Recipe: Classic Creme Brûlée (France)

It was Jon’s birthday a few weeks ago, so we decided to celebrate by eating lots of melted raclette cheese, and topping it off with homemade creme brûlées for dessert. Jon had given me a creme brûlée torch for Christmas, and this was the first time we used it. We ran into a slight hiccup – at 9 p.m. when our creme brulees were all cooked and cooled, we took out the torch to use it, only to discover that the butane fuel for the torch was sold separately. Always one to improvise, I tried taking out a fire lighter, and held it over the creme brûlée, but all that happened was that one little granule of sugar turned into a translucent bubble. Googling around, I found out that I could just put our creme brulees under a broiler in the oven, but Jon was adamant that  we hadn’t bought creme brûlée dishes that could withstand the heat. Plus, that option didn’t sound as cool as setting something on fire.

So, we made mad dash to the late-night drugstores of Downtown. We finally found a butane container at RiteAid for only $5. We filed our torch up, and used it to make the most delightfully crispy burnt sugar top to our creme brulees.

Jon’s One-Line Review: “It’s fun to burn things and to eat them.” 

Ingredients: (makes 6 small creme brulees)

  • 2 cups of heavy (whipping cream)
  • 4-inch piece of vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup of granulated sugar
  • a hefty portion of granulated sugar for the topping.

Pour the cream into a saucepan, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream, and add the vanilla pod. Place over medium heat until small bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Remove the vanilla pod and scrape any remaining seeds into the cream.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until pale in color. Whisk in the 1/3 cup of sugar until dissolved. Whisk in the cream.

Put six small ramekins in a baking pan. Divide the custard mixture among the dishes. Pour warm water into the baking pan to come halfway up the side of the dishes. Bake in the oven for between 40 minutes to an hour, or until the center of each custard is set, but still jiggles slightly. Remove from oven and take dishes out of the hot water.

Let cool, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours (not an optional step, necessary for the custard to set!)

When ready to serve, make sure your creme brûlée torch is ready to go. Then, evenly sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar over each custard. use the torch to caramelize the sugar.

Take out your teaspoon, crack the creme brûlée and enjoy!

Recipe: Salmon Ikura Donburi (Japan)

Hirozen is one of my favorite places to eat in Los Angeles. It’s a little restaurant tucked away in a strip mall in West Hollywood that has the most delectable Japanese small dishes and sushi. One of my favorite things on their menu is their Salmon Ikura Donburi. I recently discovered how to replicate it almost perfectly at home. The secret is Nori Furikake seasoning.

Jon’s Review: “Mmm! The lemon really brings out the flavors”

Ingredients:

  • 1 decent-sized salmon filet
  • olive oil
  • soy sauce
  • 1 cup of white rice
  • fresh ikura
  • nori furikake seasoning (definitely not optional!)
  • lemon (for garnish)

Cook the rice. Add two cups of water and one cup of rice to the pan, with a smidge of olive oil or butter to prevent sticking). Put the lid on the pan, and let it come to a boil. When the pot is boiling, turn down the heat to low and simmer until the water is absorbed.

Add the salmon to a baking pan, and marinade in olive oil and soy sauce. Broil in the oven for about 8 minutes (you want the fish to be all the way cooked through, not rare).

When the rice is done, add a generous heap of nori furikake seasoning, and mix into rice.

When the salmon is done, flake it, and add to the rice. Mix well.

Serve with a generous portion of ikura as garnish. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice on top, and serve!

Recipe: Sea Urchin Spaghetti

I was in the mood for something really decadent yesterday, so when fresh sea urchin (uni) caught my eye at our local Japanese grocery store, Little Tokyo Marketplace, I really couldn’t resist getting some. I decided to make a sea urchin pasta dish, something kind of similar to the sea urchin spaghetti at the restaurant Chaya in West Hollywood.

It was amazing!! As soon as I finished my plate, I wished I had more. But, at $6.99 a package for sea urchin, this is going to remain a special occasion recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 servings of gluten-free spaghetti (I’ve still been using M&S gluten-free pasta that Jon brings me back from England)
  • 5 whole cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of red chili flakes (approximate)
  • 1 package of cherry tomatoes, washed and sliced in half
  • package of sea urchin (you can get this at most Asian markets that sell fish)
  • leaves from about 6 sprigs of fresh parsley, chopped finely
  • salt

Bring a large pot of water to boil.

While waiting on the water, pour the olive oil into a large frying pan (the pan will have to be big enough to hold the pasta later). Add the garlic and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, until the garlic cloves caramelize. You’ll want  to flip the garlic cloves every few minutes, so that all sides are caramelized evenly.

Next, add the chili flakes to the frying pan, turn the heat up to medium, and saute until crispy, about two minutes. Next, add in the cherry tomatoes, and cook until just wilted. Set aside.

When the water in the pot boils, add a generous spoonful of salt and the spaghetti, and cook until barely al dente. Drain the pasta, setting aside one cup of the pasta water for use later.

After you’re done cooking the pasta, add about 3/4 of your sea urchin to the frying pan with the tomatoes and garlic. Turn the heat back on, add a generous splash of the reserved pasta water to the pan, and saute until the uni is blended into the water. Then, add the cooked spaghetti to the pan, and mix it into the sauce. Then, add the parsley, and mix. When ready to serve, place spaghetti on a plate with the remaining sea urchin as garnish. Enjoy!

Recipe is adapted from here.

Gỏi cuốn – Vietnamese cold spring rolls

This was the dish that inspired me to test out some more Vietnamese recipes. I used to eat rice paper spring rolls pretty often as a kid, but I hadn’t had them in years until I tried one out in a cafe in Shoreditch last week. Basically, Vietnamese cold spring rolls are a way of disguising extremely healthy raw vegetables into something even more delicious. I served the ones I made this week with a dipping sauce of vinegar mixed with fish sauce.

I made this spring roll recipe with mint and shrimp, but you could also make it with cooked salmon and dill, or with tofu.

Jon’s Review: “I’m really surprised how well these ingredients all go together.”

Ingredients:

  • Cooked, peeled shrimp (about three per spring roll)
  • Vietnamese or Thai rice vermicilli, cooked
  • 1 package of rice paper for spring rolls (sold in most major grocery stores)
  • 1 head of lettuce, diced
  • 1-2 carrots, shredded
  • 1 bunch of fresh mint, leaves removed.
  • fish sauce
  • white vinegar

Carefully slide one piece of dry rice paper wrapper on a plate, and run the plate under very hot water from the kitchen sink tap. The rice paper wrapper will change in texture, from firm and stiff to delicate and soft. Pour off water from the plate, and put aside.

On one end of the now soft rice paper, place a small mound of vermicilli, lettuce, carrots, shrimp, and mint. Sprinkle with vinegar and fish sauce. Very carefully and gently pick up one end of the rice paper, and wrap the spring roll tightly, as if you were making a burrito. Here is a picture, to help you get it right!

A half-way rolled spring roll.
A half-way rolled spring roll.

Serve with a dipping sauce of vinegar mixed with fish sauce. You can also fry a diced shallot until crispy in a frying pan, and sprinkle the crispy bits on top of the spring roll.

Recipe: Bánh xèo – Vietnamese pancakes

There’s some debate over when this dish originated in Vietnam. Some link it to French colonialism, but others claim it’s a dish with more of a South Indian influence. Regardless, it’s absolutely delicious and seriously competes with French buckwheat galettes on my mental list of best pancakes.

It’s almost unbelievable that this recipe works so well. The banh xeo pancake batter is mainly just rice flour, coconut milk, water. No eggs! No flour!

That said, it took me a little trial and error to make the pancakes go from yummy to phenomenal, and I share all the tips in the recipe below. The pancakes are best when they’re paper thin and super crispy.

Jon’s Review: “I’m really shocked that a pancake without egg and flour can taste this good”

Ingredients:

Pancake Batter

  • About 250-300 g of rice flour (I used a little over half of a 400 g package)
  • About 2 1/2 cups of water
  • 1/2 cup of coconut milk
  • 2-3 green scallions, chopped (you can use a little more of the green part than you would normally)
  • about a teaspoon of tumeric

Other ingredients:

  • pre-cooked shrimp, tails removed (about 5 per pancake)
  • a handful of bean sprouts, blanched
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • a big pat of butter
  • for serving: vinegar and fish sauce.

To make the batter, mix about 250 g of rice flour with about 2 1/2 cups of water, 1/2 cup coconut milk, 2-3 chopped scallions and a teaspoon of tumeric. These are just estimates. You want the batter to be about the consistency of milk. Too thick, and you’ll get a gooey pancake (this was a mistake I made on the first try!).

Once the batter is ready to go, melt a big pat of butter in a non-stick pan, and add the diced onion. Saute so that the pan is coated generously with butter, and the onion is cooked. Next, add a thin layer of batter. And I mean thin! You want to have to shake the pan to get the batter to coat it thoroughly. If you’ve done this right, the batter will bubble and turn crispy (see the pictures of the “right” and the “wrong” amount of batter below). After about one minute, add the shrimp on one half of the pancake, along with the pre-cooked bean sprouts. Cook until the batter is cooked through, and turns from pastel colored to dark yellow. Then, flip half the pancake over (omelet style) and slide onto a plate. Serve with your favorite Vietnamese seasonings (I used a mix of vinegar and fish sauce, but you could also use siracha). The pancake might need a pinch of salt on top, to round everything out – you’re call.

This is based on this recipe.

As promised, here are pictures of the right and wrong ways to make these pancakes:

THE RIGHT WAY:

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Look at the edges – see the bubbles and the crispiness? Of course, the batter still needs to cook through.

THE WRONG WAY:

IMG_3717

See how this pancake is just a little too thick? The edges are a lot thicker. There is more batter in the middle. It won’t taste as good.

Recipe: Jamaican Jerk Shrimp

I’ve taken a few days off from creative cooking. This week, I was busy preparing my first academic paper based on my MPhil dissertation findings for a human rights research conference in London. With that done and dusted, the culinary food travels are back up and running.

We had a heavy night out on the town last night – one of Jon’s friends from Newcastle came down to London for a visit. Afterwards, I was craving some healthy comfort food for dinner. This Jamaican Jerk Shrimp recipe turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.

This was the first time I’ve tried jerk seasoning. When I first opened the seasoning jar to smell it, I was worried it might be too sweet. But, it was actually really good – the sweetness dissolved into the shrimp. The combination of jerk spices, shrimp, and onions is pretty magnificent. You can use jerk seasoning on barbeque skewers as well.

Jon’s Review: “MMMMMMM!!! THIS IS DELICIOUS! This is really fantastic… You should make this again.”

Ingredients:

  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • 1 package of pre-cooked shrimp, defrosted
  • 2 teaspoon Jerk seasoning (approximate). If jerk seasoning is not available in your grocery store, you can make your own mix.
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tomato, chopped (optional)

On medium or high heat, saute butter in a saucepan or wok with onion, garlic, and jerk seasoning. Stir occasionally, until onions are cooked and somewhat charred. Next, add in the shrimp, coating in the seasoning and mixing with the onions. Cook for approximately 1-2 minutes. When the shrimp is cooked through, add the chopped tomato, and stir until it soaks up the spices. Serve with rice, or other Jamaican side dishes.

Recipe: Easy Seafood Paella

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The other night I made a quick seafood paella for dinner. It was the first time I’ve attempted paella, and it turned out really well! I eat seafood, but not meat, so this recipe differs from traditional recipes in that it does not include chorizo. We live near a great fish market, so I’m looking forward to making the dish again soon!

Ingredients:

  • 1 pack of mixed seafood (shrimp, calamari etc), defrosted
  • 1 cup rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
  • 1 diced onion
  • tumeric
  • dried ground coriander
  • paprika
  • salt and other spices to taste.
  • 2 limes.

Saute onion with tumeric, coriander, paprika, and other spices until onions are well-cooked. Add dried rice, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden (approx 5 minutes). Add 2 cups of vegetable stock and cover until rice is cooked. When finished, add mixed seafood and peas, sprinkle with paprika, and add the juice of one lime. Serve with lime and other seasonings as desired.

Review: Sagar in Covent Garden (London)

The lunch special at Sagar. I had it without the dessert, which contains wheat.
The lunch special at Sagar. I had it without the dessert, which contains wheat.

I really love dosas – they’re a South Indian lentil and rice pancake, often served alongside potatoes, chutney, and curry sauce (they’re gluten free if you order the traditional and not the “cream of wheat” dosas). Last week, I had lunch with my friend Alison at a dosa restaurant called Sagar in Covent Garden. It was a place I found on the Time Out London “Cheap Eats” website and had wanted to check out. It was great! Everything on the menu is vegetarian, and they have various lunch specials for around 6 pounds.

Sagar, 31 Catherine St, London +44 02078366377

Recipe: Seared Pepper-Crusted Tuna Salad

IMG_3633The other night we were craving a light summer dinner, so I cooked seared tuna steaks to have on top of a spinach salad. It’s a really simple recipe, and really hits the spot! Jon claims its the best thing I’ve ever cooked.

Jon’s Review: “Ooooooaaaaammmm MMMMMM!!!!!!!!” (translation: I think Jon liked this).

Ingredients:

  • two tuna steaks
  • salt, pepper & oregano
  • olive oil
  • spinach leaves
  • tomatoes, mushrooms, avocado (whatever salad ingredients you like best!)
  • balsamic salad dressing (grain mustard, olive oil & balsamic)

Rub salt, pepper, and oregano on the raw tuna steaks. Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan, and add tuna. Cook for approximately one minute, then flip sides. Cook for one additional minute and remove from heat. Slice and serve with your favorite summer salad. We had a simple tomato and spinach salad, and it was great.

Review: Gluten Free Ethiopian Food on Brick Lane (London)

IMG_3627The traditional recipe for Ethiopian injera bread is gluten free (it’s made with teff flour, not wheat flour), but many contemporary Ethiopian restaurants use wheat flour in their recipes. I’ve been craving gluten free injera for awhile. Last week, I discovered incredible gluten free Ethiopian food at one of the stalls in the Brick Lane food market in London. For 4.50 pounds, you can get a plate with an injera wrap filled with three sauces, and a mix of side salads. They have an incredible spicy green sauce that adds an extra punch to the dish. I’ve been back two weekends in a row now to get my fix!

There are multiple Ethiopian stalls on Brick Lane, so make sure you go to the right one – Yemama Gojjo! Here’s a picture.

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The Old Truman Brewery’s Boiler House Food Hall. 152 Brick Lane, E1 6RU. This is in a food market on Brick Lane (located in an inside food market just north of the Life Cafe, on the same side of the street as Life Cafe). Open year-round, Saturday and Sunday from around 11am to 6pm.

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