Author Archives: foodgal

Marinara Pasta with Secret Sauce

Italian marinara pasta with bread crumbs gets a splash of Vietnamese fish sauce for the win.
Italian marinara pasta with bread crumbs gets a splash of Vietnamese fish sauce for the win.

My dad probably was never aware of the concept of umami.

All he knew was that a splash of soy sauce imparted a magical touch to so many dishes — from homemade steak sauce to a marinade for prime rib to Thanksgiving gravy.

He’d reach for that bottle of soy sauce instinctively, knowing it would add depth of flavor and a boost of savoriness to most anything it touched.

In much the same way, Vietnamese fish sauce is as indispensable in the kitchen.

If you know the fermented condiment made from black anchovies and salt only from its use in the ubiquitous nuoc cham dipping sauce served alongside so many dishes at Vietnamese restaurants, you know merely a fraction of its uses.

Explore just how versatile fish sauce can be in the new cookbook, “The Red Boat Fish Sauce Cookbook: Beloved Recipes from the Family Behind the Purest Fish Sauce” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), of which I received a review copy.

It was written by the East Bay’s Cuong Pham, the former Apple engineer who founded Red Boat Fish Sauce, the game-changing brand that’s beloved by legions of top chefs and home-cooks.

After immigrating to the United States, he hunted high and low for the ultra fragrant, deeply amber fish sauce of his youth. When he couldn’t find any brands here that met his standards, he created his own in 2011, sourcing wild black anchovies off the coast of Vietnam and combining them with nothing but salt in wooden barrels to ferment the age-old way. In doing so, he created a fish sauce celebrated for its purity of flavor with no additives, enhancers, or preservatives.

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Yotam Ottolenghi’s Butternut Squash with Orange Oil and Caramelized Honey

A dazzling roasted butternut squash dish with a trick for making infused orange oil so easily.
A dazzling roasted butternut squash dish with a trick for making infused orange oil so easily.

A new Yotam Ottolenghi cookbook is always an occasion to rejoice.

After all, the London restaurateur is a seven-time New York Times best-selling cookbook author.

His latest, “Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love” (Clarkson Potter) of which I received a review copy, was written by him and Noor Murad, head of the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen.

Unlike most of his other cookbooks, which showcased dishes from his acclaimed Nopi and Rovi restaurants, and Ottolenghi delis, this one aims to show you more creative ways to cook from your pantry, fridge and freezer.

That being said, that doesn’t necessarily mean these are recipes that take barely any time or effort to put together. If you know Ottolengthi recipes, you know they often require a number of steps. But in this case, none are especially difficult or laborious. And in many cases, you’ll learn a new tip or technique along the way. Many of the recipes also list handy substitutions or additional ways to use a particular sauce or serve a dish.

Case in point, “Creamy Dreamy Hummus,” which Murad and Ottolenghi provide directions for making with the preferred dried chickpeas, as well as with, yes, canned garbanzos, often considered sacrilege. But, as they note, canned ones can still create a very creamy hummus — provided you first use kitchen towels to gently release their skins, then cook them briefly in water with salt, and a pinch of cumin.

Or take the recipe for “Very Giant Giant Couscous Cake,” a clean-out-the-fridge type of crispy, savory cake made in a pan that can be put together with leftover rice or pearl barley, if you don’t have couscous on hand.

Or the “Skillet Berries, Bread, and Browned Butter” breakfast, brunch or afternoon snack that makes use of half-opened bags of frozen berries, stale bread, and that forgotten container of rolled outs by turning it all into a delicious warm fruit crumble drizzled with cold heavy cream.

With a butternut squash languishing on my countertop for a couple of weeks, I was moved to try my hand at “Butternut Squash with Orange Oil and Caramelized Honey.”

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David Chang’s Best Dessert in the World

An effortless dessert that's mind-blowingly good.
An effortless dessert that’s mind-blowingly good.

Do yourself a favor: Buy a glazed yeast doughnut. Or two. Pronto.

Now, resist inhaling them in the morning. Instead, save them for the evening.

Then, spend a mere few minutes to transform them into the “Best Dessert in the World.”

That’s what Momofuku’s David Chang calls this uncanny creation.

Given how stupid-simple it is to make and the sheer bliss it provides, I’d have to agree that his multi-named “The Only Dessert I’ll Cook at Home (Doughnuts Cooked in Butter with Ice Cream)” definitely ranks right up there.

It’s from his new cookbook, “Cooking at Home: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Recipes (And Love My Microwave)” (Clarkson Potter), of which I received a review copy. Chang co-wrote it with New York Times food writer Priya Krishna.

It might be best described as the anti-cookbook. Meaning that it’s more like one of those no-recipe cookbooks of late. There are no precise measurements for ingredients. Sometimes, there aren’t even specific ingredients listed. The idea is to trust yourself more, to season to your own personal taste, and to use what’s in your pantry without dashing to the supermarket for obscure items all the time just to make one dish one way all the time.

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Dining Outside at Sumika

Skewers of chicken thigh with green onion, meatballs, and chicken liver at Sumika in Los Altos.
Skewers of chicken thigh with green onion, meatballs, and chicken liver at Sumika in Los Altos.

After all the over-indulging of the holidays, January is typically a slow month for restaurants. Couple that with the prevalence of Omicron right now, and business is definitely on the wane at the moment.

So, when friends and I dined outside on a recent Monday night at the neighborhood gem, Sumika Grill in downtown Los Altos, we had the entire outdoor dining area to ourselves, as about two other small parties opted to dine inside instead.

With squat space heaters and wine barrels acting as dividers between the outdoor dining space and the parking lot, we were plenty comfortable, too.

Sumika Grill is the sister restaurant to Orenchi in Santa Clara and Redwood City. While the latter specializes in excellent ramen, the former is all about yakitori.

Balsamic chicken thighs and chicken skin skewers.
Balsamic chicken thighs and chicken skin skewers.

When you sit outside, with your table a mere couple of steps from the restaurant’s front door, you might miss the theatrics of watching a chef turn and flip skewers over a blazing grill.

But the food arrives at the table plenty hot and still every bit as delicious. Moreover, your clothes don’t end up smelling like smoke when you leave.

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Lightly Curried Lamb, Cabbage, and Barley Soup

A hearty, soul-soothing lamb and barley soup that's just what you want at this time of year.
A hearty, soul-soothing lamb and barley soup that’s just what you want at this time of year.

I joke that my husband likes to put together elaborate charts. Of his weekly workouts. Of his grilling exploits. Of, well, you name it.

Of course, he’ll then promptly misplace them, making them an exercise in futility in the end.

So, it comes as no surprise that in the early days of shelter-in-place, when everyone was growing green onions in a glass of water and attempting their first misshapen sourdough loaves, all panicked that it might very well be the only food they could lay their hands on, my husband suggested making an elaborate chart listing everything in our pantry in case we had to start rationing.

I just rolled my eyes.

Because I knew that with just the bags of dried beans and grains on our shelves alone, we had ample food — and good food — for months on end.

After all, that’s one of the greatest things about grains such as barley, farro, corn, quinoa, and oats. They are high in fiber, making them very satiating even in modest servings. Plus, they are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

On top of that, they’re a breeze to cook, and can fit into any meal or snack, no matter what time of day or year.

Need further convincing? Just pick up a copy of the new cookbook, “Grains for Every Season: Rethinking Our Way with Grains” (Artisan), of which I received a review copy.

It’s by Joshua McFadden, founder of Submarine Hospitality in Portland, OR, where he owns Ava Gene’s, Cicoria, Takibi, and Tusk. He’s also bringing new life to a 50-acre Berny Farm in Springdale, OR. The book was written with Martha Homberg, former editor-in-chief of Fine Cooking magazine.

As McFadden notes, this cookbook doesn’t include recipes for every grain imaginable. Instead, he’s honed in on the ones that he believes are the most versatile in the kitchen.

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