Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.

Gittes: A memorial service was held at the Mar Vista Inn today for Jasper Lamar Crabb. He passed away two weeks ago. 
Mrs. Mulwray: Why is that unusual?
Gittes: He passed away two weeks ago and one week ago he bought the land. That's unusual.

Somehow, this particular exchange really resonated, given that we were watching the movie outdoors in a Los Angeles cemetery.

Along with hundreds of other people (living and dead), blankets, lawn chairs, various smokeable substances, wine bottles, a DJ spinning atmospheric background music, and all kinds of picnic suppers.

The sun went down, the palm trees were silhouetted against the moon, and the side of the mausoleum lit up.

The crowd cheered as the opening credits rolled. John Huston, buried in this very spot, got an especially loud round of applause. As Morty (the coroner) says in the movie:

"Only in LA*."

Naturally, we had a theme picnic:

Citrus Marinated Pan Seared Chicken Breasts - Asian Style
This is a variant of my tried and true pan-seared chicken recipe**.

Juice from 1 orange and 1 lime
2-3 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
about 1 Tbs. each minced fresh ginger, fresh cilantro, and fresh basil - no need to be exact
2-3 green onions, chopped
1 generous spoonful of brown sugar
1/4 c. soy sauce, preferably low sodium
1/4 c. olive oil
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut or pounded gently to a relatively even 1/2 inch thickness.
Olive oil or vegetable oil, for pan searing
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients except the chicken in a large plastic ziplock bag.   Add the chicken breasts, and marinate for at least an hour and as long as all day.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. While that is heating up, remove the chicken from the marinade and season generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Working in batches, and taking care not to crowd the pan, cook the chicken for about 4 minutes on each side, checking frequently to make sure that it is deeply browned but not burnt. This is tricky with the sugar in the marinade, so just keep an eye on it.

Remove to a cutting board, and allow to rest for several minutes. Serve on its own, or as a topping for Chinese Chicken Salad or Spicy Peanut Noodles. We had it with both!

Click to print this recipe!

Spicy Cold Peanut Noodles
Inspired by a recipe I clipped from Food and Wine a while back.  Foresight is a really, really good thing.

For the peanut sauce:
3/4 c. smooth peanut butter
6 Tbs. rice vinegar
3 Tbs. sugar
6 Tbs. soy sauce
1/4 c. water
1 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1-2 tsp Sriracha sauce or hot chili oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbs. minced fresh ginger

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and blend for several minutes until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.

For the accent sauce:
2 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. rice vinegar
1 Tbs. mirin
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. minced ginger
1 tsp. Sriracha pepper sauce or chili oil

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, and set aside.

To assemble:
1 c. of crispy veggies (julienned carrots/bell peppers/sugar snap peas/celery)
2-3 chopped green onions
handful fresh cilantro
1 lb. spaghetti, cooked, drained and rinsed in cool water
Finely chopped peanuts, optional

Toss the noodles with enough peanut sauce to coat thoroughly. The noodles will absorb the sauce as they cool further, so don't be shy. Cool completely. You can keep this in the fridge for a day or two before serving if you like.

Toss the crispy veggies with half of the accent sauce, and set aside for a few minutes or as long as an hour before serving. Keep chilled.

To serve, toss the noodles with the crispy veggies and the sauce they were in. Sprinkle the scallions and cilantro on top, along with crushed peanuts, if you are using. Have the extra peanut sauce and accent sauce available so people can season their noodles to taste.

Click to print this recipe!

Chinese Restaurant Almond Cookies
With a little hint of orange, in honor of the movie. Loosely based on this recipe, and way better than the standard almond cookies at most Chinese restaurants I've been to.

3/4 c. butter, softened
1/4 c. shortening
1 c. sugar
1/3 c. almond paste, grated
1 tsp. grated orange zest (optional)
2 generous teaspoons almond extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
3 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt

To finish:
1 egg white + 1 tsp water. mixed together
extra sugar

Preheat oven to 350.

With an electric mixer, cream butter, shortening, sugar and grated almond paste together in a large bowl.

Add orange zest, almond extract, vanilla, and the egg, and blend well. In a separate smaller bowl, mix the flour, baking soda and salt together, then gently stir into the rest of the batter.

Scoop dough by rounded spoonfuls onto parchment or Silpat covered baking sheets. Brush tops with a little of the egg white/water mixture. Sprinkle with the extra sugar, then flatten gently, using the bottom of a drinking glass or your fingers. Press a few slivered almonds, or a whole almond, into the center of each cookie.

Bake for 10-11 minutes, or just until edges begin to turn light golden brown.  Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.

*Although, of course, he was referring to the water commissioner drowning in the middle of a drought. For more great quotes, click here.
** To make the original, use juice from one lemon in place of the orange and lime, swap in Dijon mustard for the ginger, use rosemary, thyme and/or parsley for the cilantro and basil, and omit the brown sugar.

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