Category Archives: Cooking

We threw a luau. Here’s the menu.

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We had a luau for our friend Jacklin’s 25th birthday yesterday and I was pretty impressed by the spread we cooked up.

On the table, clockwise from the top center: Potato-macaroni salad, Kalua pork, Hawaiian rolls (can’t not have ’em!); Teriyaki chicken skewers, kimchi-Spam-pineapple fried rice and garlic bok choy.

Co-cook Synouen was in charge of the bok choy and fried rice. I could have eaten both all day. She’s the one who taught me to make bok choy and I love the way she does it: quartering each stem, then sauteing it in a pan with oyster sauce, fish sauce and a ton of garlic.

For the rice, she rendered down the Spam until crispy, then fried up kimchi and pineapple in the Spam oil. She mixed in a big batch of rice, plus a little fish sauce and soy sauce. She also makes fried chicken fried rice with Roscoe’s leftovers … she’s pretty much a genius when it comes to the art of frying rice.

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I took care of the pork, the chicken and the potato mac.

Here’s the recipe we used, though I added a few pinches of curry powder, a lot of sliced scallions and four white rose potatoes (boiled, cooled, then diced).

The chicken breast was cut into chunks and soaked overnight in a tub with a ton of sliced scallions and a bottle of Island Teriyaki from Trader Joe’s. That was easy, but surprisingly, so was the Kalua pork.

It’s done the same way you’d make cochinita pibil, but the ingredient list is much smaller. I used this recipe on Epicurious as a general guide, though my piece of pork was bigger and I changed the way the recipe is finished.

For this one, just take a pork butt (the shoulder), rub it down with a couple tablespoons of course Hawaiian sea salt (alaea red salt, available at Savory Spice in Fountain Valley) and wrap it up in a few banana leaves and then tightly in foil. Pour four cups of water in a roasting pan and place the roast in the dish. Cook it at 350 degrees for 5 to 5 1/2 hours (depending on the size of your roast; they say 5 hours for a 5 lb. roast, I did 5 1/2 for a 7 lb. roast). The banana leaves keep the meat moist and the foil holds everything in.

Here’s where our paths differed. The Epicurious recipe has the cook make a sauce with new water, liquid smoke and more salt. I just saved the juices from the roast, added mesquite liquid smoke to taste and added it to the meat as I shredded it after letting the roast sit for 15 minutes.

We ate at 4 p.m. and I couldn’t eat another thing all night. So stuffed.

Fire up the grill for a delicious ‘summer picnic’

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It’s been a while since I’ve used my grill, but a recent trip to Northern California inspired me to come back home and clean off my backyard bad boy for another summer of good eats.

The lunch I made for my buddies up north was inspired by Nadia’s favorite grilled dish of mine, “The Summer Picnic.” We call it that because I made it for her one summer night and the name stuck.

Basically it’s grilled shrimp, grilled asparagus and some bread.

I pierce the shrimp twice, through the head and near the base of the tail, to make the skewers easier to flip. As far as shrimp go, most would say sustainable is best, but it’s also pricey. You get the best bang for the buck at Costco, where the shrimp in the meat/seafood section are huge. I think I paid about $18 for 24 large shrimp. But they’re also farmed … so is the majority of the rest of the shrimp you and I are likely eating though, so I dunno.

Finally, I’ve read that it’s better to buy frozen than fresh in most cases. Unless you’re buying at Pearson’s Port (or sometimes Santa Monica Seafood), most of the shrimp you purchase is frozen on the ship at sea. The market then defrosts it to display it, so what’s the point? Lately, I’ve switched to frozen Northern Chef wild caught baja shrimp, 40-60 count in a 1 lb. bag for about $10 at Sprouts.

Omit the bread to save on the carbs, but if you plan on using it, you can serve it fresh or grilled. French is best, but you can also use italian. Slice the baguette or loaf into slices, and if grilling, brush lightly with olive oil (or garlic/herb-infused olive oil) and cook on the grill very briefly. Watch it close, because it burns quick!

What’s great about these ingredients is that you can tweak them different ways to keep it interesting. Here are some variations:

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-Wrap the asparagus pre-grill in bacon or post-grill in prosciutto.

-Throw some sausage on the grill too! My favorite is the pork sausage at Puerto Madero in Santa Ana/El Gaucho in Anaheim. Just like the bacon/prosciutto idea above, it’s not the healthiest idea, so save it for a sporadic treat. Finish with a drizzle of chimichurri, also available at the market (I like to leave off most of the oil and just use the herbs instead).

-Par-boil some halved yukon gold potatoes for about 12 minutes, until nearly fork tender. Finish face down on the grill, turning 45-degrees once in the cooking process. The chimichurri also works great here, or toss with a tablespoon of melted butter (plus sauteed shallots, a lot of garlic and parsley, if you’d like). Salt and pepper to taste.

-Other vegetables would also work here–spring onions, ramps, broccolini, brocolli rabe. We just alway use asparagus because it’s so yummy.

-Finish the veggies and the shrimp with a solid spritz of fresh lemon juice and fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley.

My favorite Asian take-out comes from Trader Joe’s

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I generally try to avoid frozen foods, but when I’m burned out in the kitchen, the first place I turn to is Trader Joe’s.

I know they have an amazing selection in the freezer, but I’m really only interested in two things: the orange chicken and the teriyaki chicken. Both are only $5 per bag.

First, I’d rather someone else make these two specific items than for me to make them at home. Second, I’d rather buy at least the orange chicken this way and bake it instead of heading off for take-out and picking up a deep fried, over-sauced version of the exact same dish.

I prefer the orange chicken to the teriyaki because I’m fat and love meats/cheeses lovingly embraced by batter/breading. There are 320 calories per serving (approximately, but not always, 5 servings to a bag) and a serving really isn’t much on the plate. If I have some wiggle room, I’ll go two servings; if not, one and a half. Lay the pieces out on a sheet pan, blast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, flipping once if you can, and you’ll have little nuggets of chicken that are a good enough to stand-in for the double-fried stuff you find at Asian chicken joints. Add the sauce, a bunch of scallions and it’s a wrap.

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Alternatively, I’ll use the Trader Joe’s BBQ Chicken Teriyaki on days where I need something lighter and less batteriffic. It’s 150 calories per serving and has 3.5 servings in a bag. I add veggies and a little bit of rice to stretch the meal into four solid portions.

For the dish above, I let the frozen strips of chicken sit out for a half hour to soften up. I cut them into bite-size chunks; then I halved 8 oz. of whole baby crimini mushrooms so they’d be a similar size. To finish prep, I tossed two servings of rice in the rice cooker and separated and halved the leaves of four baby bok choi heads.

You liven up the frozen chicken by building flavor, but it’s all very easy: With a little bit of oil in the pan over medium heat, saute 1/2 a shallot and 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, both minced, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the mushroom and a generous pinch of salt; cook for 3-5 minutes until most of the water has cooked out of the mushrooms and the pan is dry. If you have it, deglaze the pan with a splash of mirin and add the chicken. Cover with a lid and turn the heat to medium-low, allowing the steam to bring the chicken to temperature. When the chicken is ready, mix in the raw bok choi. The heat will wilt the thin pieces. Finish with the teriyaki sauce and dig in.

If you do it this way, this one makes four portions. The orange chicken is best fresh from the oven, but the teriyaki is perfect packed up and ready for the next day’s lunch. Clearly, it doesn’t suffice for going out to actual Chinese/Japanese (Vietnamese/Thai) restaurants, but if I’m not eating out every day, this is a solid way to split the difference.

Yucatecan classico: Cochinita pibil

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I’ve had a continual craving for pibil–the classic southern Mexican pork (cochinita) or chicken (pollo) dish of braised meat wrapped in banana leaf–ever since I was introduced to the chicken variety in a town outside of Chichen Itza, Yucatán, two Novembers ago.

There’s a satisfactory version on the menu at Taco Mesa, and Gustavo Arellano, OC Weekly’s editor, says Conde Cakes in SanTana carries Yucatecan cuisine, but I’ve been cooking a variety of Mexican dishes at home lately and wanted to end the run on a high note. It’s a 27-hour wait from start to finish, and you’ll be left with orange, achiote-stained hands, but making the dish yourself leaves you with a happy belly and a true appreciation for this classic Mexican dish.

Read the full how to over at OC Weekly’s Stick a Fork In It blog.

Stretching your pesos: The full menu

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Here’s the full menu from our series “Stretching Your Pesos: Fat Dude’s Mexican Fiesta.” Use these recipes as inspiration to create your own Mexican dishes at home, or better yet, share your favorite Mexican dishes to make in the comments section of this post.

Meal 1: Shredded Chicken Tostadas with breakfast tostadas in the morning

Meal 2: Rice bowl with braised chicken and pickled red onion

Meal 3: Poached shrimp with cotija-lime corn

Meal 4: Chicken quesadilla with black beans and pickled red onion

Meal 5: Chicken, rice and bean burritos

Meal 6: Oregano-lime shrimp salad with jicama and corn

Meal 7: Shrimp fried Mexican rice

Stretching your pesos: Fat Dude’s Mexican Fiesta, Part 7—Shrimp fried Mexican rice

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This is the last post of my “Stretching your pesos” series, which I essentially wrote because I made too much chicken for Nadia’s cousins and I had to figure out what to do with it.

On a small scale, the series taught me to use my leftovers to their full extent. And that’s important to do, considering people in this world are starving while Americans waste 33 million tons of food annually, according to NPR.

I only had a few shrimp, some Mexican rice and pickled red onion in the fridge by the end of this experiment, and I wanted to mix it up a bit, so I took inspiration from Orange County’s Dos Chinos food truck which fuses Asian and Mexican cuisines.

Enter: Shrimp fried Mexican rice.

I found the blueprint at Epicurious:

  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 bunch scallions, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup leftover pork, chicken, or beef, diced
  • 1 cup frozen peas and carrots, thawed (plus any leftover vegetables you have on hand)
  • 4 cups cold cooked white or brown rice (In this case Mexican rice, recipe here)
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The recipe makes four servings, but here’s a couple of ways to make it a little healthier if you aren’t using leftovers like I was: Use 2-3 cups of rice, so each person has less than 1 cup, with 1/2 cup per person being the target–and go brown rice; use low-sodium soy sauce. You can also reduce the oil, but this rice does need to crisp and you’re at less than 1 T per person. Try using 2 T, and add a tablespoon if necessary.

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Follow the link above for the full step by step, but the method is fairly simple and the result far less greasy than any box of takeout I’ve ever brought home.

You start by cooking the egg and the scallions with some of the oil. Then the meat and veggies get tossed in the pan and scrambled around. The rest of the oil goes in to crisp up the rice and you wrap it up by adding a mixture of soy sauce and water to flavor the rice.

Garnish with fresh cilantro and lime, and dig in.

Stretching your pesos: Fat Dude’s Mexican Fiesta, Part 6—Oregano-lime shrimp salad with jicama and corn

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If you’ve been following along with our improvised Mexican menu, you’ll be happy to know we’re coming to the end of our south-of-the-border marathon. I’m happy to say I used nearly every last component in my fridge until there was nothing left–therefore maximizing the dollars I spent to throw a small family party.

I had a bunch of iceberg lettuce and an ear of corn in the fridge, plus shrimp left in the freezer. With these ingredients I figured there was a salad to be made. The only thing I needed was jicama from the store and it was go time.

For the shrimp: I used 5 large shrimp per person. To season them, marinate the seafood in the juice of 1 lime, salt, 1 clove of garlic, minced, and 2 T of Mexican oregano. Sautee the shrimp in a pan over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes, until they turn from translucent to white.

For the salad veggies: Shred the lettuce, cut the jicama into strips and cut the corn from the cob. You can eat the corn raw, or bring a pot of water to a boil, turn off the heat, and bring the corn to temperature in the pot–with the cover on–for about 5 minutes.

To finish: Toss the shrimp and veggies together with a dash of salt and a good squirt of lime juice. That’s your dressing. Plate each salad and garnish with chopped cilantro and a sprinkle of cotija cheese.

Stretching your pesos: Fat Dude’s Mexican Fiesta, Part 5—Chicken, rice and bean burritos

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I already made a healthy, hearty quesadilla last week (recipe), so it was only natural to keep going with the stack of uncooked flour tortillas in my fridge.

Ditching the fold for the roll, we opted for chicken burritos with more of the leftover tostada chicken breast (recipe). I had the foresight to  leave some of the breasts whole instead of shredding all the meat. I chopped one breast into large chunks and it was enough for four mini-burritos.

The trick to healthy burritos is to reverse the quantities of all the worst stuff with the best stuff. That means more meat and beans, less rice and cheese. Here’s what each burrito looked like:

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My burritos had about 2T each of beans and Mexican rice, 1/2 oz. of Oaxaca cheese and 1/4 of a chicken breast. If you’re looking to make Mexican rice at home, here’s a recipe.

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I like wrapping the burritos and finishing them on the cook top to make sure they have a bit of a crust. Top each one with 1t each of low-fat sour cream and guacamole (mashed avocado, flavored with a little salt and lime).

It won’t be the hulking beast from the taqueria or Chipotle, but this smaller-sized burrito hits all the right flavor notes and doesn’t leave you feeling carb heavy and bloated.

 

Stretching your pesos: Fat Dude’s Mexican fiesta, Part 4—Chicken quesadilla with black beans and pickled red onion

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If a quick meal is what you need, look no further than the versatile quesadilla. The quesadillas of my youth were nuked in the microwave and made with Mission flour rounds filled with a couple of Kraft singles. Not healthy and totally uninspired–a sad meal for my 10-year-old self.

My grown up tastes have led me to greener pastures, quesadilla-wise. I’ve found pure bliss in wonderfully-gooey Oaxaca cheese, salty cotija crumbles and the acerbic bite of pickled jalapenos.

To make the quesadilla at top, use 1 uncooked flour tortilla (about 140 calories; less fake/processed ingredients) and 1.5-2 oz. of Oaxaca (Mexican white) or cheddar cheese. The chicken from our chicken tostadas (recipe) makes a flavorful addition to the meal, and I always throw a handful of pickled jalapenos into the mix.

Click here to learn how our friend Gustavo Arellano of OC Weekly cooks up a proper quesadilla.

I chose to add black beans (recipe) and pickled red onions (recipe) because extra ‘good stuff’ never hurt–especially the addition of the black beans, which really turn this snack into a fiber-filled meal. Finish with some chopped cilantro, a sprinkle of cotija and a spritz of lime juice to round out the flavors of the dish, if you happen to have those items on hand.

Stretching your pesos: Fat Dude’s Mexican fiesta, Part 3—Poached shrimp and cotija-lime corn

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We wanted to add some variety to our list of Mexican leftover meals so I picked up a couple pounds of shrimp at the market to throw in the mix.

I knew I wanted to use the reserved braising liquid from when I made chicken tostadas to poach the shrimp in, and later reduce into a sauce to finish the dish. As always, devein your shrimp if they need it. Better yet, buy your shrimp from a place that will do it for you.

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I turned the braising liquid into a poaching liquid by straining it and adding the juice of 1/2 a lime, plus black pepper, garlic and bay leaf. To poach the shrimp in the liquid, bring it to a boil, reduce to medium and toss in the shrimp.

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Start the reduction by adding a cup of the braising liquid to another pan and cook over medium-high until nearly all of the liquid is gone and the reduction lightly coats the back of a spoon.

Time the reduction and the shrimp so they come to temperature about the same time.

When you plate the shrimp, arrange in a row and add just a drizzle of the reduction across the shrimp. You’ll need to add a spritz of lime to the mix to balance all the salt that was concentrated when you reduced the braising liquid.

For the corn: Use a pot with a lid that is large enough to hold the amount of corn you want to use. I used 1/2 ear per person. To cook the corn, bring enough water to cover the corn to a boil, then remove from the heat, add the corn to the pot and cover for at least 5 minutes. That’s it. Add a light coating of butter or sour cream, cotija cheese and cilantro.

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