Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ispahan cookies

I recently decided to bake cookies as a gift for a friend, and I got this weird idea in my head to make "Ispahan" cookies. The Ispahan is a signature creation of French pastry chef Pierre Hermé. It features a rose petal macaron filled with rose-scented buttercream plus fresh raspberries and lychees. That being said, I'm not much of a baker, and macarons are notoriously difficult to make. Cookies are more my speed, and after taking a look at Martha Stewart's jam sandwich cookies, I was inspired to try and create a cookie with the delicate flavors of the Ispahan pastry.

My basic thinking is that I would make cookies flavored with rose water and fill them with homemade jam. I already had a couple jars of raspberry jam that I had made a little while back. So, I then racked my brain as to how to incorporate the lychees. I couldn't find a recipe for lychee jam anywhere, and with such a watery fruit, I was reticent to improvise. My concern is that the chopped lychees would leech out most of their liquid in the cooking process, resulting in a syrup with a few bits of fruit floating on top. Jelly was also an option, but I couldn't find a recipe and again, the expense was daunting. So, I decided to just forget the lychees for now and instead use some homemade apple jelly that I had on hand. I combined half raspberry jam and half apple jelly for my filling. If you can't do without lychees, I'd just mince some fresh or canned ones and add those to raspberry jam.

Onto the cookies themselves. I wanted thin, crisp, lacy cookies. I took cues from Alton Brown for achieving this and used baking soda in lieu of baking powder, milk in place of one egg, and a high proportion of white sugar to brown sugar. For those interested, I used his recipe for "the thin", but omitted the chocolate chips, replaced the vanilla extract with a tablespoons of rose water, and added a few drops of rose food coloring.

This turned the batter a pretty pink color, but only a slight tint was visible in the finished cookies. If you want more of a pink color, you might substitute butter-flavored shortening for the butter (or extra-virgin coconut oil plus a bit of imitation butter flavoring, or clarified butter). The cookies won't be as crisp, but due to the lack of milk solids they ought to brown less and thus the pink color will be more prominent. By the way, my cookies were baked in half the time suggested by the recipe, so check them often.

Here's the finished product. 1/3 cup of apple jelly + 1/3 cup of raspberry jam should be sufficient for the whole recipe. Just slather a thin layer of of the filling on the bottom side of one cookie, then top with another, bottom side facing the jam. The result is a precious little tea cookie with wonderful flavor. It's no Ispahan, but it's an admirable substitute if you can't get the real thing!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Vegetarian Bibim Naengmyun

I've developed a fascination with Korean food. These days, it's extremely rare for me to be actually taken aback by a combination of flavors. I'm a well-seasoned (pardon the pun) cook and consumer of numerous different cuisines -- French, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Spanish -- you name it, I eat it. But then, I started reading up on Korean food.

It started out innocuously enough, which is to say, I had bulgogi and bibimbap a few times at restaurants -- the gateway drugs of Korean cuisine. I picked up some gochujang and made this stir-fry, plus I tried my hand at bibimbap. With extra kimchee and gochujang in my fridge, I started to look for new things to make.

Browsing Wikipedia's list of Korean dishes, I became strangely mesmerized. There's a certain -- and I mean this in the most politically-correct way possbile -- grossness to Korean food that feels alluring and decadent. It's difficult to articulate, but it feels...uninhibited. Simmered ox leg bone? Pork vertebrae? A thick, spicy stew -- with raw egg yolk on top? How can I not try my hand at this stuff?!?

Rather than jump in head first, I decided to make something with an unusual flavor combination for a Westerner, but lay off the offal and such for now. I settled on naengmyeon. It contains soba noodles with Asian pear, pickled vegetables, a boiled egg, and sometimes a few slices of simmered beef. Mul naengmyeon is a traditional summer dish, served in a bowl of slushy (as in ice chips) beef broth. I haven't yet worked up the courage for cold soups beyond, say, gazpacho, so I decided instead to do bibim naengmyun, where the broth is replaced by a thick gochujang dressing.

I couldn't find a good recipe, so I did some research and ended up putting something together that had all the aspects which appealed to me. I didn't feel like making beef, so instead I simmered handmade tofu in a beefy-tasting broth and sliced it thinly. So here you have it. If you want to use beef, just find a recipe for Korean brisket.

Serves 2

For the noodles:
-4 oz soba (buckwheat) noodles
-3 heaping tablespoons gochujang
-1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
-4 tsp rice vinegar
-4 tsp honey or agave nectar

Boil the soba noodles, then immediately refresh in cold water and chill. Combine the remaining ingredients. You may not use all the dressing on the noodles; just toss until well-coated and serve the rest on the side.

For the pickled vegetables:
-1/2 hothouse cucumber, sliced thin on a bias
-1/4 medium daikon, peeled and sliced thin on a bias
-1 tsp kosher salt, divided into two half teaspoons
-2 tsp rice vinegar, divided
-2 tsp sugar, divided
-1/2 tsp Korean red chili powder (or regular chili powder)
-1/2 tsp dark sesame oil

Keep the vegetables seperate. Toss the cucumber and the daikon each with 1/2 tsp salt, and let stand for five minutes. Rinse and squeeze dry with paper towels. Combine each with 1 tsp vinegar and 1 tsp sugar. Mix all of the chili powder with the daikon and all of the sesame oil with the cucumber. Set aside.

For the tofu:
-1 block firm tofu, preferable handmade, cut into thin pieces about the thickness of a pat of butter
-3 cups vegetarian beef broth, such as Better Than Bouillon vegan no-beef
-1/4 cup doenjang or miso paste
-1 4" piece of dashi kombu (seaweed)
-5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
-2 whole dried red chilis

Bring everything except for the tofu to a boil in a saucepan. Add the tofu, turn down the heat, cover, and simmer for five minutes. I let this chill overnight with a little broth ladled on top. This made more than enough for two people, so just use however much tofu you want and halve the broth recipe if you'd like.

For serving:
-1/2 an Asian pear, quartered, cored, and sliced thin
-2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and halved crosswise
-Any banchan, or side items, that you like. I just picked up a jar of this cabbage kimchee, but you can serve whatever you like. The most disappointing thing about making Korean food at home instead of going to a restaurant is that the table isn't covered with tiny delectable little side items. My favorites are pa kimchi, kongnamul, sigumchi namul, and whatever that sweet julienned daikon is called. But I digress...

Top the soba noodles with cucumber, daikon, pear, tofu, and the halved egg, keeping everything separate. Drizzle with a little extra gochujang and serve!

This is my entry for Presto Pasta Nights.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Soba Noodle Salad with Vegetables and Tofu

There are certain ingredients that will make you love a dish, almost no matter what. Depending on your palette, it might be bacon, truffles, butter, caramelized onions, mangoes, brown gravy, or any number of things. With my husband, it's soba noodles. Every dish I've made with these Japanese buckwheat noodles has been a major home run. I always keep ingredients for zaru soba on hand, as everything except for the scallions is non-perishable so in a pinch, I can always whip them up for lunch, dinner, or a snack. I've made them with sesame paste, in broth with tofu and mushrooms, in place of rice noodles in Vietnamese bun, with vegetables and Korean hot sauce, with tuna ceviche or tuna sashimi, with ground pork, Sichuan peppercorns, and Tianjin preserved vegetable...well, you get the idea. Suffice it to say that I am *always* on the lookout for new soba noodle recipes.

Almost a year ago, I stumbled upon a recipe in Cooking Light for a cool soba noodle salad with veggies and tofu. I bookmarked the recipe and forgot about it for a while, until this week when I came across it while looking for entrees involving tofu on my page. A cold noodle salad with raw veggies and a zesty dressing seemed like just the thing for a hot summer night. It looked simple enough to make, but hardly earth-shattering.

I was NOT expecting this dish to be as scrumptuous as it was. This is some Seriously Good Stuff. The dressing was marvelous, and it certainly doesn't hurt that it only contains two teaspoons of oil. It's soy sauce based with chili-garlic paste, fresh ginger, orange juice, brown sugar (I subbed agave nectar), rice vinegar, garlic, sesame oil, and toasted sesame seeds. It is definitely super-versatile; it would be great on a tossed salad, mixed with a bag of broccoli slaw, over massaged kale, or as an interesting dip for crudite. I loved the fact that I didn't have to cook anything, the tofu in particular because it always sticks to the pan unless I use tons of oil. I was fortunate enough to score some handmade tofu from my beloved Asian market. I substituted 1/2 cup daikon for 1/2 cup of the carrots, and I would not do that again because it looked unattractive after absorbing the dressing. I'd also add some julienned cucumber next time. But I'm happy to have yet another soba dish in my repertoire. This would be right at home at a potluck, on a picnic, or as Obligatory Vegetarian Dish at a barbecue whereas I wouldn't bring, say, zaru soba or my soba dan dan mian. Even tofu haters will love this one because of all the yummy dressing it soaks up.

Thanks, Ruth, for giving me the inspiration to dig through my old bookmarks!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lemon-thyme chicken and green beans

You're probably all sick of hearing me sing the praises of my slow cooker. Well, too bad! I'm all kinds of sick, and I wanted to put together a hassle-free one-pot meal. So here ya go! Green beans are one of the only non-starchy vegetables that holds up beautifully with long, slow cooking.

I tossed a pound of fresh green beans with half a can of stewed tomatoes (I used the ones marked "fancy sliced", but you could just buy the whole ones and break them up with you hands), 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. If you can't find smoked paprika, you can use regular paprika or even a little liquid smoke if that's your thing. You could also add some chopped bacon but it's already going to stew in all those chicken juices. Oh, and I added a shallot cut into chunks but I think that frozen pearl onions would work even better. I poured 1/2 cup water over the whole thing.

Next, I combined the zest of one lemon, finely minced, 1/2 tbs fresh chopped thyme, and 2-3 cloves garlic, minced or pushed through a press. I added enough extra-virgin olive oil to hold everything together plus salt and pepper. Loosen the skin on the chicken breast so that you can slip this paste underneath and then rub the rest over the legs and thighs.

After this I coated the chicken in a thick layer of paprika along with more salt and pepper. If you're a freak, truss the chicken, but as you can see I just tie the legs together. Let it cook while you're at work, say 9 hours or so, then broil the chicken on high for two minutes to crisp the skin.

And there you see the finished product: tender, juicy lemon-thyme chicken with buttery green beans on the side. I also added a dollop of Better Than Gravy chicken gravy, the only mix that doesn't taste nasty (chicken is the first ingredient!). Perfection!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Slow-cooker split pea dal

Lately I've felt like I'm in a recipe glut. I have a massive array of cookbooks, an assortment of recipe sites I frequent, and a husband who shrugs his shoulders when I ask if he'd like anything in particular. CSA season is over until November so I can't let the farmer's market be my guide. So, I've gotten in the habit of checking Is My Blog Burning? to see if any food blogging events inspire me. I came across this event, instructing participants to create a healthy dish rich in fiber.

I surfed over to one of my favorite nutrition sites, World's Healthiest Foods, and checked out which foods are good sources of dietary fiber. Split peas? Cauliflower? Dark leafy greens? Reminds me of a dish I made in the slow cooker a few months ago. Even better that it is an Indian-inspired dish, as the event host writes an Indian food blog!

I love doing dal in the slow cooker. I don't worry about overcooking, because it's supposed to turn to mush anyway. Red lentils are the creamiest, chana dal is the most coarse, but yellow split peas are somewhere in the middle. I started out with an array of assertive spices:

Clockwise from top left: 1/2 tsp cayenne, 1 tbs brown mustard seeds, 1 tsp turmeric, 1/8 tsp ground cloves, 1/2 tbs ground coriander, 1 tbs ground cumin, and a bay leaf. If you're lazy, just use 3 tablespoons of good-quality curry powder.

Dump all this in your slow cooker with a 3 1/2 cups water, 1/2 tbs salt, 1 cup yellow split peas, 1 cup of diced onion, 1/2 tbs minced fresh ginger (or a few chunks of it, if you're lazy) , and a small head of cauliflower (organic cauliflower is usually the right size), broken into large florets. Don't be afraid of keeping the cauliflower in big pieces, because it'll break up later, but if you cut it too small it'll turn to mush. Cook on low for 6 hours, then to finish it off, turn the slow cooker to high and dump in a 10 oz bag of spinach. Stir until combined (the stirring with break up the cauliflower) and serve!


Among the farm goodies I received were 1.5 dozen farm fresh eggs. Eggs are just about my favorite thing in a world, and as I didn't want to see them go to waste, I started thinking of dinners I could prepare with them. Of course I made them for breakfast, plus a big batch of curried egg salad, but I wanted something a bit different. So, I decided to make bibimbap, a Korean dish. According to Wikipedia:
Bibimbap is served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with namul (sautéed and seasoned vegetables), beef, a fried egg, and gochujang (chili pepper paste). The ingredients are stirred together thoroughly just before eating. It can be served either cold or hot.
Sounds good! I started with short-grain brown rice. I've been wanting to try cooking it in the oven for a while now. It worked splendidly, although it wasn't sticky at all. I think it would be better for non-Asian rice dishes. Aside from that, I followed this recipe from Cooking Light. The only change I made is that I sauteed the mushrooms and added some blanched bean sprouts since I had them on hand. I also served it with the traditional gochujang instead of sambal. You could easily make this vegetarian by substituting seitan for the beef. You might even be able to make it vegan if you make vegan tamago instead of using a fried egg.

To serve, I started with a bowl of rice...

By the way, if you DO want to try cooking it in the oven, put a cup of brown rice in a baking dish (I sprayed it with a little olive oil beforehand) and add 1.5 cups BOILING water and 1/2 tsp salt. Bake, tightly covered, at 375 for an hour. Foolproof!

Anyway, then I topped it with my meat and veggies.

That's stir-fried marinated steak, blanched carrots, blanched bean sprouts, this steamed spinach, and sauteed shittake caps.

Finally, the piece de resistance, a fried farm-fresh egg, gochujang (Korean hot sauce), and the marinated cucumber that I, uh, forgot to add before.

Seriously, is there any more drool-worthy sight than a runny egg yolk mingling with hot sauce?? I'm really going to have to hone my food photography skills so that I can do it justice!

Wild boar lasagna

On Saturday, we drove two hours south to visit a couple of friends who live on a farm, and returned with lots of goodies. Among those was a pound of ground wild boar meat. Apparently, some wild boar were terrorizing their property, so they had them trapped and butchered. I decided to make it into bulk sausage by adapting Michael Ruhlman's recipe for spicy Italian sausage from Charcuterie. I tried to make the lasagna as healthy as possible while still keeping it scrumptious. I used low-fat cheeses, whole wheat pasta, egg white, and lots of veggies. Wild boar is comparatively rather lean, but you could substitute ground pork or even ground turkey. Dark meat turkey would probably work best here. I thought that the sausage was too salty, but it was just fine when simmered with tomatoes and veggies. If you plan to eat the sausage on its own, I'd start with half the amount of salt and sugar, brown a bit in a pan, taste, and then decide whether or not to add the rest.

For the sausage:
-1 lb ground wild boar
-2 tsp kosher salt
-1/2 tbs granulated sugar
-1/2 tbs toasted fennel seed
-1 tsp ground coriander
-1 tbs paprika
-1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
-1/2 tbs hot red pepper flakes
-1/2 tbs coarsely ground black pepper
-1 tbs red wine vinegar

Using your hands, thoroughly combine the pork with the spices. Form into patties, stuff into casings, or leave as-is for lasagna.

For the lasagna:
-8 oz whole wheat lasagna noodles (I used Ronzoni Healthy Harvest), cooked until not quite al dente, about 2 minutes less than package directions
-1 lb sausage meat, homemade using above recipe, or spicy Italian sausage removed from casings
-1 lb frozen chopped spinach, defrosted according to directions and liquid thoroughly squeezed out
-16 oz sliced crimini mushrooms
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 small (8oz) can tomato puree
-1 28oz can crushed tomatoes (I used Muir Glen fire roasted crushed tomatoes)
-1 tsp sugar
-1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
-1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano (I felt that this was too strong, you might want to cut this in half unless you love oregano)
-1 lb part skim ricotta cheese
-1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
-2 egg whites, lightly beaten
-Shredded part-skim mozzarella, for topping (really depends on how much you like)
-Salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine the ricotta, parmesan, and egg white in a medium-sized bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside in the refrigerator.

2. In a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven, brown the sausage meat over medium-high heat. If it is very lean meat you may need to add a little cooking spray. Drain off excess fat, if necessary. Add garlic, mushrooms, and 1/4 cup water. Cook until mushrooms are browned and liquid has evaporated. Stir in tomatoes, sugar, basil, oregano, and spinach. Simmer until warmed through and set aside to cool.

3. Spray a 13x9 pan with cooking spray. Pour the small can of tomato sauce into the bottom. Top with a layer of noodles, trimming to fit if necessary. Add half the ricotta (your hands are the best tool for this), then half the sauce. Repeat with the remaining noodles, ricotta, and sauce. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with mozzarella, and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the mozzarella is gooey. Let rest for 10 minutes per serving.

I cut this into 15 good sized squares. 1 would cover most people, or 2 if you're really hungry.

Per square: 216 calories, 10 grams fat, 18 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams protein.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Char Siu Hum Bao (Chinese BBQ pork buns)

Ever since my husband returned from San Francisco, he's been craving steamed Chinese pork buns. I hate making yeasted doughs, but as serendipity would have it, I came across a "cheater" recipe which utilizes frozen dinner roll dough. The first step was to make some char siu pork so that I'd have meat leftover. This is one of my favorite dishes to use the slow cooker for. I used a tried-and-true recipe from Cooking Light with a lean pork roast. The ketchup sounds unorthodox, but according to David Rosengarten:
The name "ketchup" actually is derived from an old South Chinese name for a
popular condiment, and in this century Chinese chefs have avidly taken to the
Western-style tomato preparation that borrowed its name.

Well, if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me! I intentionally made extra pork so I'd have plenty left over.

Here's the sad looking leftover pork after sitting in the fridge for a day. It was so tender that I just shredded it with a fork.
Next, I made a sauce with shaoxing, hoisin sauce, and soy sauce, and then drenched the shredded pork with it.

Finally, I stuffed the mixture into dinner roll dough (which had already thawed and proofed). I used something called Parkerhouse rolls which made small, dumpling-like buns. I put them in the bamboo steamer on squares of parchment paper.

I didn't take a pic of the final product because I didn't seal up the tops well enough and so the end result, while tasty, wasn't terribly photogenic. Anyhow, my husband ate nine of these in one sitting so I assume it didn't matter.
These aren't as candy-sweet as the pork buns I've bought in restaurants and Chinese bakeries. However, that was a plus for me. If you like them very sweet, just add some honey to the hoisin sauce mixture. The dinner rolls were a bit fluffier than normal but they still retained that chewy texture that is the hallmark of char siu hum bao.
You could probably do this with any leftover pork roast, or even leftover brisket, because the sauce is so flavorful and overpowering. Vegetarians could even use shredded seitan or fake ground meat.
Oh, and I swear I cook plenty of other stuff besides Chinese food!

Hot and Sour Soup, veganized

Sometimes I cook vegan just because it's a whole lot less stressful. No worries about cross-contamination or internal temperature, just a nice relaxing experience. I decided to make a veganized version of Sichuan hot and sour soup.

Traditionally, the hot part of "hot and sour" comes from copious amounts of ground pepper -- unusual considering the typically chili-happy style of Sichuan. Chinkiang black rice vinegar lends the sour component. I think that it tastes like a slightly smoky mellower version of malt vinegar.

Here's part of my mise en place. I've got half a block of lite firm tofu, julienned and marinated in a splash of shaoxing, julienned bamboo shoot, matchstick cut ginger, and enoki mushrooms, plus a quart of no-chicken broth.

This soup is really flexible, though. In place of or in addition to the tofu, you could use a number of proteins. Seitan, pork, ham, and/or chicken would all be good choices. And you could use any fresh mushroom, such as button or oyster. You get the idea. I'd keep the bamboo shoot and ginger, though.

By the way, if you've never seen whole, fresh bamboo shoot, this is what it looks like.

I also added some tree ears (a.k.a wood ear a.k.a. cloud ear a.k.a. tree jellyfish a.k.a. Auricularia). On the right you can see them in dried form, on the left you can see them reconstituted. You could sub dried shittakes but these have a gelatinous, rubbery texture that really is unmatched.

Anyway, you could saute some of your ingredients, but I just brought a quart of no-chicken broth to a boil and dumped my ingredients in. I also added a little soy sauce and shaoxing, plus of course tons of ground pepper. I let everything simmer until cooked through, thickened it with cornstarch, and finished it with a splash of vinegar.

To serve, I ladled it into bowls with sliced scallion greens at the bottom. Admittedly, the pepper wasn't enough heat for me so I passed Sriracha sauce at the table.

One of the great things about this soup is that it's very "anything goes", so it's a great opportunity to try out weird ingredients from the Oriental market that you want to taste but don't know what to do with. To name a few, dried tiger lily buds, snow fungus, flowering chives, or lotus root, would all be welcome additions! If anyone wants a detailed recipe though, just ask in the comments.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ecuadorian Ceviche

I've known for a while that, in Ecuador, popcorn is a traditional garnish for ceviche. However, I've never tried this unorthodox combination for myself, and figured I'd give it a whirl. Admittedly, I have a standby ceviche recipe from which I rarely deviate (this one, but I substitute sushi-grade tuna for the scallops). After some hunting around, I settled on a recipe from Maricel Presilla that I found in Food & Wine. Though a traditional garnish could also be corn nuts (maize cancha) or boiled corn kernels (choclo), I stuck to lightly salted popcorn with a chili seasoning (recipe). Just be sure that whatever popcorn you use does not have butter flavoring.

I substituted 1/2 lb squid for 1/2 lb of the shrimp. Additionally, be sure to rinse the onions after steeping them in boiled water; otherwise they will be much too salty. I think that the dish would have been prettier had I used yellow bell pepper instead of red, though there was some yellow in the salad I served alongside. Oh, and I would've inverted the proportions of orange and lime.

Finally, because apparantly sparkling white wine goes well with ceviche, I bought my favorite not-Champagne: a $7.99 bottle of Cristalino Cava. I think that even cheap Cavas blow Champagne out of the water!

Not sure if anyone reads this blog, but if any foodies are stopping by, tell me in the comments -- what's your favorite way to make ceviche?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Twice-Cooked Pork

I am absolutely enamoured with Sichuan cuisine (Szechuan? Googlefight says Sichuan). It's very interesting to me because, like French cuisine, it is highly codified. However, the methods are very divergent from what most western foodies might consider classical technique. Sichuan cooking is comprised of twenty-three flavors and fifty-six techniques. But instead of methods like "braise", "steam", "saute", and so forth, Sichuan cuisine boasts "explode-frying", "scallion-braising, "rice-meal steaming", and "hanging-oven roasting". Of the twenty-three flavors, "fish-fragrant", "strange flavor", and "salt-savory" are a few choice examples.

A while back, I picked up a copy of Fuschia Dunlop's Land of Plenty, determined to cook my way through the 23 flavors of Sichuan; so far I've made 14 (I keep track on an online spreadsheet). So when I saw this Chinese take-out party on Is My Blog Burning?, I thought that it would be fun to contribute a Sichuan dish. I wanted to do an authentic (yet lighter) version of a Chinese take-out staple, like Kung Pao chicken or Mapo Dofu. However, I settled on twice-cooked pork.

According to Wikipedia, the history of twice-cooked pork is as follows:
The dish is said to have originated from the Qing Dynasty while the Qianlong Emperor toured Sichuan. Qianlong demanded a feast in every stop that he made, and, when he approached one particular village, the villagers fretted. The crops had not been harvesting well that year and there may not have been enough to host the emperor. Fearing prosecution, the villagers hastily dumped their leftovers into the pot, cooked them again (thus "twice cooking" them) and served the resulting dish to the emperor. To their surprise, the emperor enjoyed it, and so the "Twice Cooked Pork" became a famous Sichuan cuisine.
Is it true? Who cares! It's yummy! This is a consummate example of jia chang wei xing, or homestyle flavor. Dunlop's description of homestyle flavor is as follows:
This uniquely Sichuanese taste is based on the hearty flavors of domestic cooking. Homestyle dishes are described as salty, savory, and a little bit hot...The basic seasonings are typically local: chili bean paste, salt, and soy sauce. Pickled red chilis, fermented black beans, and sweet fermented paste can also have a role to play.
Enough chattering, onto the food! First, you'll probably need to make a trip to an Oriental market for some of this stuff.

Like cute little itty-bitty baby leeks! You could substitute scallions if you can't find these. Unlike most Americanized twice-cooked pork dishes, Dunlop restricts the veggie content solely to leeks.

And fermented black beans! These are chewy, salty, wonderfully pungent little morsels of soybean. The flavor is kind of like a stronger, richer soy sauce. On the left you can see them in the original container. That big beige slab is a piece of dried ginger; fermented black beans often comes packaged with this. To the right you can see a couple teaspoons of these soaking in Shao Xing (Chinese rice wine). You could alternately soak them in sherry or water. Dunlop doesn't soak them at all, but I prefer the texture and lessened saltiness. I wish I'd used more, though. Next time perhaps! The recipe called for 2 tsp but I would've used 2 tbs.

You'll also need some chili bean paste. That's the stuff on the right. If you've ever tried the replicate the taste of authentic Sichuan food but couldn't seem to find a lost chord, it's probably because you were missing this. Nothing else tastes quite like it, but the flavor screams Sichuan like nothing else. Make sure to buy the stuff with fava or broad beans instead of soybeans. It's spicy and rich and salty with chili flakes and bits of fava bean. On the left is sweet bean paste, which I substituted for sweet wheat paste (I couldn't find the latter). It's an admirable substitute, though; it's kind of like a muted hoisin sauce.

Anyhow, the first thing you want to do is simmer your pork in salted water 'til it's just done. Dunlop suggests skin-on pork belly, but that sounded pretty decadent for a weeknight supper. I made this once for my mother-in-law with boneless country ribs, but tonight I used lean pork loin. Though mark my words, one day I will cook pork belly in its own fat. If you use pork belly, make sure it's completely cool before slicing so that the fat and lean hold together. I didn't have to worry about that too much so I just let it cool til I could slice it without burning my hands. Trim off the gristle as you do this; I fed it to an eagerly waiting mouth.

After slicing your boiled pork, heat up a wok or a cast-iron skillet with a bit of oil. More would work better but in the interest of keeping it light I just used a little canola oil spray. Cook it on both sides until it gets nice and crispy.

I couldn't get a good action shot because of the steam, but I love seeing the transition from soft gray slices to browned, crispy, Maillard-alicious little tidbits.

Then, add about 2 tbs chili bean paste, 1.5 tsp sweet wheat or sweet bean paste, fermented black beans (with or without the soaking liquid, you decide), a teaspoon of soy sauce, and a teaspoon of sucanat/agave nectar/evil white sugar/whatever you use. Cook it until the pork is all crispy and glazey and everything is all gloppy and fragrant and delicious.

Then, remove the pork from the skillet and add your leeks. You want about 6 tender baby leeks, sliced very thin on the diagonal. Just barely cook them and then spoon them on top of your pork.

I served this with green beans in ginger sauce, also from Land of Plenty. It's an easy recipe; just toss steamed green beans with fresh ginger, Chinkiang black vinegar (or malt vinegar), chicken broth (I used vegetable broth), and sesame oil.

I, of course, used organic haricots verts from the farmer's market.

Okay, okay, I didn't feel like snapping off the stupid string bean ends.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Master chef

So some of my friends decided to have a friendly little cooking competition. The theme was to use only four ingredients, with only water and salt being freebies. I lost by just 1/8 of a point!

Anyway, I did a riff on Jean-Georges, and chose the following four ingredients:

1. U-10 scallops
2. Capers (packed in brine)
3. Golden raisins
4. Cauliflower

You can read the full recipe here. I wanted to work with scallops because oil isn't a freebie so I wanted to pick something which I could dry sear. The sauce was definitely the most surprising aspect, as it was only two ingredients but had a really nice flavor complexity; kind of sweet and sour. I wanted to find balsamic-marinated capers, but alas, none were to be found.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Slow-cooker chicken tagine

Ohh, how do I love my slow cooker. Yes, I know that it's a foodie taboo, conjuring up images of housewives and onion soup mix, but I can't get enough of the much-maligned appliance. Anything I dump in there is magically transformed into something butter-tender and succulent, and I get to come home, the house smelling terrific, feeling as though someone already prepared a meal for me. So I'm always thinking up new possibilities for it.

(side note: If I'm going to keep up this blogging thing, I'm going to have to learn some new tricks for food photography...)

I used skinless, bone-in chicken thighs for this. I just dumped it in the crock pot with Moroccan preserved lemon, a ras el hanout-esque spice mix, fresh garlic and ginger, hot paprika, saffron, diced onion, and a spicy cracked olive mix. I let it cook in a little chicken stock, hit the top with fresh cilantro, and served alongside some quinoa which I cooked with orange juice, onion, figs, and dried apricots.

Harissa-marinated chicken with tzatziki and quinoa tabouli

While watching Top Chef episode 6 (the tailgating episode), one contestant described a dish that made me sit up in my seat. Specifically, *looks up at the title of this post* harissa-marinated chicken with tzatziki and quinoa tabouli. This is EXACTLY the sort of thing I like to cook! However, I know that the recipes on Bravo's website are often unreliable, so I figured I'd just take the concept and wing it on my own.

Ohhh man was this ever good! I loved the contrast of the fiery, smokey chicken with the cool cucumber/yogurt sauce. The quinoa tabouli was the perfect accompaniment.

I kind of improvised a mock harissa with stuff I had in the house. I used about 3 ounces of Thai chili-garlic paste, a jarred roasted red bell pepper, a tablespoon of ancho chili powder, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp coriander, 1/2 tsp cardamom, and a glug of olive oil. Whirred it in the blender til smooth, added S&P to taste, and I had a yummy and VERY spicy condiment. I threaded chicken breast chunks onto skewers, marinated it while the coals heated up, then had my husband grill it to perfection.

For the tzatziki, I combined fat free Greek yogurt, lemon juice, seeded cucumber (half grated, half diced), fresh mint, fresh dill, and plenty of salt and pepper.

The quinoa tabouli gave me the opportunity to use some of the fresh vegetables from the farmer's market. I picked up some fresh onions, vine-ripened tomatoes, and curious little Armenian cucumbers. I cooked a cup of quinoa in vegetable broth, then mixed it with a small onion, 2 cukes, 2 tomatoes, and all the flat-leaf parsley and mint I had (I like TONS of herbs in my tabouli). Finished it off with EVOO, lemon juice, salt, and lots and lots of pepper.

Grilled Fish Tacos

After picking up a lovely bunch of French breakfast radishes at the local farmer's market, I sat down and thought about how to use them in an entree. After some deliberation, I settled on a unique taco recipe from a back issue of Gourmet as my starting point.

I picked up a meaty red grouper fillet*, marinated it in lime, cumin, cilantro, and olive oil, and then ran it under the broiler for about 5 minutes each side. I think that mojo would have been just as good as the marinade but I had to use up some limes. It would have been better over the coals but I didn't feel like bothering with the grill. The fixins here are avocado wedges, shredded cabbage, quick pickled red onions, cilantro sprigs, and of course the sliced radishes. The original recipe called for a sauce made from mayonnaise, crema, lime, and some other elements. Instead, I just served it with fat free Greek yogurt and lime wedges. I had some pickled jalapeno slices on hand but forgot to use them here.

This was really unique, light, and fresh tasting. Albeit, it doesn't really resemble a conventional taco, and wouldn't satisfy a taco craving, but it's a great spring or summer dish!

*I used grouper because it has a modest amount of mercury, and moreover, grouper was one of the few wild fish available that day. I eschew most farm-raised fish, because they're usually fed pellets instead of eating omega-3 rich algae and small fish. Hence, farm-raised fish doesn't boast nearly the omega-3 levels of wild fish.

My first post!

As an avid home cook, I've been intending to start a food blog for some time now. So, I figure that I'll take this first post to introduce myself and talk a bit about the things I like to cook.

In a nutshell, I fell in love with cooking as soon as I was old enough to beg my mom to let me help her in the kitchen. I grew up romanticizing tomes like Larousse Gastronomique and Julia Child's "The Way to Cook". Fortunately I had parents who were more than happy to indulge my obsession and were nice enough to fund even my more extravagant kitchen ventures. Fast-forward to now: I'm 24, married, working full-time, attending grad school, and striving to keep myself and my husband healthy. Thus, I seek out meals which are quick to prepare, low-calorie with a particular predilection towards whole, unprocessed, seasonal foods, as well as staying within my grocery budget. Oh yeah, and it has to taste good, too.

I'm addicted to my crock pot, and I've used it for everything from Moroccan tagines to Mexican mole. I love recipes and cookbooks but I never follow them from start to finish. I've practically made a hobby of taking a recipe and scaling back the fat and calories. I love a huge variety of cuisines but my husband teases me for adhering to French technique. I live in Florida and have an amazing bounty of produce and seafood.

Oh, and I make my own cheese :)

Anyway, I hope you stick around and enjoy!

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