Awesomely Overwhelming

Moving to a new city is so surreal. For starters, it’s an incredibly ginormous amount of work. You have to register your car (or just buy a new one and get your stuff in the mail!), change your address (which took 2 months to successfully complete, thanks to the Chicago post office), find all the nearby necessities, watch your husband near ’bout reach full panic mode when setting up the surround sound (that we need! we need!), sell and purchase furniture, deal with ‘craigslist crazies’, find a new home for the litter boxes, figure out the neighbors’ schedules so you know when they’re going to play their techno and when you get to play yours (well, not techno, but real music), and by now you probably get the point:

Moving is not something I hope to do again any time soon.

On top of the general logistics that are thankfully nearing an end, you get some fun things too – especially here in San Francisco, where fun seems somewhat contagious; if you don’t believe me, take a gander at the happenings of this past weekend. You get a brand new food culture: new restaurants to try, new delivery options (Indian! Mexican! Japanese! Burmese!), new farmers’ markets, and new seasonal produce. It’s awesomely overwhelming. But in a totally good way.

Last week, I realized that I am having a really hard time with the latter though; I can’t for the life of me adjust to the multitude of fresh produce, the differences in timing of say, the availability of ramps (I missed them this year – damnation!) or avocado (all year compared to never in the Midwest) or cherries (now! – I don’t have to wait until July/August!). I can’t figure it all out, at least not yet. But that’s probably because I’ve been buried under a box or two, or refinishing a desk, or putting the mattress I was conceived on out front for the Salvation Army pickup (too much?).

Either way, I am definitely thankful for the cheat-sheets. Luckily for me, a fellow Chicagoan to SF transplant and culinary school classmate moved out here about 6 months before me, and she’s found a handy guide to Bay Area produce that I plan to procure soon. And while the ones pictured here aren’t, I am excited about buying fresh peas, and berries, and avocado, and next April, those damn ramps I so sadly missed out on because I was busy doing, you know, other things.

But now, now I’m ready for the produce. I’m ready for the good food, the grilling out and having a drink on the back deck, the (hopefully soon) lazy Saturday that just begs for a trip out to an oil store or a new cheese shop (of which there are many), and the Sundays that are meant for bike rides through our neighbor, Golden Gate Park, or along the ocean, or maybe even just down the street for coffee.

Pea & Bacon Risotto
adapted from Food & Wine, May 2011; serves 6

Risotto, I have missed you. It’s been a while, but for some reason I had the urge to stand at the counter and stir, stir, stir. This is probably one of the best risottos I’ve had: the salty bacon, the squishy peas, and the rich cheesy, buttery finish – it deserves the time it takes, and even more.

time commitment: 50 minutes

printable version

ingredients
6 oz lean bacon, diced
2 c frozen baby peas, thawed
2 T olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 c carnaroli rice (arborio works fine, too)
1/2 c dry white wine
7 c simmering chicken broth
1 T unsalted butter
1/2 c freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 T fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper

instructions
In a large Dutch oven, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp, 6 minutes. Drain the bacon on paper towels; reserve 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, puree half of the peas with 1/2 cup of water. Heat the chicken broth in a large saucepan and keep at a low simmer.

In the same Dutch oven, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until the rice is evenly coated with the oil. Add the wine and simmer until almost evaporated, 3 minutes.

Add chicken broth, 1/2 cup at a time, to the rice mixture and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the broth has been absorbed. Add more stock to cover the rice. Continue cooking and stirring, adding more broth as it is absorbed, until the rice is al dente and suspended in a creamy sauce, ~25 minutes. Add the pea puree, the remaining peas and the bacon and cook, stirring, until hot. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the butter, reserved bacon fat, cheese and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

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Hypercolor Flashback: Purple Asparagus

purple asparagus pieces
I went to one of Chicago’s local farmer’s markets last weekend, where the asparagus was piled on the tables in a matter resembling fresh-cut lumber. There were stacks of green and purple, yes purple, asparagus. And while I’d heard of it before, I’d never cooked with or eaten it. It has a higher sugar content than its green buddy and is more tender. The cool part is that, when you cook them thoroughly, they turn green on the outside, just like the inside. Maybe you aren’t so wowed by this, but the first thought that came into my mind was this: hypercolor. And I was mystified.

purple asparagus


Do ya’ll remember the hypercolor t-shirts? If not, well – first I am very sad about that, but second – I’ll give you a refresher. The hypercolor fad occurred in the late 80’s/early 90’s amidst a number of clothing faux pas, such as puffy skirts, legwarmers, and fingerless gloves (wait..I must have missed something when those came back into circulation in 2008…). Hypercolor shirts were not fashion faux pas; in fact they’re scientifically fascinating. The amazing magical t-shirts changed colors when exposed to heat, which was accomplished by using thermochromic dye that, at high temperatures, resulted in a chemical reaction that subsequently altered the color of the t-shirt in the area where the heat was applied.

Me? I sported a pink hypercolor shirt that changed to white. My show-stopping outfit was completed with jeans, holes ripped in the knees, a t-shirt clip, Reebok Pumps, and an NKOTB pin that was the size of my head. Well, not that big, but you get the point. Let’s not forget the hair-do: side ponytail with poofed up bangs, probably perfected by Kris. It was something.

making risotto

I used my little purple hypercolor market treasures to make a shrimp risotto. Risotto is one of my favorite dishes to make, as you have a basic ‘no whammies’ technique and an end result that can be altered by adding any other ingredients you wish. Like ice cream, in a way. The worst part, to some, about making risotto is the time spent standing in front of the stovetop, stirring in the liquid. One thinks of all the other chores that could generally be accomplished while cooking – washing the prep dishes, getting the table set, watching a portion of a tv show, reading, etc. These things can’t be done while making risotto.


making risotto



You see, making top-notch risotto is accomplished by cooking your rice slowly by adding small amounts of liquid and stirring, thus releasing the starch molecules from the rice into the liquid. For this to happen, the rice must first get cooked briefly in fat, typically butter or olive oil. Once the rice is al dente, it’s removed from heat at which time you’re free. Free from the reigns of the stovetop, for one, but second, free to add whatever your heart desires – or whatever you’ve got lying around in need of being eaten. On the other hand, if you’re adding something like shrimp, you can cook the shrimp in the risotto, but you’ve got to hang around that stovetop a tad longer. Trust me, for this dish, it’s worth it.


shrimp and asparagus risotto

This particular recipe is one of my favorite risottos so far. You can’t really go wrong by adding shrimp, but the addition of light, bright Greek flavors such as feta and dill is what really does it for me. And to believe I used to hate dill – now I can’t see how one could not adore such a fresh, feathery, aromatic herb. An herb that, while having quite the affinity for salmon, surely doesn’t dislike shrimp in the least. And I’m sure regular ol’ asparagus would work if you can’t locate the purple variety.


So for you? What’s your favorite risotto recipe, or are you a stranger to this Italian delicacy? If so, this recipe will be a perfect first step – so try it out and let me know whatcha think!


Greek Shrimp & Purple Asparagus Risotto
Adapted from Cooking Light, May 2009; serves 4



ingredients
3 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
2 t olive oil
2 vidalia onions, small dice
1 cup Arborio rice
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz purple asparagus, cut into 1″ pieces
1 lb peeled & deveined shrimp
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 T fresh dill, chopped finely
2 T lemon juice
salt & pepper

instructions

  1. Bring broth & water to simmer over medium heat in medium saucepan; keep warm-hot but not boiling
  2. Heat oil in large saucepan (or Dutch oven) over med-hi. Add onion and saute 5 min. Stir in rice and garlic, saute 1 min. Add broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (~30 minutes total)
  3. Stir in asparagus and shrimp; cook 5 minutes or until shrimp is done, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and remaining ingredients

Building Mussels without Breakin’ a Sweat

thai green curry ingredients


We took our cats in for their annual vet visit a couple of weeks ago. And although my cat has always been on the larger side, she’s never been officially classified as fat. Well, not until this visit. We’d tried portioning out their food for the past year to avoid the inevitable weight gain, but we began to notice that my cat would eat not only her portion, but also the portion of her smaller, more timid sister. Two things wrong with that picture: my cat continues to eat too much, and the other cat doesn’t eat at all. Both will lead to poor outcomes…



So anyway, after pondering various ideas, we came to a solution that will avoid both of the former scenarios. We’d feed the “non-fat” cat on the counter, since she can jump up with ease and the “fat” cat can’t, and we’d switch my cat to canned food to easily portion it out and guarantee that the other cat won’t eat it, since she refuses canned food. In trying out various brands of canned food, I’ve realized a thing or two. Some of them are true delicacies, especially for a cat! One kind I bought her was called “Savory salmon w/ lentils & ginger”. I mean, c’mon. It’s no wonder she didn’t like it. And after trying 5 different brands, I’ve come to the conclusion that she, like me, has turned into a Whole Foods snob! Their brand was the only one she ate every flavor of, and the only one she ate with pure excitement. Some, despite her normal tendency to eat all things in sight, were left untouched – overnight. Who would have thought a cat would be able to pick out organic cat food. Fortunately, their foods, unlike human food, are not too much more expensive than the brands at Petsmart.

tange & sasha

And so, in my attempt to find tasty, nutritious, balanced food for my cat, I also went on a mission to find ingredients for my weekend meals. Once I got over the fact that my cat and I now shop at the same store, I was then faced with the frustration of the WF move. The WF I normally buy groceries from is expanding and jumping a block south next month, so finding all ingredients I need at one store was like finding pizza in Chinatown. But no worries, because Dirk’s Seafood was just around the corner, and I knew they’d have the final ingredient on my list, mussels. Oh, I do love mussels.

And, I love curry, and Thai food in general, so a Thai version of clam chowder with mussels instead of clams was right on par with something I’d cook.


mussels in curry broth



The last dish I made with curry is one of my very favorites. Plus, I’d been on a break from coconut since early April, and I was ready to bring it back into my life.

I did make some changes to the original recipe. I’d gone to an Asian grocery a while back and stocked up on some hard-to-find ingredients, so I had Kaffir lime leaves and thai chiles in the freezer. I still added more lime flavor. I’m sure if you can’t find Kaffir lime leaves you could leave them out, but they do add a lot of Thai-ness to the dish. Actual kaffir limes look a lot like regular limes but are sort of bumpy, and they’re smaller. The leaves look like two leaves stuck together. And thai chilies can be bought in little bags with tons in one bag. They both freeze well and last a long time. The ones I had in the freezer are over a year old and are just as fragrant as when I bought them. Also, the recipe called for scallops, and that didn’t seem as good as more shrimp to me. So I doubled the shrimp and took out the scallops. And last, the recipe had no ginger! So I added some.


seafood with thai green curry


I tell you, straight up, this is one of the easiest dishes I’ve made in a long time. It’s full of veggies, seafood, and exotic, complex flavors. It’s actually healthy, although it looks too creamy to be low-fat. But it is. People get real excited about mussels, and the fact of the matter is that they really are a piece of cake to prepare. You literally dump them in a pot and close the lid. Voila. That being said, this recipe would be a true crowd-pleaser and a sure thing for company. And for those with dietary issues – gluten & dairy-free. Need I say more?

green curry broth

Thai Green Curry w/ Seafood
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2009; Serves 4


printable recipe

ingredients
2 T unrefined peanut oil (could use standard refined but will not be as robust)
5 green onions, chopped, dark green parts separated from white and pale green parts
3 T minced fresh cilantro, divided
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 T Thai green curry paste
1 1/4 cups water
1 can coconut milk (light works just fine)
2 red Thai chilies (or 1 red jalepeno chile)
2 kaffir lime leaves (or 2 T lime juice + 1 t zest)
zest of 1/2 lime
juice of 1/2 lime
1 t fresh grated ginger
1 T fish sauce (Thai kitchen brand is gluten free)
1 large carrot, peeled, thinly cut diagonally
4 cups thinly sliced bok choy
1 lb uncooked medium shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 lb green or black mussels, scrubbed, debearded
2 T chopped fresh basil
2 cups cooked white arborio rice

instructions

1. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add white & pale green onion parts, 1 T cilantro, and garlic; saute until tender, about 2 minutes.


2. Add curry paste; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add water, coconut milk, chiles, lime leaves, lime zest, lime juice, ginger, and fish sauce. Bring to simmer. Add carrot; cover and cook until carrot is just tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Layer bok choy, shrimp & mussels in pan. Cover & simmer until mussels open and shrimp & bok choy are cooked, about 5 minutes.

4. Stir in dark green parts of onions, 2 T remaining cilantro, and basil.

5. Divide rice among 4 bowls. Ladle curry mixture over rice & serve.