Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chasing Sea Urchin - Video

What do you get combining the culinarily curious Anthony Bourdain with the surreal silliness of Monty Python? Why, The 99 Cent Chef's latest video adventure. You can take the Chef's title literally this time; it's a movable feast. Tag along for the most unusual dining experience you will ever have -- including a slapstick chase on the pier, a detour through a raucous game room, and a heart-rending goodbye in the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean.

I'm keeping it local - Quality Seafood Market's live shellfish and fresh fish emporium is located on the Redondo Beach Pier - a short drive south of Los Angeles Int'l airport. I often tag along with my wife to visit her parents, whose condo is within fly-casting distance.

The horseshoe-shaped Redondo Beach Pier reaches into the South Bay. At one end are fishing boats loaded with mesh cages for lobster and crab; at the other end is a restaurant and shopping plaza. Local fishermen cast their lines off the pier, just a few paces from a bustling fish market and open-air counters for dining on fresh seafood.

The Redondo Beach Pier's Quality Seafood Market offers fresh live locally-caught sea urchin at $6.99 a pound. The whole place makes for quite a scene: roiling water in metal bins loaded with delicacies like live Pismo Beach clams, huge local lobsters, locally caught conch, and the ebony starbursts of the prickly sea urchin.

The ominous shell of the sea urchin resembles the deadly end of a Medieval Spiked Iron Ball Mace. Don't worry about injury to the fishmonger who takes your order and fishes one out -- a sea urchin's spikes are not sharp. The creature is quickly dispatched by a few whacks with a metal spoon, breaking open a cavity that exposes the prized and delicate roe inside - five fat veins of bright orange gonads that are salty, creamy and sweet (this "Uni" can be the most expensive item on a sushi restaurant menu). I recommend getting a medium to large urchin - they seem to contain twice as much roe as the smaller ones.

It's a five-minute wait as the delicacy is drained and cleaned, then presented with a spoon inside, resting against the black jagged rim of the urchin bowl.
My urchin cost just over $5, for the freshest sushi- quality lobes of roe you will ever have.

And you can get inexpensive beer on tap or in large bottles at a counter behind you. Loaded down, just weave your way to an open-air table through throngs of mallet-pounding locals (and Japanese tourists) feasting on fresh-boiled crab legs, split buttered lobster and plump jumbo shrimp. A Mariachi band was playing for tips the Sunday afternoon I was there.

Sea urchin is exotic, so be prepared for stares as parents point your way and their kids look on, open- mouthed. Even you may be taken aback when you notice that the sea urchin's black spikes wave and swivel in circles -- like it is still alive! Don't worry, once the shell is cracked, the creature is gone -- like the detached tail of a lizard, the spikes still wiggle.

The faint of heart may need to proceed with caution (the video includes a brief sea urchin-cleaning scene). But, if you have gutted a fish or boiled a live lobster, then continue on. And if you have eaten fresh clams or oysters, you have eaten a "live" critter.

So dive into my latest video for a tasty sampling of the strange, spiny, sweetly delicious sea urchin. And if you are a fan of  Monty Python's Flying Circus then you will appreciate the absurdist lengths The 99 Cent Chef goes to - chasing a runaway Sea Urchin for lunch! 
Chasing Sea Urchin - Video
Play it here.The video runs 4 minutes 34 seconds.

Click here to view or embed from youtube. 99 thanks to Amy for extra camerawork!

Quality Seafood Market
130 S. International Boardwalk
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
Phone: 310) 374-2382 or 310) 372-6408

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Black Olives, Sundried Tomatoes & Salmon with Pasta

Those are a few of my favorite 99c Only Store things. For my latest budget recipe, I combine four prepackaged ingredients to create an earthy entree. Plus, this is a pantry-emptying meal.

Cans of tuna and anchovies along with pouches of salmon are on my top shelf; you'll find cans of plump black olives and jars of sun-dried tomatoes on my middle shelf; and further down are bags of every kind of pasta you can image.

 If you're lucky you'll find these packaged edibles at your local dollar store (or at least some of them), and the rest are inexpensive at your regular grocery store.

Pungent dried tomatoes in olive oil provide the base flavor, and the oil combined with pasta water, or 99 cent white wine, is the sauce. Very simple and quick to cook.

I add the olives whole -- heated through, their flavor intensifies as they soften. Flake-in cooked salmon or tuna including the water or oil. Mix and heat through and serve over pasta - it is ready in 10 minutes - no slicing, peeling or chopping!

This is a cheap, quick and starkly flavorful pasta dish you can serve to guests - they will be impressed.

Ingredients (serves 2)
  • 7 oz. pouch (or can) of salmon - okay to substitute tuna in oil or water.
  • 1 can of black whole olives - chopped is okay.
  • 6 - 10 sun-dried tomato halves - add 2 tablespoons of oil marinade, too.
  • 1/2 cup of 99 cent white wine - okay to substitute broth or pasta water.
  • Fresh Italian herbs, if you have any - or teaspoon of dried.
  • Black Pepper to taste - there is plenty of salt in canned or packaged cooked fish and canned olives.
  • 3/4 package of pasta - whatever type you have on hand.

Prepare pasta according to package directions - I usually shave off a minute or two of cooking time for al dente. Drain and set aside. I like to drizzle in a tablespoon of olive oil or a pat of butter to keep it from clumping together. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water, if needed.

While pasta is cooking, in a medium hot saute pan, add sun-dried tomatoes including 2 tablespoons of oil from the jar. After a couple of minutes, the sun-dried tomatoes will be soft enough to break into bite-sized pieces (unless they are already chopped). 

Add one can of drained black olives. Heat a couple more minutes. Pour in 1/2 cup of white wine, pasta water or broth. 

Bring to a low boil, reduce heat, then add packaged salmon or tuna with their water or oil. Mix and heat through for about 5 minutes. Serve over pasta.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Veggie Wrap with Hummus

With discounted packages of spinach and shredded carrots, cans or jars of garbanzo beans and beets, 99 cent bags of small avocados and wheat tortillas (or pita bread), you might as well make my crunchy Veggie Wrap with Hummus for lunch.

My local Latin market frequently sells 5 avocados for 99 cents and tomatoes for well under a dollar per pound. And 99c Only Stores carry the rest. For this Veggie Wrap you can add or subtract what I use; if you have a farmer's market go with what is in season, it will be inexpensive, and you can even finds veggie deals at regular grocery stores. Any lettuce on sale can substitute for spinach. If avocados are too expensive, try lightly steamed broccoli florets.

I have a simple hummus recipe to give this wrap a creamier texture. Garbanzo beans are always on sale. Blender a small can's worth with a little garlic, sesame seeds and olive oil (or vegetable oil) for a normally $4 container you made for about a buck fifty.

Wheat tortillas are preferred by the health-conscious and they taste good, too. I also find wheat pita bread, on occasion, that hold veggie ingredients nicely.

The Chef's Veggie Wrap with Hummus is healthy, quick to make, and low-calorie for weight-watchers. My last two recipes have been meat-heavy, so enjoy this light change of pace.

Ingredients (makes 5-plus wraps)
  • 1 package wheat tortillas or pita bread
  • Bag of spinach, or one bunch - OK to substitute lettuce.
  • Bag of shredded carrots - or you can thinly slice a couple of whole carrots.
  • 2 tomatoes - slice into thin wedges.
  • 2 small avocados (or 1 large) - sliced
  • Can or jar of beets - thinly sliced.
*Use your favorite raw or cooked veggies - quickly steam if necessary.

  • 1 15 oz can of garbanzo beans (or chick peas) - drained
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic - fresh or from jar.
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon or lime juice - fresh or from bottle.
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds - optional. Or 1 tablespoon of tahini.
  • 1/4 cup of olive, sesame or vegetable oil - may need a little more, depending on your food processor (or blender).
*Other extra hummus additions include: sundried tomatoes, roasted bell peppers, artichoke hearts & eggplant from a jar.

Directions for Hummus
Add all ingredients and blend until smooth, about a minute. Burst blender on for 10 seconds at a time until hummus is creamy. May need to do in batches, depending on your blender or food processor. 

Directions for Veggie Wrap
Spread one side of wheat tortilla (or wheat pita) with hummus. Add layer of spinach or lettuce, then pile on veggies, including:
tomato, carrot, avocado and beets. Leave some room around edges of tortilla so it will roll up. Regular wraps use extra large tortillas, while I only find smaller ones, so don't load it down too much - it will roll-up easier.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pork Bourguignon - With Apologies to Julia Child

Julia Child would roll over in her Bordeaux wine cask if she could see what The 99 Cent Chef has done to her classic Beef Bourguignon recipe! And she would do a double-roll upon viewing my takeoff of her in my extra featurette video at the end of this blog post.

Now doesn't it look like Beef Bourguignon? Well, it also tastes like it. This melange of meat, red wine, mushrooms and Pearl Onions is luscious, and the most expensive entree in any high-end restaurant; however this cheapie cooking plagiarist has come up with a 21 Century classic for these Wall Street stock-crashing times: Pork Bourguignon!

My earliest food influence (besides mom) was watching "The French Chef With Julia Child" on Boston Public Television's WGBH (keep those funds flowing to public TV & radio, Obama). I was too young to copy her classic French cuisine, but her enthusiasm at the stove planted a virus that mutated into 99 Cent Chef cuisine -- cheap recipes presented with joie de vivre.

Adding insult to injury, I shortened the cooking time (when the meat is tender, why cook longer?) and substituted cheaper cuts of meat, like 99 cents per pound pork or chicken (beef stock and 99 red cent wine provide most of the flavor).

Unfortunately pearl onions do not come cheap (although I have found 99c jars of marinated ones), but I have saved you so much time and money so far, please indulge me with this one $2.49 per pound ingredient?

Slow cooking mushrooms and pearl onions in a red wine and beef stock makes for a complex flavor profile. In these waning days of winter, put on a long braising pot of The Chef's Pork Bourguignon, based on Julia Child's classic recipe, and Bon Appetit!

Ingredients (serves 4)
  • 3-4 pounds of country style pork ribs, shoulder or butt, cubed (I've even tried this with chicken. If you have extra overtime money coming in, go for beef roast meat).
  • Bacon - about 3 slices (optional)
  • 10 oz. package of pearl pnions (about 20 onions) - Peel onions. Or two jars of marinated cocktail ones, drained (I have found jars in 99c Only Stores!)
  • 2 5 oz. containers of mushrooms - brown or white button.
  • Aromatics including: one cup each of onion, carrot, celery and bell pepper. Use any or all, roughly chopped.
  • 2 tbsps. garlic - jar or fresh
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste - okay to use 1/2 cup of tomato sauce.
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • Dried or fresh herbs including: 1 bay leaf and a pinch of oregano, sage and thyme. Bay leaf is the main one.
  • 1 bottle of 99c red wine (or Two Buck Chuck) - minus what the chef tastes during sauteing!
  • Beef stock - 32 ounces. Or 6 beef bouillon cubes dissolved in 4 cups of hot water.
  • Salt and pepper to taste - plenty of salt is added with bouillon cubes or beef stock, so you may not need much.

Saute bacon with meat until brown, about 20 minutes. Remove 1/2 the meat to make room for aromatics. Saute aromatics another 5 minutes to soften. 

Add tomato paste (or sauce), herbs, garlic and flour. Cook 5 minutes. Pour in the beef stock (or bouillon dissolved in water) and all the red wine you have left.

Mix well, scraping bottom of pot to loosen and dissolve all the flavorful brown bits. Bring to a boil, then transfer to a pre-heated 350 degree oven and bake covered for 1 1/2 hours.

Peel and saute pearl onions in 2 pats of butter or oil until lightly browned, and now sweetened. Don't turn too much or they will fall apart - set aside. 

Slice mushrooms in half; if they are small throw in a few whole (I like large meaty mushroom bites), and saute in the same pan as the onions, for about 5 minutes until soft. 

Add sauteed onions and mushrooms after an hour and a half of baking Pork Bourguignon, and be careful - everything is hot! Cover and continue cooking for another hour.

After baking for about 2 1/2 hours total, meat should separate easily with a fork. The pearl onions and mushroom will be unbelievably flavorful, infused with red wine and beef stock. Serve with boiled red potatoes or rice to soak up all the rich deep-brown sauce.

And if you like this recipe, be sure to check out video my version of Julia Child's Crepe Suzette -- while donning a wig and pearls! 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Real" Chicken Fried Steak

And the Oscar for "Best Entree"goes to...
Chicken Fried Steak!

There's nothing like Southern-fried food to soak up the votes -- was it the Chef's heartfelt "Crazy Heart" performance, or the chicken fried steak's cream gravy? Either way, everyone comes out a winner with this cheap and satisfying Oscar Entree-winning recipe.

I've come up with a chintzy spin on this classic Texan dish; I use ground chicken (or turkey) instead of more expensive beef steak or beef ground meat. Bargain poultry chub in the freezer case is a light, appetizing way to go - I get mine at the 99c Only Stores, but even regular grocery stores carry it priced far south of two dollars a pound.

Ground chicken chub is trickier to handle as it is very soft and moist, but once you coat it in flour, it firms up enough. Also I make the patties rounder, instead of thin and flat. The recipe is classic Chicken Fried Steak otherwise - just coat floured patty in an egg wash and return to flour for one more coating, then fry it up.

Double dipping the patty in flour with an egg wash between builds an extra thick crunchy crust that holds up well to a smothering of Homemade Cream Gravy.

For a perfectly rich and flavorful cream gravy, I dissolve a chicken or beef bouillon cube into a tablespoon of oil or butter and mix in flour, finishing it all off by stirring in milk or cream.

Ingredients (4-6 patties)
  • 1 lb. ground chicken or turkey - okay to substitute with more expensive ground beef.
  • 1 cup or flour - add more as needed
  • 1/4 cup of oil for frying - may need more, depending how many chicken patties you form.
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Homemade Cream Gravy

  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 2 cups of milk, cream or half & half
  • 1 beef or chicken bouillon cube - OK to use 1/4 cup of chicken or beef stock.
  • Pepper - bouillon cube has plenty of salt.
  • 1 tbsp. of butter or oil

Directions for Homemade Cream Gravy
In a skillet or pot, dissolve bouillon cube in heating oil or melted butter. Add flour, mixing well, cooking
over medium heat for a couple of minutes to take out flour raw taste. 

Slowly add in milk (and/or broth). Continue stirring gravy to prevent lumps as it thickens, about 5-10 minutes.


 Chicken Fried Steak Directions
Open and add ground chicken chub to a strainer to take out excess liquid. (No need to drain off liquid if using real ground beef.) Add enough oil to coat bottom of frying pan and heat to medium temperature. Spread out flour on a cookie sheet or large flat plate and sprinkle in salt and pepper. 

Whisk one egg in a shallow bowl. Form chicken patty into a ball and place into flour. Coat well and turnover to coat both sides. Carefully add to egg wash, coating both sides. 

Remove and give patty one more coating of flour, both sides (you can't have too much of a flour coating).

Place patty into medium/hot oil and fry each side to a golden brown (ground chicken will flatten as you handle it - you can also flatten it some when you add it to frying pan - it firms up quickly).

Fry a couple of patties at a time if your pan is large enough. Cooking time varies depending how thick the chicken patty - it will be done when each side is golden brown. 

Add more oil for frying and flour for coating as needed. Ground chicken or turkey can be very moist and may soak up a lot of flour.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

2010 Oscar Special - Video

All boundaries are crossed including gender, race, and good taste in this year's "The 99 Cent Chef's Oscar Special." The Chef hams it up with a deli-case worth of meaty Oscar nominated roles -- from Meryl Streep's celebratory turn as Julia Child to egocentric James Cameron directing his bombastic Avatar -- and a tasty Oscar-ready entree is paired with 5 mind-blowing, performances!

Best Actress performances are always the meatiest roles, and The Chef's bon vivant spin as Julia Child will surely bring a smile to Academy voters when he/she serves up sumptuous Beef Bourguignon while wearing the family jewels.

Next, when the chameleon cook takes a spin as Gabourey Sidibe, the boa feathers will fly when her abusive mother wakes "Precious" from her dancing daydream.

Some Best Director nominees are notorious as perfectionist screamers -- and at the top of the list is James "I'm king of the world" Cameron. Watch me feast on his bloated ego as he directs the over-stuffed "Avatar."

The Chef swings a bat to bring home the bacon from Best Picture nominee Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds." And fitting for a Tarantino-style shocking scene, the Chef serves up a dish that will have tongues wagging.

And finally, the Chef gets serious with an endearing, beer-soaked turn as Best Actor nominee Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart." And he serves up a Southern soul-satisfying dish.

Each of The Chef's performances is paired with an entree. Which one is deserving of a Golden Whisk? Well, you don't have to be a member of the Academy to vote: just leave your comment, and The Chef will tally the votes and announce the winning entree (with step-by-step cooking instructions) in a follow up blog-post.

Vote for an Oscar-worthy entree, including: Beef Bourguignon, Chicken-Fried Steak, Sunny Side Up Eggs, Bunny Burger Royale with Cheese, & a Whopper Jr.

If you missed any of these movies, click on the underlined link to view the movie trailer for each Oscar Nominee I have taken on:
"Crazy Heart" with Jeff Bridges, "Julie & Julia" starring Meryl Streep, "Avatar" directed by James Cameron, Best Picture nominee "Inglorious Basterds" and Gabourney Sidibe as "Precious."

So until the real Oscar broadcast rolls this Sunday, take a few minutes and check out The 99 Cent Chef's latest video -- presented in wide-screen ChefScope! And don't forget to vote (as a comment) for your favorite Oscar Nominated Best Entree!

2010 Oscar Special - Video
*Play it here. The video runs 4 minutes 45 seconds.

99 thanks to Bob McGinness (creative camerawork) & Pete Handelman (clever voice-over work) for their invaluable contributions! Be sure to check out Pete's funny videos by clicking here.
Click here to embed or view video at youtube.
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