Sometimes Cooking Is All About the Kitchen Sink

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When I was a teenager working at a frozen yogurt shop, a friend’s family opened a Mexican food counter across the street where I would buy my lunch. My favorite thing to order was the “kitchen sink” burrito. The concept was simple: the burrito would consist of any stray ingredients that were lying around at the time of my order, resulting in a massive flour tortilla bursting with surprise. Sometimes it would consist of beans, cheese, carne asada, lettuce and tomatoes. While other versions might be pork, fried chitlins, ranchero sauce, sour cream and black beans. It was a concept I enjoyed working into my later life as a cook – one that has also been popularized in shows such as Chopped where contestants are challenged to make food from whatever random assortment of items are found in a basket. In our kitchen at home, the Cute Gardener has become a master at this kind of meal, thinking up innovative fusions of creative cuisine toward the end of the week when our carefully planned meals from the beginning of the week have produced a fridge full of leftovers – odds and ends that inspire new dishes where randomness is key. The best part of this game lies in the way different cultures clash on the plate forging meals with no discernable origin; magically delicious combinations that would never exist in a recipe file or that might never be conjured from a regular chef’s strategic mind. To me, this element of discovery is one of the most satisfying things about being a home cook. Recently, the CG whipped up a shrimp stir fry that became an umami bomb in the mouth, something that we may never have the pleasure to eat again, composed of end of season tomatoes from the garden, stray vegetables in the produce bin, the remains of a bag of frozen shrimp and rarely used seasonings from the spice cabinet. We still don’t know what to call this part Vietnamese, part Indian, part Chinese, part Spanish taste explosion but it is worth noting for any brave readers who might want to attempt its recreation.

Kitchen Sink Shrimp

¼ pound split shrimp
¼ chopped onion
½ julienned turnip
3 cups sliced cauliflower
3 cups chopped yellow grape tomatoes
One bunch mizuna or other Asian green
1 egg
3 cups water
Olive oil
1 tbls. sage
2 tsp. Vietnamese crustacean seasoning salt
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. granulated garlic
1 tsp. dried Aleppo pepper
Salt and pepper
2 servings cooked jasmine rice

On high heat, saute chopped onion and julienned turnip in olive oil until soft. Add yellow tomatoes,  water,  sage, Vietnamese crustacean seasoning salt, cumin, granulated garlic, Aleppo pepper, fresh ground black pepper and salt. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until a cup of liquid remains. Uncover, increase heat to high and add cauliflower. When cauliflower is soft, add shrimp. Toss until shrimp turns orange. Turn off heat. Quickly stir in egg. Toss in mizuna with stems, chopped into 3-inch sections. Serve on jasmine rice.

 

Rebirth of the Palate at Kali

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It was two years ago this month that I lost my mother to a swift and sudden battle with a rare form of cancer. Since then, my activities on this food blog have been spotty at best. When one is enthralled in the grief that follows the loss of a loved one, time becomes veiled in a marshmallow fog moving at light speed one instant and slow as molasses the next. Then one morning you wake, clothed in the realization that life must go on. It occurs to me now that my lack of luster for celebrating food here has been intricately tied to the absence of my mother, who for many years was my blog’s biggest fan. Every time I would write an entry I would find her comments shining on my page as she reveled in the culinary adventures of the Cute Gardener and myself. She was so thrilled that I had found my perfect mate and that we were fellow foodies eating our way through a fantastic life together. Every time I wrote after her death, I would feel the gap in my life where her happiness for me had been so vividly present.

But the other night, the Cute Gardener and I dined at a splendid new restaurant in Los Angeles called Kali and my zest for presenting my palate on the page was rekindled. Fittingly, Kali is the Hindu goddess whose name means “She who is death” in Sanskrit. She sweeps into our lives to shake up our notions of time and with her appearance comes the inevitability of great change. She shakes our equilibrium and asks us to topple all that is static in our existence so that we can make way for the new. This luxurious and innovative meal ushered me back to the land of the living and reignited my desire to share my life in food again.

After a few years of watching the restaurant scene become embroiled in trends like charred Brussels sprouts, potted meats in Mason jars, kale, deviled eggs and pork belly everything, it was refreshing to find a chef doing creative things with bitter notes and unusual ingredients that veered more toward the kinds of food I like to eat. There was a discernable lack of overarching fat and a respectful nod toward the delightful and unordinary, making Kali my pick for best L.A. restaurant so far for 2016.

Some highlights included:

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A gorgeous, silken soup where wicked nightshade vegetables of eggplant, peppers and tomato were roasted to bursting then covered with tomato puree.

Soft and puffy mini rosemary infused loaves of bread accompanied by herbal whipped butter.

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A black barley “risotto” served al dente with tart black garlic and strands of wheatgrass; the nuttiness of the grains spiked by chips off the disk of nearly burnt, toasted taleggio cheese that topped its middle.

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A luscious hunk of black cod over fig and corn streusel.

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And my favorite of the night: cubes of gorgeously fried duck breast reminiscent of the texture of perfect pork belly with a surprising sauce of coffee, honey and cocoa, daubed with curls of purple carrots.

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For dessert, a creamy meringue ice cream was sprinkled with shaved frozen egg yolk tableside. Amazing!

It was the perfect meal to mark my entrance back into a lust for food writing, eating and recognizing that at the end of every cycle of death is a concurrent wave of rebirth.