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Sunday, October 7, 2007

Back From Hiatus: An Indulgent Hawaiian-inspired Autumn Menu

It's been a long time since my last posting. Six weeks; if you, my imaginary readers, happen to be counting. I have been a busy little girl:
Two weeks in the land of Aloha; one week in that land's near polar opposite: Manhattan; and playing catch-up in San Francisco between trips.
It's astonishing how much time can be spent preparing to pack, then the actually packing, then the post-trip unpacking which includes the garb organizing into hand-washables, dry
cleanables, machine washables, disposables (something always needs to weeded out after either careless handling or never-fitting properly) and there's the always exciting, newly purchased piles that need to be carefully hidden until the appropriate "What this old thing?" or "Oh sweetie, I've had this for years, I can't believe you've never noticed it!!!" moment when the hubby remarks on the totally hot Dolce & Gabbana trench coat recently liberated from Barneys NY.

All of this, while not exactly one of the more rigorous forms of manual labor, not quite on par with say... coal-mining, does take time & requires effort that might otherwise go into more creative endeavors like blogging, for instance.

But fear not, gentle reader, all those sunsets, massages, cocktails and gourmet meals were not for naught. Every second that I spent soaking up the sun or scarfing down
ahi poke & Krug rose was spent for you and your continuing edification (always keeping the budding gourmand in mind). A martyr to my cause... that's what all who know me think and the next few blogs will prove it, you'll see.

For starters, an indulgent yet light Hawaiian-inspired autumn meal made with foods that are readily available in this season of mists & mellow fruitfulness.

Don'tcha just love that Keats dude. You can click on the title of this blog to a link to his "Ode to Autumn" and read it in its entirety. I can't believe he died so young but the early 19th century wasn't exactly a picnic. 

Three of the English language's most beloved romantic poets (Keats, Shelly & Byron) all died within a year or two of each other; all before the age of 30. Ain't that a coincidence? I'd welcome the views of any conspiracy theorists out there with regard to the untimely demise of these young Lotharios who were ill-regarded by the society of their day.

 Well, the fact is even if they were scandalously murdered by some Jack the Ripper of libertines (actually Keats died of TB, Byron of some venereal malady and Shelly drowned "accidentally"), they're immortal words will never be forgotten. (Take that you narrow-minded hate-mongers!)

To the romantic boys of the early 19th century and other fellow hedonists (actually I lead an almost ascetic lifestyle, really I do), I dedicate these recipes for their sensual textures; vibrant, jewel-like colors and exotic flavors. Here's looking at you, kids!!!

Autumn Salad of Smoked Duck Breast, Avocado, Pomegranate Seeds, Dried Figs and Feta over Curly Red Savoy Cabbage and Romaine Lettuce with a Jerez Sherry Vinaigrette

Pupus Anyone? Recipes for A Light Taste of Autumn

Don't let the lengthy name of this recipe fool you. It's easier to make than it is to type. The crisp lettuces are really the stars of the show.

Grimaud Farms makes a nice smoked duck breast that they cook with sweet spices (clove, cardamon, etc,) giving the duck a light pleasant asian flavor which I highly recommend using. You top chef wannabes can, of course, smoke or even sous vide your own duck breast, if you have the time and the inclination but sometimes it's better to sub it out. Think of an excellent pre-cooked gourmet product as your very own sous chef; assisting you with some of the more mundane tasks while you create & execute your ultimate vision. If you really don't like duck you can substitute with prosciutto.

Pomegranate seeds come from, you guessed it, pomegranates which you can find from now until January in most grocery stores unless you live in the hinterlands; then, I suggest you substitute the best grapes you can find & cut each grape in half for easier consumption with a fork. Apples cut into dice would work, too; but pomegranates are so sexy, jewel-like & beautiful, you should really try to find them. They are chock full of anti-oxidants & have a surprising nutty crunch along with a sweet/tart juice that really is nice with the duck & salad.

The pomegranate should feel heavy for its size & look plump & round. If it looks too leathery with heavy indentations, it's probably too old to eat but would look great in a flower arrangement or wreath, The seeds are not hard to remove but you want to make sure you remove them in tact. (Wear dark clothes if its you're first time ever.) Just use a very sharp knife, cut the fruit in half at its equator. Then cut each half in half, again. You'll see all the ruby-like seeds grouped together in bunches separated by papery segmented pith. Just grab the bunches of seeds & carefully separate them from the pith using your fingers. Once you do that, you can easily separate the seeds from each other & sprinkle them over your salad.

The sherry vinegar is important. You should have all kinds of vinegar in your pantry because different vinegars can really enhance or detract from a dish not unlike different wines would. Use the Spanish Vinagre de Jerez "La Bodega" which is produced & bottled by Bodegas Paez Morilla, S.A. It is not crazy expensive & will add a more nuanced balanced acidity to the dish than a white wine vinegar or the ubiquitous balsamic vinegar would. If push comes to shove use cider vinegar & a little dijon mustard as a substitute.

Equally important is the olive oil. Use the best you can find, buy it in small quantities so it doesn't go rancid before you use it all (which never happens in my house because I'm an olive oil junkie. I'd mainline it if I could taste it being pumped into my arteries) It must be extra-virgin, preferably cold-pressed and unfiltered. You really want the fruitiness in the oil for this dish. California makes some really great ones right now. I'm always trying different producers but my latest fave is Hillstone Olive Oil, an artisanal producer out of Yolo County, Ca. It's hand harvested from Arbequina Olives, a Spanish variety of olive grown primarily in Catalonia, Spain. The oil in my bottle was harvested 10/23/06 according to the handwritten date on the label. Delicious!!!
For more info

The mission figs air-dried naturally in the small walnut basket where I kept them which is why the recipe calls for dried figs (because I happen to have them on hand, silly) but you could easily use fresh figs which quite remarkably still seem to be available in some markets even this late in the season.
The curly leafed red savoy cabbage
(I used only the small inner leaves) is beautiful if you can find it , if not use radicchio.

You'll notice I do not create a salad dressing per
se. Instead I choose to simply drizzle the oil, vinegar, pomegranate juice & toss well. This creates a fresh, light coating over the salad ingredients. You can create an emulsion using a touch of dijon mustard, if you prefer it; but, it can be a little heavy & is not huge value add with this particular salad with all of its rich ingredients.

1/2 smoked duck breast (Grimaud Farm's brand recommended), skin removed, thinly sliced & brought to room temperature
2 oz. feta, crumbled
1 large avocado, pitted & cut into large dice
1 pomegranate, seeds removed & retained (see note), reserving a tablespoonful of seeds for a final garnish & a spoonful of the juice for the dressing
8 dried figs, stemmed & cut into quarters
2 heads of Romaine lettuce, crisp inner leaves only, washed, dried & torn into small pieces
1 head of red curly-leafed savoy cabbage, tender inner leaves only, washed, dried & separated (tear larger leaves into bite-sized pieces
1 small shallot, minced (optional)
2 sprigs fresh tarragon, leaves only, roughly chopped (optional)
sea salt & freshly cracked pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (see note)
1 Tablespoon Jerez (Sherry) Vinegar (see note)

Toss the salad greens, shallot & tarragon together in a large serving bowl.
Add the remaining ingredients drizzling the oil & vinegar over the salad makings, tossing well
to evenly distribute the ingredients & coat the lettuce leaves with the dressing. Add a final sprinkle of the reserved pomegranate seeds over the top. Serve family style or, alternatively, serve on individual salad plates. If you choose that route, for a more elegant presentation, you might like to reserve the duck breast, toss the remaining ingredients and place the salad on the individual plates & fan the thin duck breast slices on the plate around the salad with an additional drizzle of olive oil, pomegranate seeds & pomegranate juice over the duck.

Serves 4.

Opah Poke: Big Island Style Tartare

opah looked particularly fresh & delicious at Bryan's (my neighborhood seafood & meat purveyor) the day I made this which is why I chose it. It looked like toro, an unctuous, fattier, sinful cut from the belly of bluefin tuna, which made it doubly appealing to me but a little strong in flavor for some. Sashimi grade ahi, kampachi and/or fresh wild Pacific salmon (which inexplicably still seems to be in season at this posting) make excellent substitutes. All the fish should be firm to the touch with no scent whatsoever except maybe a light pleasant ocean smell.
Make sure whatever fish you buy is at least 1-1/2" thick and impeccably fresh. Remember this is a raw food dish where the fish is flash-cured for flavoring but freshness will be essential to minimize risks of contagions or food-borne illness.
You will have to trim any bloodlines and uneven pieces when you get it at home. Hone your knife beforehand for good clean cuts. The Hawaiians tend to cut their poke into larger cubes but you can make them smaller dice if you prefer a more refined texture. Make sure to cut the avocado the same size as you cut the fish but don't chop the avocado too finely or you'll have fishy guacamole instead of poke.
Add the lime juice after you add the oil to the fish to minimize "cooking" it. You will be adding all the ingredients to the fish first & folding them in before adding the avocado to the poke to minimize mashing the fruit into guacamole.

about 1 lb. of at least 1-1/2" thick Opah (Hawaiian moonfish), all bloodlines removed then discarded, cut into 1/2" dice
1/2 large Haas avocado, ripe but still firm to the touch, seeded & cut into 1/2" dice
1 Tablespoon of the highest quality extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil
the juice of one lime
1-1/2 teaspoons of high quality, low sodium shoyu (soy sauce)
1/2 teaspoon of sriratcha sauce (vietnamese chili sauce look for it in the Asian section of your market)
10 chives or 2 scallions, finely minced
1/4 of one jalapeno chile, seeded & finely minced
1 Tablespoon of cilantro, leaves & stems, finely chopped
1 teaspoon unsalted & roasted macadamia nuts, chopped (optional for garnish)
fleur de sel & fresh cracked pepper to taste (after mixing the poke & tasting for seasoning)
6 white corn tortillas, that have been cut into 1/8 of a tortilla wedges & baked in a 350 degree oven on a baking sheet for 10 minutes

In a large stainless steel mixing bowl, add the opah & mix in the olive oil using your hands or a spatula being sure to coat the fish completely. In a smaller mixing bowl, whisk all the remaining ingredients together except the avocado & the macadamia nuts. Add the dressing to the opah & mix well being sure to completely coat the fish. Now gently fold in the avocado, using your fingers to evenly distribute the avocado. Taste for seasoning & acidity & judiciously add another splash of lime juice an/or salt & pepper, if necessary. Set aside & allow to marinate for no more than 1/2 hour.
Serve in individual martini glasses with a sprinkle of the macadamia nuts atop or, alternatively, in one large caviar server with fresh baked tortilla chips on the side for dipping.

Serves 4.

Olive Oil Poached, Vanilla Scented Shrimp "Ceviche"

Although you will see dishes like this all over Hawaii, the real inspiration for this "ceviche" comes from a lobster dish served with a vanilla bean buerre blanc at a restaurant called Pitahayas on the hotel & residential corridor known as Los Cabos, a stretch of land between San Jose Del Cabo & Cabo San Lucas on the Baja Peninsula. The combination of the shellfish with the vanilla scented butter sauce was surprisingly good. I've lightened the dish considerably by lightly poaching the shrimp, an easier protein option for the home cook,
until just barely cooked through in an olive oil bath that has been "scented" (i.e. steeped) with Tahitian vanilla bean instead of serving it with a vanilla cream sauce. You can easily substitute the vanilla bean with a few drops of high quality vanilla extract. I call it ceviche because except for the olive oil vanilla poaching, I serve the shrimp as a salad with a typical ceviche ( i.e. citrus-based) marinade.
Use a shallow sauce pan or small saute pan to poach the shrimp.

For the poaching liguid:
3/4 cup olive oil (don't use extra-virgin oil just a nice quality olive oil will do)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tahitian vanilla bean, sliced in half & scraped with a knife (make sure to add scrapings to the poaching oil at athe appropriate point) or 1 teaspoon good quality vanilla bean extract
1 garlic clove, peeled & lightly smashed
1 whole dried red pepper or 1/8 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1/2 lime, cut in half
1/4 bunch of chives, cut in half
a pinch (1/8 tsp) of sea salt & few grinds of very coarsely ground pepper
1/2 lb. #16 size shrimp ( about 8 large shrimp), keep shells on but remove the pleopods & pereopods (small legs underneath)

For the ceviche:
the juice of half a lime
the juice of one blood orange
1/2 bunch of chives, finely minced
1/2 Haas avocado, cut into 1/2" dice
half a handful of cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of the poaching liquid
the above (see poaching ingredients) shrimp, poached, de-shelled, de-veined & each cut into 4 equal sized pieces
sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
lettuce leaves and lime wedges for garnish
8 warm small white corn tortillas or tortilla chips

For the Poaching:
Place olive oil in small (10") saute or sauce pan over low heat, the temperature should be somewhere between 130 - 160 degrees F with a thermometer or barely "shivering" as the French say which is below normal poaching temperature for liquids like water or stock. The oil should not be shimmering, be well below a simmer (185 degrees) & never reach the boiling point (212 degrees F).
When the oil is warm, carefully squeeze the lime juice in the oil and add the lime & all the poaching ingredients except the shrimp to the oil.
Allow the ingredients to steep in the oil for 15 minutes to flavor it then after making sure that the oil is at the proper temperature, add shrimp in a single layer to the pan. Watch shrimp closely for subtle changes in color & translucency. When the bottom appears slightly pinkish (about 2-3 minutes), flip the shrimp over poaching it for another 2 minutes then remove the pan from the heat & allow the shrimp to cool in the poaching oil about 15 minutes.

For the salad:
After the shrimp has cooled in its poaching liquid, remove them from their shells & devein them using a sharp paring knife to make a long shallow incision along the "spine" down to the tail exposing the digestive tract ("vein") & removing it, using a paper towel to brush away any remains. Cut each shrimp into quarters. Add the shrimp to a mixing bowl with the remaining ceviche ingredients and gently toss with your fingers, careful not to smash the avocado into guacamole.
Get a pretty white bowl, large enough to accommodate the shrimp ceviche & line it with the lettuce leaves, add the ceviche to the bowl mounding it atop the lettuce & garnish with lime wedges. Serve the ceviche with just warmed tortillas or tortilla chips.
Serves 4.
Ai ā hewa ka waha, ʻo ka leo ka uku!
(Eat until the mouth can have no more, [my] reward, [your] voice!)

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