Giant Strawberry Pocky - august 7, 2010

This was one I just could not pass up today,  backpedaling halfway down the block after the "Giant" part of the Pocky package I'd seen in a window of Sakura made it into the active regions of my brain. Larger than normal food strikes me as an unusually American passion, I can't imagine people in Japan would want to trade their delicate packs of Pocky for one of these huge curling iron sized items. But who knows, maybe its the next big thing.

For those of you not familiar with Pocky, they are a sort of long, thin, not too sweet biscuit like you might find in the UK, coated with chocolate or a strawberry stuff similar to the "yogurt" that sometimes covers American pretzels. Being Japanese, Pocky have a convenient handle that is free of chocolate or strawberry coating, so that your fingers do not get smudged. 

I first discovered Pocky back in the nineties, during my time working at a tech company affectionately called "The Rocket Ship" by our CEO, who was later jailed for investor fraud. Or maybe it was his right hand man who went to prison, I don't remember. But that detail is not important. What is important is the glitter and sparkle of the dot-com days. Everyone was rich back then, and we were all high on life, along with a variety of other things. 

At our stylishly converted loft-style office in San Francisco's SOMA, rumored to have housed a sweatshop in previous years, my desk butted up against that of Ms. Pinky Weitzman, a woman who I believe is now playing electric fiddle for a band somewhere in New York City. She was long and lean, terrifically stylish with platinum blond hair and pale creamy skin.

"Daahhling..." she would croon, "You just cannot put your code in my database. It wheel not work..." Careening wildly about with a Pocky stick dangling like Cruella Deville's cigarette, she would offer me one with a flick of her wrist and disappear back behind the screen of her monitor. Later in the day we would all head out to the incredibly sketchy bar next door for a gin and tonic, and months down the road she and another pal introduced me to my future husband.

That is the same husband with whom our two children and I shared dinner tonight. It was an uneventful meal, nothing lacking the flash and dazzle of our 1998 dinners: grilled sea bass, corn and tomato relish on toast and a sort of zucchini salad. When I complained that the zucchini was too oily, my husband told me "that's because its Greek. Did you know that in Greece almost forty percent of their calories come from olives?" He liked the zucchini quite a bit. The kids loved the fish, toast and grilled corn, but wouldn't touch the rest. 

Smoky Corn and Tomato Relish: (adapted from Tori Ritchie's Tuesday Recipe)

2 ears of fresh corn

1 lb tomatoes

1 garlic clove, minced

1 small red onion (or white or yellow if that's all you have)

1/8 teaspoon pimenton (smoked paprika)

1 semi-spicy pepper, an anaheim chile is a good candidate

2 Tablespoons olive oil, plus more for grilling

1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice

salt and pepper

Shuck the corn, then oil the outside lightly and lay the ears on a hot grill. Also put the tomatoes and pepper on the grill, slice the onion in half, oil the cut side of each half and lay them on the grill too.. You can leave the tomatoes there for five to ten minutes, or until they get nice charred grill marks, and the other veggies for longer, until they are a bit charred on all sides (you'll have to rotate them every now and then). If you're making fish to serve alongside this, it is a good idea to put the fish on the grill when you remove the tomatoes, leaving the corn, onion and pepper on the grill while the fish cooks.

After removing the veggies, let them cool for a bit, then cut the kernels off the corn into a big bowl, slice each tomato in half and squeeze each half gently over the sink to remove the seeds. Next chop the tomatoes into 1/2 inch chunks and add them to the corn. Remove the skin from the onion and chop it into 1/4 inch pieces. Peel the skin off the pepper, slice it in half, remove the seeds and membrane, and cut it into 1/4 inch pieces as well. Mix the veggies together and sprinkle with a little salt.

In a small bowl, mix the olive oil, lime juice and minced garlic. Stir it into the vegetables, add some freshly grated pepper and taste for salt.  This should be served on toast, either while still warm or at room temperature.

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Zucchini with Harissa, Olives and Feta: (adapted from Canal House Cooking Volume 1)

4 zucchini, sliced into thick rounds

a handful of cured olives

1/2 cup coarsely crumbled feta

a small handful of parsley leaves, chopped

rind of 1/4 preserved lemon, chopped

1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds (or a combo of fennel and cumin seeds)

1 clove garlic

juice of 1 lemon

2 Tablespoons harissa paste (you'll find it at mediterranean markets and Rainbow Grocery)

5 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (the best you have)


Bring a salted pot of water to boil, then add the zucchini and boil for about five minutes, until it is soft but not squishy. Drain the zucchini in a colander in the sink. Toast the caraway seeds in a frying pan over high heat, until they are fragrant, but before they start to color. Remove them from the pan and crush them in a mortar. Add the clove garlic and about 1/2 teaspoon salt and crush it all together with the pestle. If you don't have a mortar and pestle just chop it all finely. Stir in the lemon juice, harissa and oil. Season to taste with salt. 

Put the zucchini in a bowl, then add the dressing and toss to coat. Scatter the feta, olives, parsley and preserved lemon over the top and serve.


Grilled Fish:

2 steaks (or the fillet with skin) of any white fish (about 1 pound)

1 lemon, sliced in half

olive oil

salt & pepper

Lay out your fish in a glass dish, then cut the lemon in half and squeeze half of it over the fish. Sprinkle a Tablespoon or so of olive oil over the fish, then salt and pepper it - about 1/8 teaspoon of each. Flip the fish over and do the same to the other side. Let the fish marinate while you prepare the grill and whatever else you have to make for dinner (I like rice and arugula salad with this). Cooking the fish should be the last step, aside from dressing the salad. Heat up the grill to whatever temperature you use for fish - our grill is particularly wimpy, so I blast it up to high.  

Lay your fish on the grill.  Close the lid and leave it for five minutes or so, then check to see if there are nice grill marks on the fish. If so, flip it over onto the skin side. If not, let it cook longer and keep checking until the grill marks are there.  After flipping, shut the lid again and come back in five minutes to check for doneness.  I think the easiest way is to take a sharp knife and slice into the thickest part of the fish. When it is opaque inside, it is done. Serve the fish right away.


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