My cough was so nasty, it could take paint off a wall.
Like so many, my flu-cold misery lasted and lasted. Christmas. New Years. Beyond …
Determined to cure it before Groundhog’s Day, I called Kaiser’s on-call nurse. I didn’t want to spend untold hours among other sickies in the E.R., so I put my faith in the phone professional. I described that thickness in my upper chest, the color of the gunky phlegm, the noise.
The wellness goddess told me to drink hot liquids. Lots of hot liquids to break up the congestion. I made loads of ginger-lemon tea. It seemed to be working, but at a slow pace. So I sent Mr. Wonderful to Bangkok Avenue, a really-good Thai restaurant in Huntington Beach.
His assignment? Bring back lots of Tom Yum Soup.
Hot, spicy, sour magic. As I swallowed, I could feel the spiciness working its way through the muck. The tartness melting its way through the debris.
The next day … practically well. No kidding.
My version takes about 8 to 10 minutes to prepare. Easy, and absolutely delicious. Buy some TOM YUM PASTE at an Asian market or online and keep it in your fridge; it helps to make short work of the prep. The brand I prefer is “EXOTIC BRAND.” I’ve tried other brands and don’t like them nearly as well.
At the Asian market, buy some kaffir lime leaves and small Thai chilies to use in the soup. You can freeze the extra leaves, as well as the chilies for future use.
Add shrimp if you like, or make it vegetarian. Enjoy.
TOM YUM SOUP
Yield: 3 to 4 servings
4 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon tom yum paste (see story)
2 fresh kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped (see story)
Optional: 1 tablespoon minced lemongrass
Juice of 1/2 lime
Optional: 2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 small red Thai chili, very thinly sliced, see cook’s notes
1 teaspoon sugar
4 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced or pulled apart if in clumps, see cook’s notes
2 green onions, sliced, including 1/2 of dark green stalks
Optional: 3/4 pound raw shelled and deveined shrimp
Garnish: about 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Garnish: lime wedges for optional use Cook’s notes: Use caution when working with fresh chilies. Wash work surface and hands after completion and do NOT touch face or eyes. Use any fresh mushroom you like. My favorites are the shimeji mushrooms I find in small cellophane bags at Asian markets; they grow in clumps and have lovely brown caps.
1. Heat broth in large saucepan on medium-high heat. Stir in tom yum paste, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass if using, lime juice and fish sauce if using. Add chili and sugar. Lower heat and simmer 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, green onions and if using, shrimp. Simmer long enough to cook shrimp (if using), about 2 minutes. Garnish with cilantro. Provide lime wedges for optional squeezing.
Shimeji mushrooms are sold at Asian markets, and often at Whole Foods and Mother’s Markets.
Branzino That Is Delectable Artwork from Chef Alessandro Pirozzi
Branzino has become an everyday staple on upscale restaurant menus. The delicate, white-fleshed Mediterranean seabass (called “loup de mer” on French menus) tastes almost sweet when cooked correctly. Orange County chef-restaurateur Alessandro Pirozzi knows how to serve it at its very best.
He showcases the mild-mannered fish in different ways in each of his restaurants (Alessa By Pirozzi and Salerno by Chef Pirozzi in Laguna Beach, as well as Pirozzi Corona del Mar). I like them all, but my very favorite is his Branzino al Piattoat Salerno. A boneless skinless filet is lightly pounded and quickly cooked on a plate.
The straight-forward way it is broiled lets the delicious taste and texture of the fish shine through. Then he adds garnishes that dazzle the eye with pure colors that are reminiscent of a Henri Matisse painting.
There’s a drizzle of Calabrian chili oil, a sprinkling of black salt flakes and honey-colored spheres of olive oil pearls.
A scattering of tiny pickled sweet peppers, rounded at one end and sharply pointed at the other, offer a pleasing contrast. A gentle squeeze of fresh lemon juice brings vibrancy, while a pinch of fennel pollen and a higgledy-piggledy arrangement of diced avocado bring richness.
Thinly sliced rainbow radishes and carrots grace the lip of the plate, along with a couple of crisp crostini. Confetti flowers, small edible petals in a wide variety of colors and shapes, flutter atop it all.
Pirozzi says that the colorful flower mixture is the “parsley of the future.”
Artistic and Handy: He loves to weld and create something out of nothing. He cuts the metal, then bends it and welds it together. He made all the wine racks and many art pieces in his restaurants’ dining rooms.
Collections: He collects salt, honey and extra-virgin olive oils from around the globe.
Branzino al Piatto
Yield: 2 servings
Two (3- to 4-ounce) boneless, skinless branzino filets
2 rectangular oven-proof plates
4 sheets nonstick wrap
Extra-virgin olive oil as needed
Calabrian chili oil or Asian chili oil, see cook’s notes
Small pickled sweet peppers, see cook’s notes
Black salt flakes, see cook’s notes
Squeeze fresh lemon juice
Optional: pinch of fennel pollen
1/2 diced avocado Garnish: a few slices of Calabrian chili, small teardrop tomatoes, thinly sliced rainbow carrots, rainbow radish, microgreens, pesticide-free fresh flower petals (edible “confetti” flowers preferred), crostini
Optional: olive oil pearls, see cook’s notes Cook’s notes: Jars of Tutto Calabria Hot Long Italian Chili Peppers in Oil are available at www.amazon.com; you can use the oil (just a small drizzle) and a sliced chili in this recipe). Black salt flakes, fennel pollen and olive oil pearls are also available on the Site. I found the small sweet peppers in the cheese section at Bristol Farms Market in tiny jars (labeled “petite poivrons”).
To make crostini, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange thin slices of baguette slices on rimmed baking sheet; brush both sides with extra-virgin olive oil, and season with salt. Bake until golden, 10 to 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through (if undersides are not browning, turn crostini over once during baking).
1. Adjust oven rack to 5- to 6-inches below broiler element. Preheat broiler.
2. Drizzle a tiny bit of oil on rimmed baking sheet. Top with sheet of nonstick wrap (plastic wrap). Top with 1 fillet (put the side that had the skin, the darker side, facing up). Drizzle with a little oil and top with a sheet of nonstick wrap. Gently pound using a mallet or bottom of a pan, making the fillet about 1/3 bigger. Remove top plastic wrap and use the bottom plastic wrap to transfer to a rectangular ovenproof plate; remove plastic wrap. Drizzle with a tiny bit of oil. Repeat with second branzino.
3. Broil 2 minutes in preheated oven. Use a fork to pull apart a tiny area in center to check for doneness. If fish isn’t opaque and white in center, give plates a turn (careful the plates are hot) and broil an additional 45 seconds or so. Remove from oven and place plates on a folded towel.
4. Sprinkle with a smidgen of Calabrian chili oil and a few slices of Calabrian chilies. Scatter tiny sweet chilies on top, a tiny touch of freshly ground black pepper, black salt flakes, a little fresh lemon juice and diced avocado. Top with microgreens and, if using, olive oil pearls. Arrange teardrop tomatoes, crostini and thinly sliced carrots on side of plate. Top with a generous amount of edible confetti flowers. Crisscross 2 crostini at one end.
Alessa By Pirozzi, 234 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach 949-497-8222 Pirozzi Corona del Mar, 2929 East Coast Hwy, Newport Beach 949-675-2932 Salerno By Chef Pirozzi, 220 N Beach St, Laguna Beach 949-497-2600
Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …
Chopped Greek salad augmented with cooked chicken breast makes a delicious lunch or healthful dinner. Or substitute grilled salmon for the chicken for a tasty alternative.
Chopped Greek Chicken Salad
Yield: 4 (3 cups each) servings
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or oregano
Garlic salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
About 6 cups chopped (in bite-sized pieces) romaine lettuce
2 1/2 cups cooked boneless-skinless chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 medium tomatoes, cut into large dice
1/4 hothouse cucumber, skin removed in alternating strips, halved lengthwise and cut into half-moon slices
1/3 cup slivers of red onion
1/2 cup (generous) halved (lengthwise) pitted Kalamata olives
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Optional: croutons (rustic bread lightly brushed with olive oil, cut into 3/4-inch cubes and toasted in 350-degree oven)
1. Whisk vinegar, oil, dill or oregano, garlic salt and pepper together in large bowl.
2. Add remaining ingredients and gently toss. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Melissa’s Produce: Fresh Fruit, Vegetables, and Gift Baskets. Organic produce and specialty produce (such as baby vegetables, edible flowers, Okinawa sweet potatoes, coquitos, banana leaves, steamed lentils, bhut jolokia chiles, organic juice boxes and a large variety of peppers). https://www.melissas.com
Rachel Klemek, executive pastry chef-owner of Blackmarket Bakery in Costa Mesa, Santa Ana and San Diego, loves the whimsy of whoopie pies. She says the name connotes party-like fun. And the treat is a cake that is portable; it can be picked up and easily eaten out of hand.
Her pumpkin-spiked whoopie pies showcase flavors associated with the holidays; a rainbow of autumnal spices and a small dose of molasses bring palate memories of sweet indulgences centered around the festive time of year.
Watch her share the secrets to these cakes that sandwich irresistible cream cheese filling. She doesn’t chintz on the creamy filling; it’s added with generosity, piped from a plastic pastry bag to form a thick spiral.
Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Filling
Yield: about 10
2 1/2 cups pastry flour or all-purpose flour, see cook’s notes
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces butter (2 sticks), room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs (best if eggs aren’t super cold)
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
3 1/2 ounces buttermilk
12 ounces cream cheese (not whipped style or reduced fat), softened to room temperature
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
4 ounces unsalted butter (1 stick), soft
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or more to taste
1 teaspoon vanilla extract Cook’s notes: Chef Klemek used pastry flour, but said all-purpose could be used. Pastry flour contains 8.5 to 9.5 percent protein, which is low relative to all-purpose that is between 10 and 12 percent protein. Pastry flour produces a finer crumb. If you wish, use half all-purpose and half cake flour (7 to 8 percent protein), such as Swans Down that is sold at most supermarkets.
1. Adjust rack to middle position and preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Set aside.
2. In large bowl of electric mixer (using the paddle attachment) beat butter, sugar and molasses until blended and fluffy, thick and a pale color, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla and mix until just combined. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat until light and fluffy. Add pumpkin and mix just until blended.
3. Add 1/3 of dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix on low speed until barely combined. Stop mixer and pour in half of buttermilk. Mix again just enough to blend. Stop mixer and add another 1/3 of dry mixture; mix just until barely combined. Add remaining buttermilk; mix until just barely combined. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Add remaining dry ingredients; mix until just barely well combined. Take bowl off machine and gently fold with silicone spatula, making sure bottom of bowl is included and mixture is homogeneous. Scoop batter into mounds on prepared sheets (the easiest way is to use a 1/4-cup ice cream scoop). Bake immediately, about 10 to 14 minutes, or until skewer inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely.
4. Meanwhile, prepare filling: In large bowl of electric mixer using the paddle attachment, thoroughly beat cream cheese, scraping bowl as needed, until smooth. Add softened butter and mix on low speed, occasionally scraping the bowl as needed, until combined. Add sugar, cinnamon and vanilla and mix on low speed until combined.
5. Pipe generous amount of cream cheese filling on half of the whoopies (or use a small scoop)-on the flat side – and sandwich two together. Best served the same day.
Blackmarket Bakery has two Orange County locations: 2937 Bristol (The Camp), Costa Mesa (714-662-3095) and 211 N Broadway, Santa Ana (714-571-0801)
***** HERE’S QUICK TIP FROM MELISSA’S PRODUCE *****
I love this grownup version of fruit salad. I call it Fruit Salad Royale.
It’s perfect for a buffet table, brunch or picnic basket.
Vary the fruit according to the season and enjoy!
Guests that have lukewarm attitudes about fruit salad may find themselves coming back for more.
Fruit Salad Royale
Yield: 8 servings
1 1/2 cup peeled, sliced kiwi, about 5 medium
2 cups hulled and quartered strawberries
2 cups green or red seedless grapes
2 cups pitted, sliced plums, plumcots or peaches
1 cup peeled orange segments or tangerine segments
1/4 cup orange liqueur
3 tablespoons freshly-squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon agave syrup or sugar
1. Place all ingredients in glass or ceramic bowl; gently toss with rubber spatulas. Cover and chill up to 4 hours. Nutritional information (per serving): Source: “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce” by Cathy Thomas
Fifi Chao, much respected and beloved food writer for the Orange County Business Journal for more than three decades, recently passed away.
In this photo, Fifi embraces her much-adored husband, Patrick.
Some of Orange County’s best chefsgathered at Break of Dawn Restaurant in Laguna Hills to create a 10-course dinner in her honor. They dubbed it “Fifi’s Best.”
To begin: A luscious brioche bun with lardo, leek, maple and anchovy was contributed by ChefDean Kim, OC Baking Company (the baker who never sleeps – how else could be provide breads to so many OC restaurants?).
Chef Shachi Mehra, ADYA (Irvine and Santa Ana) prepared this oh-so-delicious mango soup that showcased scallops, fresh red chilies and curry leaf. It had diners swooning their approvals.
An irresistible dish that showcased foie gras was created by Chef Greg Daniels, Haven Gastropub in Orange.
Read on … discover what the chefs did with the leftover foie.
Chef Greg Daniels’ scrumptious deeply flavored foie with huckleberries, matsutake mushrooms and barley. Glorious.
Chef Yvon Goetz’ (The Winery – Newport Beach, Tustin and soon, La Jolla) delectable black cod with merguez (North African-style lamb sausage), flageolet and octopus. Above, Host-Chef Dee Nguyen shows off a petite carrot garnish.
Chef Amar Santana, Broadway (Laguna Beach) and Vaca (Costa Mesa) sauces duck breasts served with kumquats, “Bastilla” and chestnuts.
Loved these flavors.
Chef Rainer Schwartz, Driftwood Kitchen and The Deck (Laguna Beach) and Hendrix (Laguna Niguel) sliced his oh-so-very-tender beef tenderloin that was served with wild mushrooms, salsify and Napa Wine Love.
Host Chef Dee Nguyen, Break of Dawn (Laguna Hills) served two dishes. First, a delicious rice dish augmented with crab, unagi (eel) and pickled plum. So delicious every bit was eaten – yup, I forgot to take a photo. Pal Lee Healy sent me her shot and told me that the dish was inspired by Chef James Hamamori. Here is Lee’s photo, plus shots of Chef Tarit Tanjasiri helping to plate the unagi, and another of Chef Shachi Mehra scooping rice.
Second, a creamy silky-lush corn-based dish with hawthorn berries, coconut and cashews. Absolutely incredible. Yum.
OK, still hungry? Fifi would have said, “bring it on.”
Chef Tarit Tanjasiri, The Crema Cafe (Seal Beach), created individual Tarte Tatins with impressive skill. Beautifully caramelized, the tarts were accompanied with a little creme anglaise and raspberry coulis. But wait …
In the kitchen, the chefs decided to top the tarts with slices of leftover foie gras! Foie, to my way of thinking, always tastes best salted (coarse grains) and served with something sweet. So this was a glorious pairing.
Fifi would have loved it!
Take home presents included perfectly spiced granola from Chef Max Schlutz (Sessions, Newport and Huntington Beach) and macarons from Tuan Trinh (XT Patisserie).
I was honored to make a speech at the event. Fifi was the godmother of all of us who work in the OC culinary world. She was loved by all.
It’s hard to believe that it could get any better because it was absolutely exquisite in the old spot.
When the news hit that the star culinary couple Amelia and Florent Marneau were uprooting their highly successful Marche Moderne restaurant from South Coast Plaza to move to Crystal Cove Shopping Center, I was puzzled. Why change the site of this highly acclaimed market-inspired French bistro?
Amelia Marneau, executive pastry chef, told me that she and her husband wanted a change. Something new. Something fresh. Walking through the 4,200-square-foot restaurant a few days before the recent opening, I totally grasped their meaning.
Light flooded through the windows, many of which welcomed ocean breezes through bi-folding openings. The new spot has 25 more seats than the previous, and the tables are farther apart making it feel much more spacious.
An 11-seat bar shows off a gray quartzite counter-top and a snazzy Cruvinet wine dispenser featuring a broad selection of French and California wines.
As the project progressed, Marche fans became increasingly impatient. One eager enthusiast loudly revved the engine of his Harley motorcycle at the kitchen’s backdoor; the racket kept up until someone opened the door. The fellow voiced his concern that coq au vin would still be on the menu. Happily, he got that assurance and was on his way. (Certain dishes will remain indefinitely, Marche classics such as that wine-braised chicken dish and Amelia’s Chopped Salad.)
They had a hiatus of seven months between closing and opening that included research in San Francisco and Paris.
“The bistro Allard from (Alain) Ducasse is so good, yet simple and so fresh …” he said about the Paris restaurant.
“And I think that l’Arpege is the best Michelin star in Paris not just because of the star … the creativity there is insane, not complicated, but just amazing.”
Many dishes are categorized as “small plates.”
Florent wanted to offer smaller portions to give guests the opportunity to sample refined fare with lower price tags.
The wild Spanish octopus served with chorizo emulsion, potatoes, celery, lemon and the smoky flavor of Espelette pepper is $17 (you won’t find better octopus anywhere).
Foie gras and chestnut filled ravioli are served adrift in duck stock along with celery root confit for $21 (the stock is so deeply flavored, it made me hum).
And yes, a beautifully cooked New Zealand langoustine rests atop sea urchin risotto that’s adorned with lace-y green sea beans for $25 (the full flavors balanced perfectly).
In a different price category, my husband had the sautéed foie gras on toasted onion brioche with Calvados, diced apples and pears, plus a topping of balsamic croustillant(lightly acidic flakey balsamic vinegar curls that Florent crafted through a magical process of dehydration). My sated mate said that it was worth every cent of $33.
There are Amelia’s luscious interpretations of French macarons. The flavors and textures are extraordinary and their size, very generous – Lychee, Yuzu, Rose and Raspberry Texture, the later enriched with white chocolate feuilletine (crispy bits).
It was comforting to see Florent’s copper cookware made the transition to the new locale, the gleaming pots and skillets that he has owned since his teens. Some are in use, others hang on hooks. It’s comforting to see the old with the new.
Marche Moderne is located at 7862 East Coast Highway, Newport Beach (across from Javier’s). 714-434-7900. Open 7 days a week for dinner (no lunch), starting at 5 o’clock. Valet is $6. Later they will be offering Sunday brunch. After the holidays, they will offer “Spontanée Dinner Menus” – three course dinners for $38 served on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Blueberry Betty is a one-dish wonder, easy to prepare and scrumptious to eat.
Watch this quick how-to video and see just how quickly it comes together.
When serving this for company, I assemble the dish before guests arrive. When the doorbell rings, I put it in the oven and set a timer. It’s still warm (but not bubbling hot) when I serve it accompanied with ice cream.
The berries are vibrant and a sweet-tart edge, the crunchy topping is sweet with a crisp texture. Yum-Oh-Lah!
Yield: 6 servings
1 quart fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 6 pieces
For serving: ice cream or whipped cream
Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put berries in 1 1/2-quart casserole. Sprinkle with juice and cinnamon.
In food processor fitted with metal blade, add flour and sugar. Pulse on/off 1 time. Add butter and pulse on/off until crumbly and butter is cut into pieces no bigger than peas. Do not blend into a dough – it should be crumbly. If you don’t have a food processor you can use two knives or a pastry cutter. Sprinkle mixture over berries. Bake 45 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving. It is best served warm accompanied with ice cream or whipped cream.******
I’ve tasted some very-so-so blueberry pies. The fillings were a snooze, too sweet and a little mushy or sometimes too loose. Yes, some are gummy, others runny.
My favorite recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated magazine, the periodical for nitpick-y cooks that want to know every culinary detail imaginable.
I love this jammy blueberry filling, and it is their attention to detail that makes the flavor and consistency so delicious. A grated Granny Smith apple is added to the cooked portion of the filling, offering the right amount of pectin to thicken the mixture along with a small amount of instant tapioca. The consistency is perfect.
But, here’s my pie confession. I don’t want to work too hard, so I will make a pie-making compromise. I’ll use store-bought refrigerated crusts, the type that is rolled into 9-inch disks. I’ll hide the red box deep in my recycle bin and hold my head high.
You are welcome to make your favorite from-scratch dough if you prefer.
Either way, don’t forget the ice cream.
The Best Blueberry Pie
Yield: one 9-inch pie, 6 to 8 servings
1 box (14.1 ounces) refrigerated pie crusts (two 9-inch rounds), such as Pillsbury Pie Crusts, well chilled
6 cups fresh blueberries
1 medium Granny Smith apple, peeled, grated on large holes of box grater
2 teaspoons grated zest (colored portion of peel) and 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) sugar
2 tablespoons instant tapioca, ground, see cook’s notes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
Wash: 1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Optional for serving: ice cream or whipped cream
Cook’s notes: Grind the tapioca to a powder in a spice grinder. As for the crust, in my kitchen, it is generally pretty cool so working fast with chilled store-bought dough usually doesn’t require dusting the work surface with flour when rolling it out. If your kitchen is warm or the dough isn’t thoroughly chilled, lightly dust work surface and rolling pin with all-purpose flour before rolling it out.
On a cool, clean, dry work surface roll out one round of refrigerated crust to a 11 1/2-inch circle. Ease it into a 9-inch pie pan, glass (Pyrex) preferred, gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into pie plate bottom with the other hand. Put in refrigerator.
Adjust oven rack to lowest position. Put rimmed baking sheet on rack. Preheat to 400 degrees. Place 3 cups berries in medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Using a potato masher, mash berries several times to release juices, leaving more than half of the berries unmashed. Continue to cook, stirring frequently and mashing occasionally, until about half of the berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 8 minutes. Cool slightly off heat.
Place grated apple in clean kitchen towel and wring dry over sink. Transfer apple to large bowl. Add cooked berries, remaining 3 cups of raw berries, lemon zest, juice, sugar, ground tapioca and salt; toss to combine. Transfer to dough-lined pie pan and scatter butter pieces over filling.
Roll out second round crust to an 11-inch circle. Lift dough to make sure it isn’t sticking and replace it onto work surface. Using a 1 1/4-inch glass, spice jar lid, or biscuit cutter, cut round from center of dough. Cut another 6 rounds from dough, 1 1/2 inches from center hole. Lift dough and place on top of filling. Fold dough around the edge under itself and pinch to make a ridge that is flush with the outer rim. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger. Or press with the tings of a fork. Brush top and edges of pie with egg wash, coating it very lightly.
Place pie on heated baking sheet and bake 30 minutes. If edge of crust is nicely browned, cover edge with a pie ring (a ring-like device that covers the edge of the crust – either metal or silicone) or use small pieces of aluminum foil to cover edge of crust. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake another 30 to 40 minutes, or until crust is deep golden brown and juices bubble. Transfer to wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. Cut into wedges and serve. Accompany with ice cream or whipped cream if desired.
I worried about the waiter. He risked life and limb to deliver my first taste of paella, Spain’s revered rice-based one-dish delicacy.
In a tiny outdoor cafe on the Spanish island of Majorca, perched on a bluff overlooking the sea, I relished every kernel of saffron-scented rice, cherished every morsel of oh-so-fresh, salty-sweet seafood.
Even if the taste had been less than divine — and trust me, it was luscious — the visual splendor alone should have been enough to tune out distractions. Bright red lobster, jet-black mussels, yellow-orange rice and bright-green peas paint quite a picture in the pan. But peril laid in its path from chef to customer.
The dining area was on the opposite side of the street from the kitchen. A busy road, teaming with traffic, separated customer and cocina.
Even the casual observer could tell at a glance that the trays were heavy. They were loaded with steaming paella pans, the shallow, two-handled cooking vessels in which paella is prepared. The bantam-weight waiter held the unwieldy platter of pans over his head with one hand, boldly waving his free arm to stop cars, trucks and motor scooters.
When he made it to the table, in my best Spanish, I asked him if the treacherous nature of his job made him nervous. Calmly, he explained that his two brothers were bullfighters, and that danger was in his blood. He considered his job to be on the safe side.
Besides, he had all the paella he could eat.
And that didn’t limit him to just seafood paellas but an almost inexhaustible number of variations to the classic dish. Paella originated in Valencia, a region on Spain’s eastern coast. Early versions of Valencian paella included rice, chicken, rabbit, green beans, fresh butter beans, tomato, olive oil, paprika, saffron, water and salt.
“The only indispensable ingredients are rice, water and olive oil,” writes Penelope Casas, author of “Paella! ” (Henry Holt, $27.50). “Everything else is the subject of endless debates and discussions by Spaniards, who love a lively conversation and consider their own recipe the one and only. Paellas are as free-spirited as the cooks who prepare them; once the technique is mastered, the sky is the limit.”
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1/3 cup warm water
2 boneless chicken breasts, each cut into 3 pieces
10 chicken drumettes
About 1 1/2 teaspoons Cajun spice blend, such as chef Paul Prudhomme’s Seafood Magic or Poultry Magic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups white short-grain or medium-grain rice, arborio preferred
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
3 cups chicken broth, homemade or canned reduced-sodium broth
1 cup green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch lengths (if large, cut in half lengthwise)
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
12 medium or large shrimp, peeled and deveined
18 small clams, such as littleneck clams, scrubbed
Optional: 18 mussels, scrubbed 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, cut into thin strips
1/2 yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, cut into thin strips
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup frozen peas
Juice of 1 lemon, plus 2 lemons cut in fourths for garnish
Garnish: 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Cook’s notes: If clams fail to open during the completion of the paella, remove them from paella and place in a saucepan with 1 cup dry white wine. Cover and bring to boil; check after 3-4 minutes; most of them should be open. Discard any unopened clams.
1. Place saffron in warm water; set aside. Season chicken with Cajun spice blend. Heat oil over medium-high heat in large skillet or paella pan. Brown chicken, about 5 minutes on each side. Remove chicken from pan with slotted spoon.
2. Add onion, garlic and rice. Stir to coat rice. Add saffron mixture, turmeric and broth. Add chicken and cook on medium heat, covered, 15 minutes.
3. Add green beans, pushing into rice mixture. Add tomato, shrimp, clams, mussels (if using), bell peppers, salt and pepper. Cover and cook 5 minutes. Add peas; cover and cook 5 minutes.
4. Remove lid and cook until all broth is absorbed. Drizzle lemon juice over top. Place lemon wedges around edges and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Yield: 6-8 servings
Deconstructed Pistachio Pavlova: This luscious dessert (the finales of the Vegetarian Tasting Menu) looks a little like artistic Tinker Toys.
French meringues, both disks and cylinders, are dried in a dehydrator until noisily crunchy. They team with pistachio ice cream, whipped pistachio ganache and candied pistachios rolled in chocolate. Also on the plate, some pistachio paste, lemon marmalade and crème Chantilly.
And a perfect white and purple pansy reclines on one side.
Whimsy teams with artistry atop Michelle Bracken’s decorated cutout cookies.
Themed to holidays, these impressive treats have become a kind of edible calendar for patrons at Zov’s Bistro and Bakery in Tustin, where Bracken is the longtime executive pastry chef. Valentine’s Day through Christmas, these glamorous goodies represent symbols of the season.
For me, my favorites are her Easter cookies: chicks, bunnies and eggs, even stunning carrots.
A bed of flow icing forms a canvas atop each cookie, the super-smooth surface adorned with colorful details – eyes, ears, flowers, swirls and pinstripes, plus the occasional dusting of sparkly sanding sugar.
Watch the video and pay close attention to the icing’s consistency.
Yield: about 2 cups
4 eggs whites or 4 ounces, see cook’s notes
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Additional powdered sugar and egg whites to adjust consistency
For decorating: dyes, plastic or parchment paper pastry bags and tips, lots of small bowls or containers, sanding sugar Cook’s notes: If you prefer to use pasteurized egg whites, Bracken suggests using Organic Valley Brand (Whole Foods and Sprouts). If piping polka dots on cookies, do so while flow icing is still wet.
1. Place egg whites, powdered sugar and juice in large bowl of electric stand mixer. Disconnect whisk attachment and use to mix ingredients by hand. When thoroughly combined, place on machine and mix on medium speed for 3 minutes. Scrape down sides and bottom; increase speed to medium-high; beat 1 to 2 more minutes. Remove whisk attachment and lift it up. A trail of 3 to 4 inches of icing should stay in place when you lift the whisk attachment above the bowl. At this firmer consistency, the icing is used to outline the top edge of each cookie (this is a little wall to corral the flow icing). If making bunnies and chicks, for example, put a small amount of white in a pastry bag fitted with a small plain tip and put another small amount in a bowl and stir in yellow dye (a little dye goes a long way, so just use a smidgen) – stir to combine a place in a second pastry bag fitted with a small plain tip. Thinly outline the cookies; dry. Don’t leave icing uncovered; cover with damp cloth or plastic wrap.
2. Create flow icing. A more liquid consistency is required for the flow icing. In small bowls of royal icing, dyed to desired colors (in this example, one left white, one yellow), add 1 teaspoon of egg white at a time, stirring between additions just enough to combine (don’t overmix), until mixture is a little thicker than thick whipping cream. Place in piping bag(s) fitted with medium-small plain tip (or simply cut off end) and pipe onto cookies starting next to outline, using a tight 1/2-inch long zigzag motion until all of cookie surface is filled inside the outline. Prick any bubbles that appear on the surface with the tip of the pastry bag, using an up and down motion. Or use the tip of a paring knife or a clean finger. Set aside to dry (see cook’s notes). It is best to do up to this point 24 hours in advance to thoroughly dry icing.
3. Place some icing (original, not flow consistency) in several bowls. Dye each a different color, such as black for eyes, green for leaves, orange for beaks and flowers, blue for flowers. If icing needs to be thicker, stir in a little powdered sugar. For flowers use a small fluted tip. When the flow icing is dry, decorate as desired. If you want to add sanding sugar, sprinkle it on when decorated elements are wet and shake off excess. Set aside to thoroughly dry. Cookies can be stored airtight for 3 days. Source: Michelle Bracken, executive pastry chef, Zov’s Bistro and Bakery, Tustin