miso salmon

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People. This is a friendly reminder that Mercury is in retrograde until the end of the month. This is why I haven’t been able to string more than two thoughts together in a coherent manner for weeks. This is why I referred to Whitney Houston’s voice as crystal glass on the way to Tahoe two weekends ago. This is why you might be feeling crazy right now. I know I’ve mentioned Mercury retrograde here in the past. But these are serious times. Anyway, don’t go signing any contracts until it’s over. And get out your crystals. Godspeed.

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Now, let’s talk salmon. I realized recently, while having dinner with a friend, that I almost never order salmon at restaurants. One of the few exceptions is salmon nigiri and sashimi, which I love. It’s not that I don’t like salmon, I just tend to think of it as something that can easily be prepared at home, which I do fairly often. 

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I discovered this gem while searching for new salmon recipes a few years back and have been making it on the reg ever since. It’s one of my go-tos. This is what I commonly refer to as real-life cooking. Unlike the cakes and cookies and other decadent goodies you can expect from us here, this is the type of dish you’ll find yourself making again and again, for dinner, for lunch, for yourself, for family and friends, any night of the week.

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This is a foolproof recipe. I love it because it’s easy enough to throw together after a long day of work, and requires just a handful of ingredients. And since it’s broiled, it cooks in a heartbeat. Aside from the simplicity factor, it’s a winner on many levels. The miso keeps the salmon moist and packs a ton of flavor. It’s rich in omega-3s, which is so much more enjoyable than popping those capsules. And it actually keeps well, which means you have lunch for tomorrow. I like it on top of a bed of romaine or greens, with a couple of slices of persian cucumber and avocado, a splash of tamari or Bragg’s, and a squeeze of lemon.

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miso salmon

from Eating Well

serves 4

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

2 tablespoons sweet white miso paste

2 tablespoons mirin, (Japanese rice wine)

1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce, or tamari 

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

A few drops hot pepper sauce

1 -1/4 pounds center-cut salmon fillet, cut into 4 portions

2 – 4 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions

2 – 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Position oven rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler. Line a baking pan with foil or parchment paper. If using foil, coat lightly with cooking spray.

Toast sesame seeds in a small dry skillet over low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside.

Whisk miso, mirin, soy sauce (or tamari), ginger and hot pepper sauce in a small bowl until smooth.

Place salmon fillets, skin-side down, in the prepared pan. Brush generously with the miso mixture. Broil salmon, 3 to 4 inches from the heat source, until opaque in the center, 6 to 8 minutes.

Transfer the salmon to warmed plates and garnish with the reserved sesame seeds, scallions and cilantro.

dungeness crab eggs benedict

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I don’t know what it is about January, but it’s been so fantastic that I don’t really want it to end. There have been some really good times – nights out with the girls, brunch and a lazy Sunday with the boys, a secret concert with the one and only Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, which was mind blowing and totally the icing on the cake for the month.

There were also a couple of outstanding meals. I know we’re well into January, and I should be detoxing and eating sensibly like everyone else right now. But I’ve gotta be honest with you. I’ve been kind of bad. And I’m actually okay with that. Since it’s Dungeness crab season in these parts, I see that as a sort of get out of jail free card. I’ve had crab a least four times this month alone and I couldn’t be more pleased.

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It started with a crab dinner with the homies at the beginning of the month. We ate crab sauteed in olive oil, garlic, and shallots, accompanied by a beet, blood orange, and fennel salad, potatoes with preserved lemon, and crusty garlic bread. It was an incredible meal. We all had to lie down afterwards.

A few days later, my mama steamed eight crabs for Sunday dinner. My mom’s crab is like comfort food for me. There’s nothing complicated about it, but her crab dipping sauce is insanely delicious – garlic oil, ginger, and red wine vinegar. It’s my absolute favorite and no matter what I do, mine never turns out the way hers does.

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Luckily for those of us in the Bay, this is the time of year when you see Dungeness crab on restaurant menus everywhere. Dungeness crab beignets at Brenda’s (amazing, by the way). Dungeness crab rolls (better than a lobster roll, in my opinion). Dungeness crab eggs benedict, which I passed on during brunch one afternoon and much regretted afterwards. I knew what I had to do.

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I hadn’t made hollandaise sauce in years, but I knew I could rely on Julia Child for the perfect recipe. Her hollandaise sauce is divine – simultaneously rich and light, with just the right amount of lemon. I would happily eat this sauce on cardboard. Instead, it was the crowing glory of this Dungeness crab eggs benedict. There’s just something about the runny yolk of a poached egg that makes everything better. Combined with the sweet crab, sauteed spinach, toasty English muffin, and luxurious hollandaise you have yourself a breakfast fit for a king. A little frisee salad goes nicely alongside.

Resume your detox tomorrow.

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dungeness crab eggs benedict 

serves 2

for the hollandaise sauce:

from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

makes about 1-1/2 cups sauce

6 ounces (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter

2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, divided

3 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon cold water

1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus extra to taste 

kosher salt

ground white pepper

Cut 6 ounces of butter into pieces and melt in a small saucepan over low heat. Set aside.

In a medium-weight saucepan, beat the egg yolks for about 1 minute, or until they become thick and sticky.

Add the water, lemon juice, and a large pinch of salt, and beat for half a minute more.

Add 1 tablespoon of cold butter, but do not beat it in. Place the saucepan over very low heat and stir the egg yolks with a whisk until they slowly thicken into a smooth cream. This will take 1 to 2 minutes. If they seem to be thickening too quickly, immediately plunge the bottom of the pan in cold water, beating the yolks to cool them. Then continue beating over heat. The egg yolks have thickened enough when you can begin to see the bottom of the pan between strokes, and the mixture forms a light cream on the wires of the whisk.

Immediately remove from heat and beat in the remaining tablespoon of cold butter, which will cool the egg yolks and stop their cooking.

While beating the egg yolks with a whisk, slowly add the melted butter, a few drops at a time, until the sauce begins to thicken into a very heavy cream. Then add the butter a little more rapidly and continue beating. Omit the milk solids at the bottom of the saucepan.

Season the sauce to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Serve warm.

To keep the sauce warm before serving, place in a pan of lukewarm water.

for the eggs benedict: 

1 tablespoon unsalted butter 

1 6-ounce bag baby spinach 

kosher salt 

2 english muffins, split in half 

4 large eggs 

a few drops of white vinegar 

8 ounces Dungeness crab meat (about 1 whole crab), at room temperature 

hollandaise sauce 

chives (for garnish) 

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the spinach and season with a pinch of salt. Toss until wilted. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 450°F. Arrange the English muffins on a baking sheet. Bake until toasted, about 5 minutes.

Fill a wide, shallow saucepan with 2 inches of water. Add a few drops of vinegar to the water. Bring the water to a simmer. Crack one egg into a bowl. When the water is simmering, hold the bowl closely over the water and let it fall in. Immediately and gently push the white over the yolk with a spoon. Maintain the water at the barest simmer and proceed with the other eggs in the same manner.

After 3 minutes, remove the first egg with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel lined plate. The white should be set, the yolk still soft to the touch. Remove the rest of the eggs as they are done.

Place 2 muffin halves on each plate. Divide the spinach among the muffins, followed by the crab. Place one egg on each muffin. Top each egg with a generous amount of hollandaise sauce. Sprinkle with chopped chives. Serve immediately.

scrambled eggs with salmon caviar (aka fancypants scrambled eggs)

Did you hear that? That, my friends, is the sound of relief. I don’t know what kind of mental blockage I was having, but I just couldn’t get my taxes done this year. My w-2 went MIA for a few weeks. There was a box full of receipts that had to be sorted through – the absolute last thing in the world I wanted to do. And then at the eleventh hour, I finally got my act together. Needless to say, I am delighted that that shiz is filed. It was really beginning to feel like a hostage situation up in this joint.

Since I was here last, which was forever-ago {insert sad face}, there has actually been quite a bit of activity in my kitchen. Easter came and went. I feel like I missed it. I went about business as usual that day – baked a couple dozen cupcakes (yes, there were cupcakes!), ran to the farmers’ market to buy strawberries for the rugrats (no Easter candy from Auntie Sandy this year), got my hair did. And before I knew it, I was late to dinner and still frosting cupcakes.

I did manage to squeeze in a little treat for myself that morning. After the cupcakes were out of the oven, I moved on to breakfast. Farm fresh eggs. Salmon caviar. A splash of heavy cream. A dab of butter. You get the picture. It was a whole lot of decadence.

These scrambled eggs were inspired by a little place called Zuni Cafe. Lee and I met there for brunch a few Sundays ago. We sat at a sunlit table on the ground floor of the dining room and enjoyed a few adult beverages. I ordered the rabbit salad with a poached egg, he ordered the scrambled eggs topped with steelhead caviar. I had one bite of those eggs and wished that I had ordered that instead. Those eggs were everything. Little pops of salty ocean goodness enveloping silky curds of the most perfect soft scrambled eggs. I seriously contemplated ordering a second entree, but ultimately decided against it.

Instead I promised myself that I would make those eggs as soon as possible. It happened two weeks later. Because it’s such a simple dish, the ingredients are key. You should be able to find cured salmon roe, also known as ikura in Japanese cuisine, at any market that sells sushi-grade fish (I bought mine at Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley; if you’re in San Francisco, Nijiya Market in Japantown is where you’ll want to go). And if you can get your hands on fresh farm eggs, they are definitely worth the extra bucks; those amazingly bright orange yolks produce a richer, creamier, super delicious cooked egg. I like to call this dish eggs on eggs or fancypants scrambled eggs. It’s my new favorite breakfast and I totally wish I had ikura on hand everyday (salmon roe is loaded with omega-3s – hooray!). And in case you were wondering, a glass of rosé pairs really nicely if it’s that kind of morning. Bon appétit!

scrambled eggs with salmon caviar (aka fancypants scrambled eggs)

inspired by Zuni Cafe

serves 2

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon heavy cream

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/4 cup cured salmon roe

large pinch of salt

fresh cracked pepper

Crack the eggs into a medium size bowl. Lightly beat the eggs with a fork or small whisk, being careful not to over mix. Add cream and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the butter and melt until it begins to bubble. When butter is foaming, add the eggs to the pan. As the eggs start to set, push the egg curds to the center of the pan using a rubber spatula. Continue to push the eggs around until no longer runny, but still moist. Be careful not to overcook. When the eggs are just about done, remove the pan from heat and distribute the eggs between two plates. Toss a generous amount of the salmon roe over the eggs and serve immediately with toasted baguette or sourdough.

shrimp and grits

Peeling shrimp is one of my earliest memories of being in the kitchen. Growing up, my parents would host a big party every year on New Years day. And every year, my sister and I were put to work in the kitchen, cutting carrots and peeling shrimp for tempura, while my mom steamed live Dungeness crabs in beer. I remember carefully removing the shells and trying to keep the tails intact. I also remember icy cold fingers and shrimp guts – not the most pleasant of childhood memories. But eating hot, juicy battered-and-fried shrimp later that day made it all worth it. It’s what I like to remember about those New Years past.

All of these memories came back to me while preparing lunch last weekend. Miss Kim had requested a macaron making lesson while she was in town. I hadn’t seen her since before the arrival of her new bundle of joy, so I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone and make the ladies some lunch while catching up and meeting the little one. And I was in the mood for some shrimp and grits.

I must say that new babies in town and my recollections of being in the kitchen as a child made me realize that having kids is like building a little team of sous chefs (I learned how to peel potatoes before I learned how to write in cursive). Which makes me look at baby-making in a totally new light. I could definitely use a few extra sets of hands in the kitchen down the road.

Back to shrimp and grits. Oh, shrimp and grits. Just the thought of shrimp and grits makes my mouth water.  I love the combination of creamy grits with savory, smothered shrimp. I also like that it’s hearty without being too heavy. Plus, it’s a good excuse to eat shrimp for breakfast. That might explain why it has become one of my brunch favorites over the last couple of years.

This is Momofuku’s take on shrimp and grits. It’s a hybrid of Southern shrimp and grits and traditional Japanese ramen. The grits are cooked in bacon dashi, a sort of Japanese-style bacon stock, and seasoned with light soy sauce. And the shrimp, when cooked in the same pan as the bacon garnish, take on this deep smoky flavor. The whole thing is topped with a poached egg and is to die for. I like to think of this as the dish otherwise known as bacon-bacon shrimp and grits. And I’ve decided I’d like to rent a space inside David Chang‘s brain. Actually, it would probably be more interesting to live inside his mouth. That sounds wrong, but don’t judge. At least not until you’ve tried his shrimp and grits.

shrimp and grits

adapted from Momofuku

serves 4

for the bacon dashi, which you can make a day or two in advance:

2 3×6-inch pieces of konbu

8 cups water

1/2 pound smoky bacon

Rinse the konbu under cold water, then add it to 8 cups of water in a medium pot. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat and turn off the stove. Steep for 10 minutes.

Remove the konbu from the water and add the bacon. Bring to a boil, the reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Strain the bacon from the dashi,  and chill the broth until the fat hardens at the surface. Remove and discard the fat. Dashi will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.

for the shrimp and grits:

2 cups water

2 cups white or yellow quick-cooking grits, soaked overnight

2 cups bacon dashi

2 tablespoons usukuchi (light soy sauce)

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1/2 pound smokey slab bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch long batons

1 pound medium shrimp (16-20 shrimp), shelled and deveigned

2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil

4 poached eggs

1/2 cup chopped scallions (green and white parts)

Place grits in a medium bowl and add 2 cups water. Let grits soak at least 8 hours and up to overnight.

Drain grits and transfer to a medium saucepan. Add dashi and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook, whisking constantly, for 5 minutes. Add usukuchi, a large pinch of salt, and season with pepper. Continue whisking constantly until thickened, bubbling, and no longer grainy, about 10 minutes. If the grits are too thick, add water or more dashi. Add the butter and stir until melted. Adjust seasoning if needed. Set aside and keep warm.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally until it shrinks to about half its original size and is crisp and browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove bacon from skillet and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain fat and wipe skillet with a paper towel; set aside.

Place shrimp in a large bowl and add grapeseed oil; season with salt and toss to coat. Heat cast-iron skillet over high heat and add shrimp, working in batches if necessary. Press down on shrimp using the back of a spatula. When shrimp look about halfway cooked, turn and press down on second side. Continue cooking until shrimp have just become opaque and have browned slightly. Remove from pan.

Divide grits evenly between 4 bowls.  Top each with a poached egg. Divide shrimp and scallions evenly between bowls and serve immediately.


spaghetti alla chitarra with sea urchin and dungeness crab

At about this time last year, one of my favorite restaurants was serving a pasta dish with Dungeness crab and sea urchin. Unfortunately, by the time I got around to having dinner there, it was no longer on the menu. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

For starters, I pretty much love anything that comes from the sea. But Dungeness crab and sea urchin, otherwise known as uni, are at the top of my list. So when I imagined the two together, it just blew my mind a little bit.

If you have never tasted uni, I must say it is definitely not for everyone. It has a custard-like texture and a sort of buttery, salty flavor. It is commonly served in Japanese restaurants, sashimi style, the only way I had ever had it. Which made the idea of a warm uni dish that much more enticing to me.

I waited an entire year with the hope that this dish would reappear on the menu. But I either missed it again or it just never happened. So I decided that I would have to make it myself. When I spotted a recipe for spaghetti alla chitarra with sea urchin and crab while flipping through the pages of The Young Man and the Sea, I knew the stars were aligning. In the end I used a different recipe, but it was a good place to start. And then I planned a field trip to Tokyo Fish Market, my new favorite store.

This pasta is nothing shy of perfection. The sauce is silky and rich without being overwhelming. And the sweetness of the crab is the perfect compliment to the brininess of the uni, which is fantastic warm. The combination was even more incredible than I had imagined; all of the flavors and textures work beautifully together. I feel like I need to toot my horn a little bit because even my toughest critic fell in love with this dish (it really is that good!). I might be somewhat biased since I love me my seafood, but… toot-toot!

spaghetti alla chitarra with sea urchin and crab

adapted from Wine Enthusiast Magazine

serves 4

1 pound dried chitarra or spaghetti

2 ounces extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, sliced thin

4 leeks, white and light green parts only, cut into small dice

2 ounces dry white wine

1/2 cup chicken stock

8 ounces sea urchin (2 trays of cleaned sea urchins)

8 ounces Dungeness crab meat, about 1 whole crab*, or jumbo lump crabmeat

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 lemon, zested and reserved for juice

1 pinch crushed chili flakes

sea salt

chives (for garnish)


Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender but still slightly firm to the bite,  7-9 minutes.

Reserve 4-5 pieces of sea urchin for garnish and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil followed by the garlic. Sweat garlic lightly, then add leeks. Cook on low to medium heat until tender, then add wine.

Add chicken stock immediately after the wine and reduce slightly. Add sea urchin and break it up slightly. Add crab at the very end when sauce is off the heat.

Add cooked pasta to sauce with a touch of the pasta cooking water. Add butter and emulsify slowly into the sauce.

Finish with lemon juice, lemon zest, chili flakes and sea salt.

Divide pasta amongst the bowls. Top each bowl with a piece of sea urchin and sprinkle with chives.

*You can usually buy a whole cooked crab at the market, but it’s less expensive (and often more tasty) to buy a live crab and steam it yourself at home.

To steam your crab:

Fill a large stock pot with 2-3 inches of water, just below where the rack will sit (if you don’t have a steaming rack, you can use a bowl placed upside down at the bottom of the pot). Add 6 ounces of beer to the water (optional) and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, place the crab inside the pot and cover with a lid. Steam for 15 minutes. Remove the crab and let cool until cool enough to handle.

Click here for tips on cracking and cleaning your crab.