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December 28, 2010

Dungeness Crab Cakes

The dungeness are a popular delicacy in the Pacific Northwest.  Named after a small town and the shallow bay of Dungeness, Washington State. It has become the prime destination of crabbers. Thousands visit the bay each year after the culinary jewel of the place. Available all year round but more plentiful beginning October till the end of the year. At least that is my observation.  The Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco is a popular destination of tourists from around the globe. They particularly go for the sweet taste of the crustacean.  The crab is usually boiled or steamed. They even recommend using sea water to boil with or just add salt to tap water for better taste. Here is one way of preparing this delicious crab.
For a pound of picked crab you will need 1/2 cup of Saltine crackers crushed, a sprig of chopped flat parsley, some mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons, 1 tablespoon of finely chopped shallots, a pinch of cayenne pepper powder, a dash of Old Bay seasoning or mustard if you wish. Season with salt and pepper lightly and for the binding agent a large slightly beaten egg. Use a 1/3 measuring cup to pack the crab and brush them lightly with egg wash and cover  with bread crumbs before pan frying in oil.
They could be served with lemon aioli, mayonnaise with mustard and hot pepper or mustard sauce with a hint of garlic, etc. I like it with simple and not over powering sauces. I still want its sweet and delicate flavor. So enjoy!

December 23, 2010

Mazapan de Toledo

In Spain, Toledo is the marzipan capital. Famous for making the best delicacies in the country. This particular one shape like an eel or snake is decorated elaborately and garnished with candied fruits is  made specially at Christmas time. The history of the eel marzipan I would rather not elaborate. I am more interested in the presentation of this dessert. I first saw this in Toledo displayed in pastry shop windows. They were so inviting but a little too pricey. I settled for the small ones instead. I was a student then studying about El Greco. Toledo is in itself a museum. Now I make these every Christmas time. I have the same recipe for marzipan but this is a little bit firmer to mold and shape. The usual recipe of very finely ground almonds, sugar and a little egg white to bind into a smooth dough. For every 2 cups of ground almonds I just add 1 cup of granulated sugar but you can always add more if you wish. I brush it with egg wash before baking until brown. The decoration is royal icing and some candied fruit for garnish.
 Blanch almonds and remove skin before grinding several times until  powdered. Mix ingredients and knead well and make the desired shape. You can carve or decorate on plain surface.

It is also recommended to let the shaped marzipan to dry a bit overnight to make elaborate designs  possible like the scales for example. Here is another one that is too flat and icing too wet. I will serve this anyway, and it will disappear quickly!

December 21, 2010

Chiaroscuro on Chocolate Block

Chiaroscuro is an Italian word that means light and dark. Da Vinci pioneered the use of chiaroscuro to create the illusion of relief on a two dimensional surface. I practiced the style copying the masters on canvas before but now I came up with the idea of applying it on an 11 pound block of Belgian chocolate to make it look like a fresco that came off the wall. I chose one of Da Vinci's angels for the distinctive smile like the popular one in the Louvre. This will be my second piece. This is a special request from friends who enjoyed the first one. They came away with a piece of the Belgian chocolate happy and still talk about it now and then. They somehow intimated that they want to see it again so I am going to surprise them with another one. This is for the Christmas party. It is made with just 3 ingredients, white and dark chocolate and saffron. The picture weighed about 12 pounds when it was finished with all the additional decorations. A no-bake dessert, just melting, glueing, dabbing and scraping. I used my index finger to dab on the image and some homemade tools. Here's how.
I started of with 2 blocks of Belgian chocolate, white and dark. Melted some of the dark and white in 2 separate melters, about a cup each. When melted I put the dial to warm to always be ready to use. This time I did not use my chocolate tempering machine because there wasn't a lot to melt.
Glued the molding at the top with melted chocolate, of course and carved some design and simulated cracks and wear to make it look like marble. Dabbed some dark chocolate on parts I wanted to be visible. The brush was for clearing the shavings.
Then I started copying the angel from a huge book cover. I dabbed with index finger mostly dark chocolate on white and middle finger with saffron for the yellow hue. The saffron was ground with a few drops of hot water. Scrapped the excess chocolate now an then to get the light and dark effect.
I was careful in making the face and not so much with the rest of the picture for after all it came off the wall with a bit of damage.
The peculiar smile was the hardest to copy for me. I kept scraping and dabbing a lot.

When I finally got the far away look of the angel, I let it stay the same and not try to improve it anymore.
I declared it finished and put it on an easel otherwise I will not stop retouching it! She's now ready to welcome the guests.

December 19, 2010

The Pitaya or Dragonfruit

Pitaya in South America and Dragon fruit in Asia, the origin of the fruit was never really settled. This is a tropical fruit cultivated as ornamental plant and fruit crop in countries like Vietnam,Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan. It is grown in a lot of homes in Hawaii and I know of  a Vietnamese farmer in Sacramento, California who does organic farming and cultivates these beauties.  The fruit has a delicate slightly sweet flavor and known to have heath benefits like vitamins and minerals. There are red, yellow and bright magenta in color. They are prepared in a variety of ways but I'd rather eat them fresh because of its very delicate flavor that gets lost in cooking or when mixed with other ingredients. I have fun serving them in different forms.
This is how big they are compered with the apple. If you see them in the market select the brighter in color and shinier ones. I find the bigger fruit more mature and sweeter too. I got these at a huge market in Berkeley that sells all kinds of fruit and vegetables that are in season around the world. I only wish they had  pitayas with red and yellow pulp for they are really nice looking to show you.
I often wondered why they call it dragonfruit when it looks more like a fish to me. What do you think?
The tiny seeds are often compared to the texture of the kiwi which are completely edible or even the strawberry. Here are some ways you might serve them.

This slice can take the place of my salad anytime. Try this fruit, even if it's just for its good looks. Enjoy!

December 17, 2010

Stuffed Chicken Wings

Many like this dish very much but would not make it because they think its just too laborious or too difficult. When in fact is easy as pie. The dish is of Thai and Vietnamese origin. Most popular as finger food, an appetizer or as a side dish. I saw them served like this in Bangkok and still remember the recipe.
To many guests, they look like either lobster tales or breaded giant prawns, and so they fly off the platter in a flash but are never disappointed when they take the first bite. They usually for go for one more.
The dipping sauce is made of finely grated carrots using a microplane grater, 2 tablespoons and garlic 2 cloves. Season with fish sauce, lime juice, palm sugar, black pepper and a hint of cayenne pepper powder then dilute with warm water. Adjust seasonings according to your taste.

The wings are usually served with the dipping sauce that makes the appetizer even more flavorful. The dish is prepared in a variety of ways. This is my version made specially for you.

Thoroughly mix in a huge bowl 1 egg, 1/2 cup each of the finely minced scallions,carrots,bamboo shoots,blanched moong bean threads, softened dried shitake mushrooms and 2 1/2 cups of ground chicken leg meat. Season with salt and black pepper well. You can also use other lean ground meat of your choice. Then set aside to prepare the wings.

Clean at least 12 and cut off the drummet portion of the wing to save for another recipe. Bone each one by cutting around the two joint bones carefully with a sharp paring knife. Then push down the meat scraping the ones attached to the bones. Separate the two bones and dislodge them one at a time. They should come off easily without breaking. Stuff the wings by holding the wing like you do an ice cream cone towards the top and begin stuffing, packing it down to the bottom. I should make a fat little wingget.

Dust each stuffed wing with flour and steam for at least 30 minutes. Line the steamer with green onions to avoid them from sticking to the pan. When done carefully transfer them to a plate to cool a bit. Then roll them in egg wash, and then in panko bread crumbs slightly seasoned with salt and pepper.  Pan fry till golden brown. Lay them on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Serve them in any nice way you like.

This recipe is for 12 but guests usually get 2 or more so make two batches of these if you like. Enjoy!

December 15, 2010

Empanadas in Spiral Shells

The empanada is of Spanish and Portuguese origin. Usually filled with vegetables and some meat. The name comes from the word empanar which means to wrap in bread. Introduced to many places and became really popular. The shape varies from country to country as well as the filling. The Asian version is called curry puffs of spiced potatoes in a special spiral shell.  I thought of making some with a usual  empanada filling in a special spiral shell. Here they are crispy, crumbly and tasty!
Here's how. Make the empanada filling first. Sautee 1 cup of cubed chicken breast with 1/2 of an onion then add 1 1/2  cups of tiny diced potatoes, 10 chopped filled olives, 1/2 of red bell pepper, 1/3 cup green peas and season with salt and pepper. Cook with about 1/2 cups of water until potatoes are soft or until water have evaporated. Set aside and make the shells.
Put 2 cups of flour in one big bowl and 1 cup of flour  in a small bowl. In the big one add 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, 1 tbs sugar, 1 tsp salt. Mix thoroughly then add about less than 1/2 cup of cold water little at a time to make a smooth but firm dough. In the small bowl add 1/3 cups of vegetable oil and mix to make a dough soft enough to spread. Add a few drops more oil if necessary.
Roll the big dough into about a foot rectangle and place the smaller oil dough on the top upper half of the  bigger dough. Make sure it is within 1/2 inch border.

Fold in half covering the oil dough completely and seal it, making sure no air is trapped inside.
Shape the dough by pressing and rolling a 30 or more inch by 11 inch rectangular. The dough should be thin enough to roll into a log.

When rolled, slice off the uneven tip of the log and slice the next one into about 3/4 of an inch. Put the spiral dough flat on a piece of plastic wrap and carefully roll it into about 4 1/2 inch in diameter round to wrap about 2 tsp of filling. The log should yield 12 or more empanadas. Close the shell with the aid of the plastic wrap forming half a circle by pinching the edges flatly then beginning from one end folding each pinched edge consecutively until the other end. Deep fry them in vegetable oil until golden. Place them on paper towels to absorb excess oil and serve.
Empanadas are usually severed as snacks or pass around food for picnics and at parties. Enjoy!

Art is in the Kitchen

Art is in the Kitchen
Arthur Escoto

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Napa, California, United States