Monday, January 26, 2009

Sushi Feast

Saturday night Trisha and I attended a multi-course Asian themed dinner party with three other couples. My contributions were a large sushi platter and a seared sesame crusted tuna appetizer that was served over a spicy Asian vegetable slaw with a blood orange reduction.
We Are Making Sushi...
My fish was special ordered from Dirk at Dirk's Fish on Clybourn in Chicago. My order was shipped out Fedex next day Thursday night and I received in on Friday afternoon. We ordered salmon, red snapper, and two types of tuna. Dirk always does a great job of getting you what you need. I just tell him what I am making, and how many people I need to serve, and he takes care of the rest. Dirk also carries a full selection of any other types of seafood you could be looking for. The fish arrived boxed and packaged within a heavy styrofoam cooler with freezer packs.
<--The fish came trimmed and ready to use.
Cooling the rice before adding the traditional seasoning mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt -->
Tools of the trade-->

Rolling an inside-out California roll
I made a wide assortment of sushi. Pictured are traditional nigiri with tuna, salmon, and red snapper. The rolls consisted of spicy tuna, salmon, California, and inside-out California. I also made a few decorative square rolls (pictured) but they do require a little extra effort. I added a "barrier garnish" to separate the raw sushi from the California rolls, because I was not sure if everybody would be up to trying the raw fish. Of course the tray was served with the traditional accompaniments of soy sauce and wasabi. I am happy to report that we had several people try raw sushi for the first time! Everybody said that it was some of the freshest and best tasting fish they have ever had in their lives.

Seared Tuna with Spicy Asian Slaw and Blood Orange Reduction
For our first appetizer I made seared sesame crusted tuna with a spicy Asian slaw.
I started by making the slaw. It was a mix of finely shredded napa cabbage, red savory, carrots, red onion, bean sprouts, and red peppers. The dressing was a vinaigrette style made with rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, and sesame seeds.

I made a finishing sauce for the tuna out of the juice of blood oranges. I took the juice of several blood oranges, lime zest, and a few teaspoons of sugar and reduced it by about half over medium heat on the stove. In another saucepan I sauteed ginger and garlic in toasted sesame seed oil until the garlic just started to brown. I de-glazed the pan with a little sauvignon blanc and soy sauce. I then combined the two pans into one and let it simmer until it reached a slightly thicker consistency.
For the tuna, I used the same fresh sushi grade tuna that I used to make the nigiri and sushi rolls with. I started by quickly marinating the tuna in the same vinaigrette used for the slaw, and then crusting it with toasted sesame seeds. It was then quickly seared on both sides on a hot griddle. We removed the tuna from the griddle while the inside was still perfectly rare. I served the tuna family style over the Asian slaw with a light drizzle of the blood orange reduction.

The Rest of the Story...
What really made the dinner lots of fun was that other guests also contributed with their own great dishes as well. Here are details of our other courses.

Egg Drop Soup
Traditional freshly made egg drop soup garnished with green onions.
Pot Stickers with Plum Sauce and Chinese Mustard
Wonton wrapped pork dumplings that are fried and then perfectly steamed.
Beef with Cashews and Snow Peas
Thinly sliced beef sauteed with garlic, ginger, hoisin sauce, cashews and snow peas. This was outstanding. For many of us it was the first time we have had the combination of beef with cashews and it went together well.

We finished off the evening with a refreshing homemade lychee nut ice cream and fortune cookies. Everyone enjoyed themselves so much at the dinner that we are already trying to decide what our next theme will be!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Babyback Ribs - Two Ways

In Search of Perfect Ribs.....

I decided Saturday night would be rib night. I received Steven Raichlen's BBQ USA cookbook for Christmas and it was time to try some recipes. I went with 2 different recipes. A dry rub style and a jalapeno jerk style with a homemade pineapple-ginger bbq sauce. I did each recipe with one rack of baby back ribs- back membrane removed. Here are my results...

The jerk ribs were marinated in a mix of pineapple juice, jalapenos and cilantro for 4 hours. To the right is a picture of the bbq sauce started with pineapple juice, fresh ginger, and cilantro.

Rubbed and ready...

Starting the coals... I use a mix of natural lump hardwood charcoal and traditional briquettes to get the best of both worlds. The lump burns quicker and hotter, while the briquettes will last a little longer.

The perfect smoking temperature. 225-250F. 3-4 hours at this temperature delivers perfect results.

I cooked these using indirect heat on a rib rack over a water filled drip pan. Twice during cooking I added some wet mesquite wood chips to the coals.

The perfect rib? Juicy, pulls away from the bone, and there is a noticeable pink smoke ring.
We came away very impressed with both recipes. The dry rubbed ribs were great and Trisha said that the jalapeno jerk ribs were the most flavorful meat she has ever tasted.

The Chili Cookoff

So my church hosted a chili cook off that raises money for habitat for humanity. Of course I had to enter. I entered last year and did not place in the top three. It was a hearty chili made with shredded beef, homemade ancho chili powder, with a hint of cocoa. I got rave reviews but no dice in the judging corner. This year I took a different approach. Fat is flavor. I made a white chicken chili.

I started by rendering some bacon. (how many great recipes start with this step?)
Sauteed celery, green pepper, and onion until soft.
I roasted a a few of each of the following peppers in the oven. Poblano, Anaheim, Serrano, and Jalapeno. I let the rest in a plastic bag after roasting to make it easier to remove the skin then I chopped them up and added to the chili.
Added a couple cloves of chopped garlic.
Added chicken stock, tomatillo salsa, and green enchilada sauce.
Seasoned with cumin, salt, ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, and dried oregano.
Added seasoned and grilled chicken breasts, that were diced into chunks.
Finished by added cream cheese, the reserved bacon bits, and shredded Monterrey jack cheese.

This recipe was enough to win first place with the judges, land me a silver spoon trophy, and send me onto the city championship on 2/28/09. I will keep you updated on how I do.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


Ahh...Oysters. If you have never tried them raw, or have not tried them lately you should. There is nothing better than a fresh oyster on the half shell with a light squeeze of lemon and a small dollop of cocktail sauce. One thing that I don't think people realize is the broad variety of oysters that are available. Do not let one bad oyster ruin it for you. They can very greatly in size, shape, and texture between East and West coast varietals. While most raw oysters do have a soft and slippery texture that some people do not care for, there are those that are a little more on the dry and meaty side. The most delicious and meatiest oysters that I recall having were actually from Louisiana and not the traditional Eastcoast Chesapeake variety you may think of. You can always start small with fried oysters or everyone's favorite Oysters Rockefeller. In this style they are actually baked in the shell with bread crumbs, spinach, parmesan cheese, and bacon.

These oysters pictured were fresh from Raymor's Fish Products in Muskegon. These were flown in fresh just after Christmas this year and were outstandingly fresh and tasty.