For those that have been through a wedding, not as a guest, but as a bride or groom, you probably remember how difficult it was to devote more than a handshake/hug and 30-second chit chat. You have anywhere from fifty to five hundred fifty people to say hello to and the clock is ticking. At our reception, we seriously had no longer than 15-20 seconds to greet our friends and family. And we felt horrible. We loved everything about our wedding. From having the private ceremony in Las Vegas to the chill, taco-catered reception in a quaint art gallery in Filipino Town. We wanted to be with our loved ones more than anything and it was simply impossible to hangout with our guests without disrespecting someone else. It's the one thing we regret the most but we decided that could at least make an attempt to hang out with our friends before their lives changed for the better as a married couple. We would simply invite them over for dinner and drill them with our wedding questions like they were in a smoky dungeon equipped with a swinging lamp.
In the last few months, three of our friends got engaged and standing on the other side of the fence, we couldn't help but be stoked for them. They are glowing like glow sticks at a warehouse rave. Since cooking for eight people can get a little crazy, we decided to split up the nights. And I apologize to MK & LY and YS & NS for not remembering to take photos. I was hustling and bustling as fast as I could. But I can assure you, you got the wilder, more inebriated D who wasn't afraid of taking bizarre photos. I've known MK and YS since college and it was comforting knowing they had found the one to move on with.
For them, I decided to go with a family style meal. Recently, Jeni and I have been eating weekly at Forage. Such a simple yet smart concept and Lucque's alumnus Jason Kim's cooking is homey and comforting. We also just got back from Fez, Morocco and were stocked up with some of the most amazing spices the world has to offer – for like nothing. I was dying to use these spices. If you haven't been to the Spice Station in Silver Lake or Santa Monica, it's a cook's paradise and you'll find yourself tossing out those spices that were there before you were even born. Here's what we had.
Moroccan Beef Stew with Daikon & Carrots
I got this one spice mix that contained cumin, cinnamon, coriander and all spice. It is amazing and used pre-dominantly in tagine dishes. I learned that cumin is used in Morocco both for flavor enhancement and digestion, so we bought a lot. I slow boiled some chuck roast for 5-6 hours in chicken broth, tons of the Moroccan style spices, a few shots of Maggi sauce (hehe) and a little bit of red wine for color. I used daikon versus potatoes because I like the sweetness daikon gives to a stew/soup. It's the same vegetable used to create that beautiful sweetness in Vietnamese/Chiu Chow noodle broths ("hu tieu"). You have to take out the veggies after 1.5 hours because you don't want them to turn into unrecognizable pulp. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley and serve over rice or cous cous. Everyone liked this but I was pretty annoyed by the beef, as it could've been more tender. I'd use short ribs next time.
Skillet-Killed Smoked Paprika & Rosemary Shrimp
This is a guaranteed shrimp recipe that will make you even eat the shells of the shrimp if you were that hungry. In a mixing bowl, I throw in peeled, headless shrimp (or keep the shell on, but cut the shell over the vein so the marinade can seap through), 2-3 cloves of garlic chopped, generous amount of smoked paprika and the sprigs of 2-3 rosemary leaves. Add olive oil and sea salt and mix it up. Refrigerate for no more than 5-6 hours. I call them "skillet-killed" because I crank the heat on my stove, which happens to have much higher BTU's than the average stove. I keep my cast-iron skillet on until it starts smoking, and then keep it going for at least 5 minutes. By now, your dead shrimp are shivering in fear for the unthinkable... a quick sear. The secret is to keep them cooking on one side and to start looking at flesh of the shrimp. If it's translucent it's not done, If it's white on the outside but the center is slightly grey, take it out. Once you take it out, it's still cooking. Like grilled/cooked meat, you have to let the shrimp's "juice" redistribute. Meaning, don't eat it right away you pig. If all is done right, you should have shrimp that has an unbelievable "crunch" to it. Eat the tail too, mmm.
This is about the simplest side dish you can make. It's tasty and healthy. Break up a cauliflower into manageable florets. Too small they become crumbs, too big they won't cook through in the middle. In a foiled, baking sheet, add a lot of olive oil over the cauliflower and a generous amount of curry powder – depending on how curried you want it. Add sea salt, mix and throw in 400 degree oven for about 20 mins. Check for your desired doneness. Mix in some chopped parsley or even dried cranberries and toasted almond slivers.
Pedro Ximenez's Lentils
I don't know who Pedro Ximenez is but I do know that he makes a killer sweet sherry vinegar that will set you back a whopping $25. But don't shrivel in cheapness just yet, this stuff is magnificent on salads, fish and probably knife wounds. If you had to invest in two things that would take your cooking to another level, it would be that $35 can of extra virgin olive oil and $25 P.X. sherry vinegar. Again, we ate some great lentils in Morocco and we're all about it right now. I boiled some green lentils and added some pickled red onions and parsley. From here it's about finding the right balance of sea salt and Pedro Ximenez. This was really good. I vote for Pedro.
Saffron, Dried Cranberry & Garbanzo Mint Cous Cous
I love cous cous because (A) a stoned college kid could make this and (B) it's light and healthy. Cous cous are basically larger granules of semolina flour and can be cooked in less than 6 minutes. From there, it's up to you to get creative. I added some really nice $35 olive oil, mint, saffron, dried cranberry and garbanzo beans.
Turkish Oregano Quick Pickles
I bought some Turkish oregano at the Spice Station and decided to make some quick pickles, aka "quickles". I think Josef Centeno of Lazy Ox Canteen does a great job of pickling, as do the Animal guys. You have to have vinegar to cut through your food and cucumbers, radishes and onions are the best pickling vessels. In a bowl of water, I added some white wine vinegar, sugar, a tiny bit of salt, crushed chili arbol and a few tablespoons of the Turkish oregano. I threw them in the fridge for a good 2 hours and they came out really well. This cut through the richness of the Moroccan stewed beef and lentils.
After we ate, the real damage started to happen as we whipped out more wine and desserts from Porto's. And then the absinthe came out. Then the whiskey. Then the rum. Then the impromptu backyard "dance" party and photo shoot. Please do not post those on Facebook, thank you. Good times.
For the second night, our friends TP and EY came over. After seven years of dating, they decided it was time. For their wedding coming up, they've been doing the Insanity Workout. Just how insane-in-the-membrane is it? TP told me that he burns about 870 calories in 30 minutes. Hey, did you know that's equivalent to one bread stick at Olive Garden?
So for this dinner, we decided to go light and stick with seafood. We couldn't do two nights in Morocco and went with an Asian theme. With great wine from Jill Bernheimer's Domaine LA, we began the dinner party journey.
Salmon sashimi is about 40 calories per piece and high in Omega 3 fatty acids. But the best part of this dish is the usage of yam noodles made from the konjac plant known as shirataki. They are ZERO calories. Don't me ask how that is possible. They are somewhat bland but with a little bit of soy sauce, Japanese soup stock or ponzu, and you're good to go. I served the shirataki with salmon slices, raw quail egg, pickled cucumbers and a few pinches of powdered Sichuan red peppercorn. For the sauce, I simply bought a bottle of udon/soba soup stock and fixed it up with some water and mirin. If you're really into textures, I'd suggest adding salmon fish eggs (ikura), sea urchin (uni) and Japanese mountain yams (yamaimo). This is one of my favorite quick-fix dishes to eat.
Like Friday night, we kept going after the wine. Desserts. Whiskey. Rum. 90s music. It was a great night. To MK & LY, YS & NS and TP & EY, I'm glad we all got to spend 4-5 hours eating and drinking – you guys are great friends. And we look forward to seeing you for 30 seconds on your wedding day! Thanks for reading.