious wines grown on the banks of the Rio Grande. L___ and I discovered the winery during our epic A Dog and Two Chicks on Route 66 road trip.  During that trip I became a member of their wine club and this year won their member contest of a case of mixed wine! It was so exciting as I have never won anything before. The wine we enjoyed with the paella was their ’06 Clarion, a Gold Medal winner, and is mostly Syrah with some Tempranillo and a little Cabernet Sauvignon.  Rich and smooth and a bit spicy, it was a perfect foil to the unctuous rice and saffron, spicy sausage and smokey seafood flavors.  Sadly we finished the bottle quickly but happily I have another at home along with a wealth of others to enjoy.  (Thank you John and Vicky for the treat!)

And, thank you mOm, Dad, and L___ for the lovely trip, and especially to mOm for the paella love!