Musings from a Seattle personal chef
Archive for January, 2007
I recently taught a private cooking class for a gentleman looking for new dinner ideas for his family. He’s the primary cook, and while he considers his skills to be intermediate, he felt he had tapped out all his culinary creativity. He was especially interested in quick and simple seafood recipes, particularly with an Asian flair. I immediately thought of sesame-crusted Ahi. Incredibly flavorful and nutritious, it can be on the table within minutes.
The key, of course, is to start with sashimi-grade Ahi (which is quite plentiful in Seattle), as you want to serve it raw. However, I was surprised to find that flash-frozen Ahi works very well. I picked up a 3/4 pound brick from Central Market, which I cut into 4 rectangular pieces. I like to marinate mine in a bit of soy sauce and wasabi, but only briefly as you don’t want the marinade to overpower the fish (15-20 minutes will suffice). I love the look of mixed black and white sesame seeds, but you could just use one color (you can find black sesame seeds in most Asian markets).
Start by coating the four long sides of the log. To ensure the fish won’t overcook, I’ll refrigerate the coated pieces for at least 30 minutes, but you can also stick it in the freezer for a few minutes if you’re in a hurry.
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. I’ve found a nonstick works best, but you can also use a regular skillet. Brush the skillet lightly with oil (I typically use peanut as it has a high smoke point), then add your coated Ahi pieces. Be sure not to crowd them. You just want to sear them until the sesame seeds start to turn golden brown and adhere to the fish (30-45 seconds per side). Once all four sides have seared, place on a plate and stick in the freezer to stop the cooking. Continue with the remaining pieces.
To serve, cut the fish into 1/2″squares. As an entrÃ©e, I’ll toss the pieces with some greens drizzled with an Asian vinaigrette. But I also like to serve them on Chinese soup spoons as an appetizer (two pieces per spoon), drizzled with wasabi cream. Enjoy!
Sesame-Crusted Ahi Salad
Two entrÃ©e servings
3/4 pound sashimi-grade Ahi tuna, cut into rectangular pieces
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Wasabi, to taste
Black & white sesame seeds, for coating
Peanut oil, for searing
(note: I don’t measure my ingredients when preparing the vinaigrette; I just mix everything together until it tastes the way I like!)
Rice wine vinegar
Salt, to taste
Whisk ingredients together and toss with wild greens (or lettuce of choice). Top with Ahi pieces and serve.
As an appetizer:
The owner of my gym recently pointed out something quite disturbing: I’m lopsided.
I’ve been plagued with a bum right knee ever since I took up running again almost two years ago. A few months back I took advantage of my gym’s free injury screening, and the physical therapist diagnosed it as “patellafemoral pain syndrome” or classic runner’s knee (VERY common among women runners). The pain has never been acute — more of a minor but always-there discomfort — so I haven’t been too particularly worried. But I’m a notorious stretching avoider, and tight calves and hamstrings contribute to the problem. I’m also an over-pronator, so I need shoes with lots of support (my current ones are due for a replacement).
Over the past couple of weeks the pain has been more severe, and as I was griping about this to the gym owner she voiced her observation that I was off-kilter. “How rude,” I thought. “Sure, I may be a bit wacky, somewhat zany, heck, even kooky at times. But off-kilter? HARRUMPH.”
Then I realized she was talking about my quadriceps: my right quad is noticeably smaller than my left. Weak or under-developed quad muscles can cause the patella to track out of alignment, which irritates the femoral groove. No wonder I’m sore!
This discovery has forced me to become more aware of how I stand. Sure enough, I tend to favor my left leg. I’m right-handed, so when I’m cooking all the prep work is done with my right hand. I find my right hip won’t get in the way when I’m chopping if I tilt slightly and put my weight on my left leg.
Of course, I really need to get myself to a physical therapist for a proper diagnosis and some strength-building exercises, but in the meantime, if you see someone doing one legged squats while standing in the check-out line at Whole Foods, it’s probably me.
A couple of my foodie friends (S and K) and I have vowed to get together every other month to check out the local restaurant scene. We aim for places none of us has gone to before; rarely an issue for me, but as they’re more inclined to dine out, it may take several suggestions before we settle on one.
Last week I rattled off several names to K, only to be shot down each time (“Been there. Yep, been there too. Went there last week.” etc.). Finally I came up with Veil; although she’s gone there as well, it was only for drinks, and S had yet to try it. Success! An added bonus: it was geographically desirable for all of us; very important given Seattle was just coming out of the throes of an ice storm.
K and I carpooled and found S in the lounge chatting with the chef and the bartender. The place was deserted — most likely due to the weather — so they wanted to make sure S was comfortable. Quite a nice touch, I thought.
As I mentioned in my “I resolve” post, one of my goals for 2007 is to try out more local restaurants (which I will review in my blog). However, I believe a review will do you no good unless you know what makes me tick. What are my tastes? Where are my frequent haunts? By what criteria do I judge a fabulous vs. lousy restaurant experience? Know that and you can decide if my review is valuable to you.
Thing is, we rarely go out to eat, and when we do it tends to be to our tried-n-true neighborhood joints. My darling and I really are homebodies, so the thought of having to dress up and drive any farther than a couple of miles seems daunting (many places we frequent are within walking or stumbling distance). Plus there’s the cost; for my darling, $30 is a reasonable night, $50 is getting into spendy territory, and $100 is downright splurging (and that’s total — not per person — including drinks!). I’m less frugal, but if I’m shelling out more than $30 per person (not including drinks), then I expect the meal to be memorable. Because of this frugality, although I may recommend a more expensive restaurant to friends or visitors, it’s unlikely I’d frequent it again any time soon. With so many choices in Seattle, I’d rather try something different when I’m in the mood for a splurge.
French fries are one of my (many) weaknesses. I just can’t turn down their salty, crispy goodness. Sometimes I’ll dip ‘em in ketchup; other times, if I’m feeling French, I’ll dip ‘em in Dijon. Chipotle mayo and ranch dressing are also mighty tasty accompaniments. Of course, such caloric indulgences must occur in moderation lest my behind begins to resemble a giant mound of mashed potatoes. Baked French fries lessen the damage somewhat, but they’re still white potatoes — those too easily digested tubers that whip through your system in record time, providing little to no sustained energy. (But DANG, they’re good!).
Enter the sweet potato.
These delightful roots only recently became part of my culinary repertoire. Up until a couple years ago, this Yankee had only associated them with southern cooking. I also didn’t realize what we call “yams” here in the States are actually orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (true yams are humongous tubers only grown in south and central America, the West Indies and parts of Asia and Africa). My first encounter with sweet potatoes was most likely in chip form. Either packaged in a medley of taro, yuca and beet chips, or served as an appetizer with fruit salsa, they had me at the first bite.
I’ve never been one to jump on the New Year’s resolution bandwagon, but I do use this time of year to reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m going — from both a personal and professional standpoint. 2006 was a fabulous year, and I anticipate 2007 will be even better. A few of this past year’s proudest moments:
- Competed in my first triathlon (loved it so much I signed up for another the following week)
- Ran 2 half marathons
- Continued my weight losing streak (saw a net loss of 5 pounds; it woulda been more if it weren’t for those meddling holiday treats)
- Became a Seattle Times swimsuit model (okay, so it was just for a story on bathing suit makeovers)
- Won the food styling internship with Food Fanatics through the Women Chefs & Restaurateurs scholarship program
- Ovenstobetsy.com was named “website of the year” by the U.S. Personal Chef Association
- Launched my blog (aka, “musings from a personal chef with a fitness problem”)
I wonder what this says about me: my iPod has everything from Metallica (“Enter Sandman,” “Turn the Page”) to Iggy Pop (“Lust for Life,” “Nightclubbing”) to Starland Vocal Band (“Afternoon Delight”). What can I say? My tastes are eclectic.
One thing I have found is the song that may be great to groove to in one’s car may not necessarily be the best to run to. Take “Sexyback” by Justin Timberlake (yes, I know what some of you are thinking: “No thank you — you can have it”). As I mentioned in my prior post, that song’s what started it all. It’s great to dance to, but the rhythm isn’t quite right for my running pace. However, I’ve found “Enter Sandman” — a song that my darling stuck on as a joke as he’s the true Metallica fan — is perfect for getting me pumped up in the beginning of a run.
- While I love Social Distortion’s version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” if I try to keep time with the music I feel like I need to barf up a lung after just a couple of minutes. However, my goal is to eventually run the entire song (3 minutes, 49 seconds) at the music’s pace.
- “I Am Woman” is the PERFECT song to end a run with, be it a 3-miler or an 8-miler. No matter how tired I am, I am strong! I am invincible! I AM WOMAN!!!
- “Born Slippy” by Nuxx from the Trainspotting soundtrack is another great song for my pace. At more than 9 minutes long, it’s also perfect for my long runs.
- Now that I’m an iPod’n & runnin’ fool, I now notice everyone else who’s wearing the ubiquitous white earbuds.
- I already have difficulty regulating the volume of my voice (my darling constantly admonishes me to “use my inside voice”), but having music blasting in one’s ears makes it doubly hard to know how loudly you’re speaking. I think I’ll have to keep the mocking of other people’s running style to myself for fear of having them hear me.
I have the BEST HUSBAND EVER!
When it comes to giving Christmas presents to each other, we’re really predictable. I always write out a list of what I’d like — typically little things such as books, CDs, jammies, a gift certificate for a massage — nothing big ticket. I don’t get jazzed over jewelry (other than my wedding band and engagement ring), and there’s really not much else I feel I need. So Christmas morning rarely brings any surprises; the gifts from my darling are those I’ve specifically asked for. And each year he proclaims he doesn’t want anything, so I get him clothes (which he does appreciate), along with a few silly little items.
This past Christmas, given our upcoming trip to France and our optimistic proclamation that 2007 WILL be the year we tear down our house and rebuild, we decided to forego exchanging gifts. Sure I bought him his favorite Scotch (Lagavulin 16-year single malt), but I didn’t wrap it, nor did I wait until Christmas morning to give it to him. (I had forgotten that Lagavulin is tough to come by this time of year — most liquor stores sell out in mid-December — so when I found a bottle sitting on the shelf while picking up some booze for a client, I snapped it up).
So what’s a New England Yankee turned diehard Seattleite doing serving Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day? Ain’t than a southern thang?
Well, yes (folklore has it that eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day brings good luck and money). But ever since my client — a fiesty Texan who relishes her Southern comfort food traditions — turned me on to this dish I was hooked. You see, I’ve always been partial to a hearty bowl of beans. Rich and nourishing, they satisfy on so many levels. When it’s cold and dank outside, they warm me from within. When I’ve overindulged, they fill me up without packing on the calories. When I’m stopped up, well — you get the picture. Add cruciferous greens and you get a nutrient dense and visually appealing dish.