Monday, February 28, 2011

Thai Beef Salad

There is a Thai restaurant called Land Thai Kitchen near my apartment that makes a phenomenal Thai Beef Salad.  Their salad combines grilled skirt steak, watercress, green apple, dried chili, toasted rice, and lime juice.  We didn't have any skirt steak, but we did have top sirloin.  And we had everything else I needed to make a riff on the recipe.  So I decided to go ahead and use the top sirloin.  I would probably use skirt steak if making this recipe again in the future, and I might modify the recipe to cook the skirt steak whole, rather than slicing it up thinly before searing it.  But the top sirloin was far too thick to cook it enough in the center by just searing up the outsides.  I wanted the steak to remain medium-rare in the center as much as possible.  Anyway, the salad was really nice.  Fresh flavors from the herbs, a little sweetness from the apples and the lime, a little heat and a lot of different flavor and textures.  The roasted rice powder gives the salad a little nuttiness and adds an interesting texture.  But my favorite components are the shallots, the apple, the mint, and the watercress.  Each of the ingredients is so different from each of the other ingredients, both texturally and in terms of flavor. 

Recipe under the jump!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

My newest restaurant obsession... What Happens When

So I know that the concept of a pop-up restaurant has been done.  Ludo Lefebre in LA does LudoBites, which is perhaps the ultimate pop-up restaurant.  But John Fraser of Dovetail recently opened a pop-up restaurant in NYC that is called What Happens When.  The whole idea with What Happens When is that for 9 months, the restaurant will occupy a small space in Nolita.  Every month, the restaurant will have a new theme, which involves changing both the decor and the menu entirely.  This month, the theme was Nordic and the decor was... industrial chic?  Who knows what the theme and decor will involve next month?  All I can say was that Alex and I both LOVED our meal there and the entire experience.  Actually, we enjoyed the concept so much that we started debating what our ideal restaurant would involve in terms of menu, theme, size, etc.  Oh and the beer list - Alex was very concerned with his beer list in his hypothetical restaurant.  Anyway, the meal started with a few amuse bouches (the best of which was a yellow split lentil soup) and some garlic knots with emmentaler cheese.  Those garlic knots were fantastic.  Then for our first course we had the "potato skins" (with sausage and beer fondue) and the roasted cauliflower salad (with dehydrated grapes, ham and feta cheese).  Both were really good, although I preferred the cauliflower salad and Alex preferred the potato skins.  Then for our entrees we had the lamb loin and the guinea hen with the buckwheat crepe millefeuille.  I would have to say that for me the entrees were a tie, and probably my favorite part of the meal (Alex agreed that the entrees were his favorite part of the meal, although he said that my guinea hen was just slightly better than his lamb).  Both were very flavorful, with very distinct flavor profiles that were just so seasonally perfect.  Then we moved onto the dessert where I had the popcorn creme brulee and Alex had some sort of chocolate tart with caramel sauce, a graham cracker crust and little marshmallows.  The popcorn creme brulee was seriously fun and tasty, although I thought that the sugar on top needed to be torched a little more to give it that crackly creme brulee crust.  

Overall, such a great meal.  I can't wait to go back in a month or two after the theme has changed and see what happens!

Bklyn Larder's Spicy Tomato Soup

A few weeks ago I received an email from Tasting Table advertising Jersey Farms Crushed Tomatoes.  When I saw the list of chefs using the canned tomatoes at their restaurants it sparked my interest enough to look at the list of stores (and restaurants) in the city selling the tomatoes.  Unfortunately, none of them were anywhere near out apartment.  I briefly considered ordering some online from Fresh Direct, but ended up getting lazy.  Then the other day in Chinatown we walked past a Dean and Deluca's so I ran in to see if they had the tomatoes.  Luckily they did carry the tomatoes so I picked up 2 cans.  I thought about buying more, but the thought of carrying several pounds worth of canned tomatoes around Chinatown was enough to dissuade me.  So today I decided to go ahead and make the recipe for Bkyln Larder's Spicy Tomato Soup that was included in the Tasting Table email.  It looked super easy - actually I was a little worried about how easy it was and how few ingredients were required.  But I figured if you're going to spend about $10 for 48 oz of canned tomatoes, you want the recipe you make with them to be simple enough so the tomatoes themselves can really shine.  We served the soup with more Bayona Caesar Salad, but as soon as I took a bite of the soup I turned to Alex and said this was literally the perfect soup to serve with grilled cheese sandwiches.  The soup is a little spicy, a little sweet, and all about the tomatoes.  If you like your soup a little creamier, you can always add a little buttermilk or something, but I think it is perfect without any dairy.  You can also puree the soup in the blender or with an immersion blender if you want your soup perfectly smooth, but I actually prefer my tomato soup slightly on the chunky side.  I want there to be a little texture to it.  Anyway, this is the perfect weeknight meal.  Simmer the tomatoes on the stovetop, forget about them for a little bit, make the grilled cheeses and within an hour (and with very little work) you have a delicious dinner.  Can this soup compete with the Vietnamese Noodle Combos with Vietnamese Grilled Pork Balls or the Caramelized Chicken with Lemongrass and Chilis?  No.  But it's not supposed to.  The beauty of the dish is its simplicity and the ease with which you can throw it together.  It is a really nice bowl of tomato soup, which is exactly what it sets out to be.

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Vietnamese Noodle Combos with Vietnamese Grilled Pork Balls

After our shopping trip for Southeast Asian ingredients in Chinatown today, I couldn't wait to make either a Thai or Vietnamese dish.  I originally thought I would have to wait until Monday to make something, but after our dinner plans with friends fell through this evening, I had the chance to cook tonight after all.  Since I had ground pork, my first thought was either dumplings, or pork meatballs of some sort.  I first got the idea to make meatballs from a recipe that I stumbled across in the March 2011 issue of Bon Appetit for Pork and Lemongrass Meatballs in Lettuce Cups.  But I have recently been on a quest to make more of the recipes that I had bookmarked in our many Asian cookbooks - particularly after I enjoyed making a ton of Fuchsia Dunlop recipes during our Chinese New Year experiment.  So I turned to Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet and low and behold, there was a recipe for Vietnamese Grilled Pork Balls.  Score!  And originally I wanted to make these pork meatballs into lettuce wraps, but after some discussion with Alex we decided to use the meatballs to top some rice vermicelli.

This recipe is another winner.  Alex and I loved it.  I feel like we go through streaks of good recipes, followed by streaks of recipes that are just ok.  Right now we seem to be on a hot streak with Vietnamese recipes that started with our Caramelized Chicken with Lemongrass and Chilis.  Now that I think about it, I'm not sure that we have ever made two Vietnamese recipes in a row.  And we're actually talking about making almost all Thai and Vietnamese recipes next week, so this should be another fun experiment!  Anyway, back to the recipe.  Recipes and dishes like this one remind me why Vietnamese cuisine is among my very favorite cuisines.  The flavors are so fresh, but so delicious.  I love the combination of lime, spicy chili peppers, sugar, and fresh herbs.  In my mind very few things can compare to Vietnamese food.  Processing the pork in the food processor gives the pork meatballs a very fine texture.  If I were you, I might make a double batch of the meatballs and save half of the mixture in the freezer.  You can use the meatballs in dozens of ways - as a filling for banh mi, on top of rice noodles as we served them here, on top of a salad, or as a filling for lettuce wraps.  You could also make them into Vietnamese pork sliders.  This recipe is a little labor intensive.  There are a lot of steps and a lot of dirty dishes by the time dinner is over.  You have to make the meatballs themselves, the dipping sauce, the pickled carrots and daikons, and prep all of the garnishes and the noodles.  The whole process takes a few hours (some of which is marinating and pickling time).  But if you have some time on your hands, the end result (or results) is well worth it - dinner will be bright, fresh, and very flavorful.  And fairly healthy to boot.

Recipes after the jump!

Chinatown and South China Garden

So for the past two weekends Alex and I have fallen into the routine of my going to pilates at 10am and then heading down to Chinatown for dim sum or an early lunch.  Last weekend we went to Ping's Seafood on Mott Street for dim sum and stuffed our faces.  We had all of your standard dim sum dishes, cheong fun (a sheet of steamed rice noodle filled with char siu or shrimp), ha gao (shrimp dumplings), siu mai (shrimp and pork dumplings), char siu sou (flaky pastry filled with char siu), fried shrimp balls, and a variety of scallop and shrimp dumplings.  My favorites were the ha gao and the scallop dumplings.  Both were sweet and fresh-tasting.  Their cheong fun was gummy and tasted like it had been made hours prior to our arrival and considering that we got there at 11:30 am, that might have been the case (although the dim sum selections that early in the day are usually pretty fresh).  Since we had dim sum last week, I wanted something different today.  I started playing around on Yelp and Chowhound trying to decide between a few places that I have been wanting to try (Amazing 66, South China Garden aka Cantoon Garden, and New Wonton Garden were all options we discussed), and ended up deciding on South China Garden.  I have to say that the deciding factor for me was the number of people in one Chowhound post that raved about the salt-baked squid (pictured above).  I freaking love salt-baked squid.  Great NY Noodletown has a great salt-baked soft shelled crab during the summer when soft shelled crab is in season, but the salt-baked squid at South China Garden might literally be the best that I have ever tasted.  The squid was incredibly tender, with a very thin batter on the outside (I can't really come up with anything to compare it to - Alex suggested tempura, but it's so much thinner and crispier than tempura batter).  Plus it was super flavorful.  I was literally in love with this dish.  I really wanted to try the sauteed ginger scallion lobster or the garlic crab with ho fun, but since it was just the two of us that seemed a little excessive.  Instead we ended up getting the seafood pan-fried noodles and the garlic fried chicken.  We over-ordered just a bit.  Both the pan-fried noodles and the fried chicken were good (although the noodles needed a little salt), but neither could compete with the salt-baked squid.

More after the jump (including pictures of the pan-fried noodles and the fried chicken)!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Caramelized Chicken with Lemongrass and Chilis (Ga Xao Sa Ot Cay)

This is another recipe that Alex and I have been holding on to for some time now.  Make that, a recipe that I have been holding on to.  I don't think that Alex even knew the recipe existed.  But I tend to spend a lot more time pouring over our cookbooks in search of new recipes than he does.  Alex only tends to go through the cookbooks when I hand him one (or tell him to go get one) and ask him to figure out what we should cook for dinner.  Anyway, the biggest deterrent to our ever making this recipe was the amount of lemongrass required.  At any given time we tend to have no more than about two stalks of lemongrass in the apartment.  But last night we hit Fairway and picked up 6 stalks, specifically so we could make this recipe.  We didn't have chicken thighs, but we figured that boneless, skinless chicken breasts would work just fine.  And the recipe actually cautions you against using chicken breasts, or removing the skin, but we made do with what we had.

In the future, I would definitely recommend using skin-on chicken thighs for this recipe.  Like the recipe promised, chicken thighs would just give the dish that extra boost of flavor.  But with that said, even without chicken thighs this dish was really really good.  Alex and I always play this game trying to decide what we would change while we eat our meal.  Generally the first thing that Alex says is that he wishes the dish were spicier.  It's his favorite comment and he uses it quite often.  Sometimes he wants more salt, but usually it's more spice.  This was one of the few times where neither of us had anything we would change (except of course for using chicken thighs rather than breasts).  This dish is super flavorful and the onions sauteed in the caramel sauce with the lemongrass are amazing.  The lemongrass gives the dish a nice floral quality, which contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the caramel sauce, the heat from the chilis and the savoriness of the fish sauce.  Using a caramel sauce, rather than just adding some sugar to the dish, gives it a really nice depth of flavor in addition to the sweetness.  This is one of my favorite dishes that we have prepared recently, and is definitely my favorite dish from the last week or two.

Recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ashley's Pickled Shrimp and Bayona Caesar Salad

I really wanted to make a few Southern meals from my Susan Spicer cookbook for Mardi Gras.  Only I am going to be skiing in Colorado during Mardi Gras.  So it looks like I will need to pack in a few Southern recipes in the next week or two before I leave.  This is the first meal that I have picked from the cookbook.  I know that this recipe doesn't exactly scream Mardi Gras.  I briefly considered making a gumbo or a jambalaya, but I'm just not that big of a fan.  So I decided on pickled shrimp for tonight and maybe a po'boy later in the week.  And if I make a third meal it will have to include grits.  There is a recipe for a Grilled Andouille Po'Boy "Creolaise" in the Susan Spicer cookbook that seems to fit the bill perfectly.  So I think that once I track down some andouille sausage, creole mustard and some "New Orleans-style French bread" (which I'm not even sure that I can find in the city), we are going to make some po'boys!  In the interim, this will have to do.

Alex and I disagreed over which component of the meal we liked more.  I was all about the Bayona Caesar Salad.  If you grilled or roasted up a few chicken breasts (or maybe some shrimp, but I think the chicken would work just a little bit better) and threw them on top it would make a really fantastic entree salad.  I really enjoyed the flavor of the homemade caesar dressing and the combination of the arugula and romaine.  We accidentally left out the anchovies because we didn't realize we were out until we were basically plating the salad.  And by that point neither of us were at all interested in running out to the store.  Without the salty, nutty flavor of the anchovies the salad dressing was fairly light (but still very flavorful).  I think with the addition of the anchovies you would end up with a deliciously rich, nutty caesar salad.  Oh and take the time to make the croutons at home.  All you have to do is take a baguette, chop it into cubes, toss in a little evoo (or butter) and kosher salt, and roast in the oven at 350 degrees F for like 7-8 minutes.  It's totally worth it.  As for the shrimp, they were really tasty too and quite easy to make.  In Alex's words  he had more things he would want to tweak/change about the shrimp than the salad, but the shrimp still excited him more.  I also would have made a few changes to the marinade in particular - cut back on the amount of sugar and red onions, and add some more crushed red pepper flakes and coriander seeds.  Oh and Alex and I both thought that the shrimp would be better if it was a little spicier.  But what else is new?

Recipes after the jump!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Black Bean Orecchiette with Spicy Pork and Broccoli

Sometimes I think that particular cookbook authors and I just aren't meant to be.  There are a few authors (and I hate to name names) whose recipes I have tried a few times and none of them really impressed me.  And then there is Ming Tsai, whose recipes I either tend to really enjoy, like his Crazy Chicken Rice Noodle Stir-Fry, or I tend to find mediocre at best.  I'm not sure why that is.  Maybe I'm just picking the wrong recipes because I have friends whose palates I trust who love Ming Tsai.  Clearly I am doing something wrong here.  Anyway, I saw Ming demonstrate this recipe on TV one morning while running on the treadmill.  And I thought "huh, we like orecchiette and spicy pork - we should make that."  So to celebrate having the day off today for President's Day I decided to go ahead and finally make the recipe.  I tried to convince Alex to sneak home for lunch (as a PhD student he doesn't get the day off), but when he couldn't make it, I decided to go ahead and make it for myself anyway. 

I just felt like the dish never really came together.  And calling it "spicy pork" is a total misnomer.  There is no heat to this dish whatsoever.  I even added more Korean chili flakes than the recipe called for (both mixed into the pasta and as a garnish on top), but there was still no heat.  To get some heat you might want to add some crushed red pepper flakes to the onion, garlic, and black bean mixture before adding the pork and then garnish the finished dish with the Korean chili flakes.  I know that I have a serious love of heat (and a higher tolerance than most people), but I really don't see how anyone could find this dish at all spicy.  I also wasn't sure that I liked the combination of flavors here - white wine and fermented black beans just didn't seem to go together at all.  I just felt like it was missing something (or maybe a lot of things).  Like I started cooking and then omitted a few key ingredients/steps but decided to eat the dish anyway.  Oh and I adapted the recipe to go from a one pot meal to a two pot meal because I thought it was stupid to use a pot and wash the pot just to use it again.  If you're going to have to wash the pot twice, might as well use two pots and watch each one once.  In this instance you're not cutting down on the amount of work by using one pan so why bother?  Actually, if you follow the instructions for making a one pot meal, you actually use more dishes than by just using the two pots.

Recipe after the jump!

Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

I'm not really sure what inspired me to make this recipe.  I have been thinking about making a red velvet cake or cupcakes for some time now and when I started seeing all of the recipes for red velvet whoopie pies around Valentines Day I figured why not make them instead?  This past fall I really wanted to make pumpkin whoopie pies, but I never got around to it so I figured now was the time to try out some whoopie pies.  While I like pumpkin desserts, I really LOVE a good red velvet cake.  I love the cream cheese frosting, the hint of cocoa, and the slightly tangy moistness from the buttermilk.  I also love the the cake itself isn't typically that sweet.  It really bothers me when you bite into a red velvet cake and either tastes like chocolate cake or vanilla cake.  Or when it is totally dry and flavorless.  Red velvet should be moist!  Well, all cakes and cupcakes should be somewhat moist, but it bothers me most when red velvet is dry.  What perhaps bothers me the most is when some bakeries serve red velvet cake with buttercream frosting instead of cream cheese frosting.  Ick.

I really liked the cookie parts of these whoopie pies.  I thought that the flavor balance and the slightly spongy texture were just perfect.  The cream cheese frosting was a touch on the sweet side for me (although again it was texturally perfect), so I would probably cut down on the amount of powdered sugar just slightly.  But I tend to prefer my cream cheese frosting a little less sweet than most people I know.  All I know is that I couldn't eat an entire one of these on my own because they are rich and the frosting is sweet, so maybe in the future I will make them a little smaller or use just a little less frosting.  Hurray for whoopie pies!

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Teochew Braised Duck and Coconut Basmati Pilaf

I originally planned on making this braised duck recipe as part of my Chinese New Year series of meals.  But I never got around to it.  Earlier this week I went by Fairway and picked up a duck and it occurred to me that we had all of the ingredients we needed to make the duck.  And even though we already finished our seven meals for Chinese New Year there was no reason not to make the duck.

I really like this duck, but there are two things I wish we had done.  First, I wish that after we finished braising the duck (and cooling it in the braising liquid), that we had seared it quickly in a screaming hot pan to crisp up the skin over the breasts a little.  Second, instead of making the chili-lime dipping sauce I would have made a simple Vietnamese salt, pepper and lime dipping sauce (made by combining kosher salt, ground white pepper and a healthy squirt of lime juice).  In Vietnamese restaurants the sauce is usually served alongside dishes like Bo Luc Lac (Shaking Beef), butter-fried frog legs, and roast quail.  I thought that the chili-lime dipping sauce here was a little one note and harsh and didn't complement the duck as well as the salt, pepper and lime dipping sauce would have.  The duck was slightly sweet, moist and very flavorful, if a little on the greasy side.  Granted it is duck, so it should be a bit on the greasy side.  You wouldn't believe how much duck fat rendered out during the braising process.  It was unbelievable.  As for the coconut rice, it was nice.  I might add a little more cardamom and ginger next time - particularly the ginger because neither Alex nor I tasted it at all.  I would also add a little more salt and 1 tsp of sugar to the rice, just to give it a hint of sweetness.
Recipes after the jump!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Salt-Roasted Salmon and Frisee Salad with Lardons and Poached Eggs

I seem to be in something of a rut these days.  I keep cooking meals from the same cookbooks or genres, over and over and over again.  It occurred to me the other day that it has been some time since I last cooked salmon (or fish of any sort if I really stop to think about it).  We cook shrimp fairly often, but to my recollection we haven't cooked fish once in 2011.  How sad is that?  Instead we have been cooking tons and tons of meat.  For the next few months I resolve to cook more seafood and vegetables, and less meat.  We used to be really good about cooking vegetarian meals and seafood at least once each a week, but we have failed lately.  Granted, it is winter so there aren't a ton of fruits and veggies in season, but what is my excuse for not making fish for at least the past 3 months?!  There isn't one!

So I found this recipe the other day when I saw the recipe for the Pan-Roasted NY Strip in my Tom Colicchio cookbook.  I have never tried salt-roasting anything, but I figured why not give it a shot?  So the salmon was perfectly cooked, with a lovely crispy skin.  And you know how much I love a good crispy salmon skin.  I really enjoyed it, except that in certain bites I couldn't get past the salt level.  I'm not sure if there is a way to remove more of the salt from the flesh of the salmon, but some bites were just so salty.  We tried brushing it off as instructed, but there was a certain amount of salt that was just stuck on there and impossible to remove.  Perhaps we didn't pat the salmon dry enough or perhaps we should have tried brushing the salt off with a basting brush or a clean kitchen towel.  Either way, we did our best to remove the salt from the salmon but we just couldn't quite get enough off.  As for the salad, I was thinking it would be nice to have a traditional French bistro salad to go with our salmon.  I wanted something a step or two up from our typical arugula salad (partially because we already had arugula salads with our dinner twice this week), something with a little bitterness and richness.  I wish I had added a little Dijon mustard to the dressing to give it a little more acidity and richness.  It would also have thickened the dressing just a little bit.  The red wine vinegar gave it a little acidity, but I really could have gone for just a little more.  I also wish we had toasted a little bread to serve on the side.  So if we could have made just those few tweaks, I think it would have been a phenomenal bistro-esque meal. 

Recipe after the jump!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Chinese New Year Meal #7 - Dan Dan Mian and Flowering Chives with Smoky Bacon

Our Chinese New Year meals are finally done!  It took us 17 days to get seven Chinese meals on the table, but we did it!  And in our defense, we were out of town last weekend so that caused some delays.  Anyway, I said at the beginning that I would make noodles and now I finally have.  Well, I guess there were noodles in our Red Braised Beef Noodle Soup (Hong Shao Niu Rou Mian), but it was a soup and the noodles weren't the focus (although I would argue that they were the most delicious part of the soup once they soaked up the broth).  And Alex and I have been wanting to make Dan Dan Mian for awhile now, so it seemed silly not to make them as part of our Chinese New Year project.  And to go with the noodles I wanted to make a vegetable side.  So I settled on Flowering Chives with Smoky Bacon, which I have also been wanting to make for awhile now, partially because the recipe required so few ingredients and was very simple.  It was the type of side that I thought Alex and I could make easily at any time and serve for a simple dinner with some steamed rice.

I really like Dan Dan Mian, but I think this version wasn't my favorite version that I have ever tasted.  Part of it was how incredibly salty the dish turned out.  Now it could have been the fact that our ya cai was saltier than usual or the fact that we accidentally added a little extra soy sauce to the pork topping.  Either way, it was very salty.  I briefly thought about rinsing off the ya cai (and I wish we had to cut down on the saltiness), but I forgot once we got down to cooking.  Oops.  I know that Fuchsia Dunlop has at least three different recipes for dan dan mian in Land of Plenty and - two using pork, one using beef, two using sesame paste, etc.  I also know that one of the restaurant versions I have tried also involved cilantro, which I appreciated.  Anyway, the biggest problem with this version of dan dan mian aside from the saltiness is the lack of any sort of peanut or sesame.  Who has ever heard of dan dan mian without some form of peanuts or sesame paste?  If I had read the recipe a little more closely before proceeding and thought about it a bit, I would have thrown some sesame paste in.  Or just tried another one of her recipes.  Oh well.  I also would have added a pinch of sugar to the sauce and cut down on the amount of the ya cai.  I think 2 tbsp of the ya cai would have been more than sufficient.  Or I would have thoroughly soaked it first in several changes of water.  We also upped the amount of Sichuan peppercorn, which I would highly recommend if you enjoy the flavor of numbing pepper.  Next time I will try one of Fuchsia Dunlop's other recipes - one that involves sesame paste!  As for the Flowering Chives with Smoky Bacon, I really enjoyed it.  I thought it made a really nice side dish and I would make it again.  Upon further reflection, I'm not sure if I could eat it as my entire meal but it is so easy to make that we could easily make it as an accompaniment to almost any Chinese entree.

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts

Ever since I came across my first reference to using browned butter in a brownie I have been curious.  Not quite intrigued, but definitely curious.  Then I received the new issue of Bon Appetit and saw that the cover recipe was for Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts.  And after I looked inside and saw just how easy they were to make, I decided to go ahead and pull the trigger on a batch of browned butter brownies.  Actually, in the spirit of full disclosure, my receptionists at work have been requesting brownies for some time now and once I saw the recipe it almost seemed serendipitous (except that I had to wait a few weeks to have the time to bake them).

According to some of the reviews that I have read, these brownies are better the second day.  I will have to try them out tomorrow and report back to you on that one, but I can tell you that on day one they are  fudgey and super rich.  You can definitely taste the nuttiness of the browned butter (which was a very interesting variation on a traditional cocoa brownie) and it is a great complement to the walnuts.  I generally prefer cakey brownies to fudgey brownies, but these brownies definitely deserve a shot, even if only for the ease of baking them.  I wish that I had added a pinch of espresso powder to the batter, but by the time I thought of it I was too lazy to hunt down the espresso powder in our cabinets.  If I'm not mistaken it is on the very top shelf and I either needed to 1) stand on the counter (which was impossible since the counter was covered in brownie-making supplies), or 2) go get a chair to stand on (which I was loathe to do since I had already done that to get the vanilla extract down).  So I decided to forgo the espresso powder just this once.  Next time I will definitely add it because I find that it gives brownies great depth of flavor and makes them taste even more chocolatey.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pan-Roasted NY Strip

Generally I cook my steaks by searing them off on the stovetop and then finishing them in the oven.  I have found that is the easiest way to ensure getting a nice medium-rare steak every single time without ending up with a bit too much char or uneven cooking.  But Tom Colicchio had a recipe for Pan-Roasted Sirloin in his Think Like a Chef cookbook that inspired me to give pan-roasting and butter-basting a try.

If you have a nice piece of steak, I would say definitely give this recipe a try.  The recipe is all about the steak - there are no fancy marinades or sauces to obscure the taste of the beef.  Instead all you taste is the beef, with a hint of butter and rosemary (both of which you can taste in every single bite).  And because of the pan-roasting technique over medium heat, the steak almost feels like it was cooked gently sous-vide for a zillion hours in an immersion circulator before being briefly seared up on the top and bottom.  The steak ends up very tender, almost buttery on the inside and perfectly cooked.  I thought it was delicious.  Alex wanted the steak to have a little more of a crust, which you could accomplish easily enough by searing the steak at a slightly higher temperature, before lowering the temperature and butter-basting it.  He really liked the rosemary flavor, but I think we would both like to try the recipe with fresh thyme instead and if we liked the steaks more or less that way.  We both like rosemary, but a little rosemary goes a long way and too much rosemary just makes your entire meal taste like a pine tree.  And no one likes that.

Recipe after the jump!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Roasted Chicken with Olives, Lemon and Garlic

So I will be the first to admit that this roast chicken recipe is more than a little labor-intensive.  It's definitely not a roast chicken recipe where you just throw the chicken into the pan and then forget about it for an hour.  Instead you have to flip the chicken a few times, reduce the heat, stir the onion-olive mixture, etc.  But I love me a good roast chicken and we hadn't made one in awhile, so I thought why not.  I had two recipes pulled to try (one by Ina Garten and this one by Susan Spicer) and the Spicer recipe won out because it didn't involve 4 plus hours of marinating time and spatchcocking a chicken.  Although I think if we had read both recipes fully we would have realized that in the end the Susan Spicer recipe was actually more labor-intensive than the other recipe.  But hey, there's nothing wrong with a labor of love.  And I love roast chicken so I'm willing to work at it a bit.

The biggest endorsement I can give of this dish is that Alex couldn't stop eating it.  Every time I turned around, he was eating more sourdough dipped in the chicken jus, or the onions that roasted alongside the chicken.  I think that he polished off the better part of a red onion and just under half of a very large loaf of sourdough all on his own.  And that was on top of the arugula salad and the chicken breast he ate.  He ate.  And ate.  And then ate some more.  Then he stated that roast chicken with arugula salad and some fresh bread is one of his favorite meals.  Yeah it the chicken takes a little effort to prepare, but it is well worth it.  The chicken breasts were flavorful and juicy.  Alex is going to eat the legs tomorrow for lunch so I can't attest to how they tasted, but I bet they were delicious as well.  And then there was the mix of onions, olives, lemon quarters, and garlic that we roasted underneath the chicken.  The onions were sweet and yet savory and totally flavorful.  Then there were the olives, which provided you with bursts of saltiness in every bite.  You can definitely taste the lemons - both in the chicken itself, and in the chicken jus underneath.  It's such a nice combination of flavors.
Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chinese New Year Meal #6 - Sichuan Dumplings in Chili Oil and Chinese Broccoli in Oyster Sauce

For our sixth Chinese New Year meal, I decided that we had to make dumplings.  I was going to make potstickers (fried dumplings), but I decided that Sichuan dumplings sounded like more fun.  Plus I didn't want to go to the trouble of making the dumpling wrappers for my potstickers and I didn't think that the dumpling wrappers you buy at the grocery store would withstand being fried very well.  But I promise to make the potstickers at some point.  Maybe not in the month of February as part of my series of Chinese New Year meals, but definitely by the end of the year at the very least. 

My one problem with the dumplings was the that filling was a little dry.  After the ridiculously delicious dumplings we had in Flushing these just couldn't compare.  I wish that instead of adding kosher salt to the dumplings we had added soy sauce to give the filling some moisture.  I might also add some more herbs and things to the filling to freshen it up a bit.  We made some Pork and Chive Dumplings awhile ago and they were much juicier and a little more flavorful.  So these are the changes I think I would make to this recipe if I were to make it again: use fattier ground pork, add some finely grated gingerand a tbsp soy sauce (instead of the salt) to the filling.  To go with the dumplings I wanted to use up the rest of the gai lan (Chinese broccoli) that we bought in Chinatown.  Luckily, we had a recipe from The Asian Grandmother's Cookbook: Homecooking from Asian American Kitchens.  I was a little nervous about the recipe because it seemed to have serious potential for being totally bland - blanched gai lan topped with oyster sauce, sesame oil, and fried shallots.  But the gai lan was actually quite tasty and not bland at all.  I enjoyed it quite a bit.  Alex and I disagree about where this meal ranks against the other five Chinese New Year meals that we have already made.  I said that these dumplings were my least favorite.  Alex maintains that the Red Braised Beef Noodle Soup (Hong Shao Niu Rou Mian) was his least favorite.  Both were good, but some of the dishes we made earlier were phenomenal so they have some pretty steep competition.  As a side note, we have now made noodles, dumplings, chicken, beef, lamb, and pork belly.  Next we either need to make tofu or duck...  Since we will be out of town this weekend, I think we're going to have to wait until next week to plan what we should make next!

Recipe after the jump!

Shrimp Tostadas with Avocado-Black Bean Salsa

I'm not sure where I came up with the idea of making shrimp tostadas.  Originally I was planning on making some type of shrimp taco, but I decided that we make shrimp tacos far too often.  Then I decided since we had the corn tortillas, why not make tostadas?  I will be the first to admit that I have never made tostadas before and that this was a first for me.  But I thought it was a success!  While the tostadas were kind of difficult to eat (Alex sent a few crispy tortilla shards winging across the dining room table), they were fun to eat and quite tasty.  The black beans were kind of thrown in as an afterthought in order to jazz up the avocado "salsa" a bit.  I thought they would add a different texture and flavor to the dish that would work nicely with the other ingredients.  I'm still not a huge fan of beans of any sort because they're just so starchy and bland, but I thought they were a nice addition to this dish!

Recipe after the jump!

Guacamole with Tomatillo and Queso Fresco

When I asked Alex what he wanted to eat for dinner on Super Bowl Sunday, all he told me was that he wanted guacamole.  And then he forwarded me a recipe from Jose Andres that appeared on Tasting Table.  When I asked him what he wanted to go with his guacamole, he said he didn't care and had no idea.  All he really wanted was the guacamole.  What can I say?  He knows what he wants.  And since he so rarely makes requests, I try to honor them.  So we had guacamole and shrimp tostadas for dinner.  I promise to post about the tostadas later today (if I have time).  And Alex was a happy husband.  Granted, he would have been even happier if the Redskins or the Ravens had made it to the Super Bowl, but beggars can't be choosers.  At least he got what he wanted for dinner.

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Chinese New Year Meal #5 - Red Braised Beef Noodle Soup (Hong Shao Niu Rou Mian)

There is a Chinese restaurant near my parents' house in Maryland called Michael's that makes a phenomenal version of hong shao niu rou mian (red braised beef noodle soup).  They also make a good wonton soup and a good pan-fried noodles, but that's beside the point.  I haven't found a restaurant in NYC that makes a version of hong shao niu rou mian that is anywhere near as good as the version from Michael's.  What makes Michael's version so good is that the broth is deeply beefy and flavorful and the beef is similarly flavorful and fall apart tender.  I also love the pickled mustard greens and cilantro on top.  So for last night's Chinese New Year Meal, I decided to try to recreate that soup, adapting a recipe from Fuchsia Dunlop's Hunan cookbook for Changde Rice Noodles with Red-Braised Beef.  Instead of rice noodles, we used fresh Chinese noodles made from wheat.  We also played with the amounts of spices and other ingredients and added a little sugar to give the broth some sweetness.  Then we made a homemade beef broth from beef shin bone (with a decent amount of meat still attached), scallions, ginger and more seasonings.

The braising liquid from the beef is super flavorful and delicious, but you just can't serve a bowl of it - it's too rich and heavily seasoned.  But we found that by straining a cup of that braising liquid and adding it into the homemade beef broth we ended up with a ridiculously delicious beef broth, that wasn't exactly a traditional hong shao niu rou mian broth, but was certainly delicious.  First and foremost, you could taste the beef, flavored with cinnamon, star anise, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns, and fermented black beans.  Actually, the broth and the noodles were our favorite part of the dish.  Alex and I both agreed that while the beef was good, it wasn't as flavorful as we thought it would be given its 3 hour soak in the braising liquid.  I think part of the problem was that we used stew beef, which didn't have enough fat to really help soak up the flavor.  In the future I might use brisket, which has a lot more fat (and therefore a lot more flavor and a better texture) than stew beef.  Alex said this was his least favorite of the dishes that we have made for Chinese New Year thus far, but I'm not sure that I agree.  I will say that it was not my favorite meal we have made out of the five Chinese dishes we have made this far, but I thought that it was pretty freaking good - particularly the broth!  If I absolutely had to pick a favorite at this point it would probably be the Salt-Fried Pork.  Just so you know.

Recipe after the jump!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Chinese New Year Meal #4 - Liuyang Black Bean Chicken and Smacked Cucumbers

Get excited!  It's time for Chinese New Year Meal #4!  Low and behold, it's another Fuchsia Dunlop recipe.  We are mildly obsessed, can you tell?  We just have so many of her recipes that we have been wanting and/or dying to try that it seemed a little silly to try to track down other recipes if we're going to be cooking 7 Asian (I think at this point I am committed to making 7 Chinese recipes) this month.  And all of her recipes are just so good that we can't resist.  I mean, we could resist if we had to, but that would just be silly.  

This meal was another winner.  The Liuyang Black Bean Chicken is packed full of deep, hearty flavors - a combination of the black beans, ginger, garlic, with a touch of heat.  And it's really easy to cook.  I mean, you have to reconcile yourself to "deep frying" the chicken chunks in peanut oil.  It's a traditional Chinese cooking method of "passing through" in which you briefly deep fry the protein you're using, then remove most of the oil, and stir-fry everything together to finish the cooking process.  I know it sounds labor intensive and intimidating, but I promise that it's really simple to do.  The chicken is tender, just cooked through, and delicious.  And then there are the cucumbers.  They are the perfect counterpoint to the heavier flavors of the chicken.  They are almost unbearably fresh and I mean that in the most delicious way possible.  The flavors there are very light and subtle - a little heat from the chili, a touch of acidity from the rice vinegar, and a hint of garlic.

Recipes after the jump!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chinese New Year Meal #3 - Lamb with Chili, Cumin and Garlic

During the year that I lived in China, my favorite late night food was chuan (grilled skewers of meat or vegetables).  Late at night there were people (traditionally Uyghurs from Xinjiang Province) who would set up these tiny portable charcoal grills and sell you lamb, chicken, and beef skewers that you could order la (hot - as in spicy and not temperature) or bu la (not hot).  If you were lucky your chuan man would have a few ears of corn, maybe some sliced potatoes and some other veggies in his cooler that he had threaded onto skewers.  If not, you made do with glorious skewers of grilled meat.  There is a chuan man in NYC's Chinatown who has a cart under the bridge.  I have heard that there are chuan men in Flushing, but haven't tried any of their chuan yet.  But one of my absolute favorite things about chuan isthe flavor combination of lamb, chili and cumin, which is a similar flavor combination to Mongolian lamb.  So when I saw Mark Bittman's recipe for his variation on Mongolian lamb in his recent post on his 25 favorite recipes from his blog, I was pretty excited.  I prefer chuan, but Mongolian lamb will do when chuan isn't an option.  As a side note, Mongolian lamb is generally prepared with sliced lamb, rather than cubes of lamb, but cubes are easier to prepare.

So this dish is missing the heat (I always ask for my chuan to be served spicy) and char that the charcoal fire imparts.  Those are my two complaints.  But seeing as this recipe isn't meant to be chuan my complaints are kind of unfair.  As far as Mongolian lamb goes, this dish had a lot of flavor.  I love the flavor of the toasted cumin seeds and the scallions.  I would like the lamb to have a better sear on it, so I will cook it accordingly next time.  I might also add some sliced onions, just for an extra level of flavor and texture.  I might also up the amount of cumin seeds slightly.  I found another recipe on the NY Times website for Crispy Lamb with Cumin, Scallions and Red Chilis (which is the Dongbei equivalent of Mongolian lamb), and I might have to give that one a try next!  And for the record, we served the lamb with an nontraditional combination of fried rice (which you really don't eat much in China) and store-bought scallion pancakes.

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Stir-Fried Rice with Pork and Shiitake Mushrooms (Rou Si Chao Fan)

Fried rice has never enjoyed the prominence in China that it does in the United States.  While I was in China I really only saw fried rice served in the little noodle shop near my school in styrofoam containers, along with various stir-fried noodle dishes.  I don't recall ever seeing it in restaurants.  Not once!  But Alex and I like to make fried rice periodically because it's an excellent way to use up leftovers and to put together a quick and tasty meal.  It has never occurred to me before to use dried shiitake mushrooms in my fried rice, but I really liked that touch.  I think that I might incorporate those mushrooms into more of my fried rice recipes because I really liked that touch.  Dried shiitake mushrooms have a much deeper and earthier flavor than fresh shiitakes.  It's very umami.  I love egg and leeks in fried rice, so we threw those in there (even though the recipe didn't use them) as well.  I thought that the ground pork was really nice in here because it was more evenly dispersed than chunks or slices of pork would have been.  All in all, I really liked this rice and would make it again.  It's not earth-shattering, but it's flavorful and homey. 

P.S.  I have decided that my seven Asian meals for Chinese New Year is restricted to main courses and fried rice (and other sides) don't count.  So this is just a bonus!
Recipe after the jump!

Chinese New Year Meal #2 - Salt-Fried Pork

For our second Chinese New Year meal, I had to make pork.  I told Alex to look at our two Fuchsia Dunlop cookbooks and pick a recipe to try.  This is what he picked, which is no shock whatsoever because Alex loves pork above all proteins and pork belly in particular.  Plus he loves Sichuan food, so it was practically a given.  I took one bite, turned to look at him, and told him "you're really going to like this."  And he did.  The dish isn't as spicy as you would expect given its Sichuan origins, but it reminds me of everything good about homestyle Chinese cooking - a few fresh ingredients, a lot of flavor, and a short cooking time.  Homestyle Sichuan cooking tends to be salty, beany (and like I said in my previous post on Fisherman's Shrimp with Chinese Chives and Hand-Torn Cabbage, those beans are crazy pungent, but delicious) and just a little spicy rather than blow your tastebuds incendiary.  We served the pork with some baby bok choy sauteed with ginger and garlic and plain white rice.  Such a fantastic meal.  I honestly can't think of a single way in which I would change the pork, it was absolutely perfect as it was.

Next up, Lamb with Chili, Cumin and Garlic and some fried rice!

Recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Chinese New Year Meal #1 - Fisherman's Shrimp with Chinese Chives and Hand-Torn Cabbage with Vinegar

Look, it's February 1 and I am already living up to my Chinese New Year promise of giving you seven Asian dishes in the month of February!  I was actually considering amending my promise so that it was 7 Chinese dishes in the month of February, but I can't make up my mind.  I love Chinese food, but I have all these other Asian recipes and dishes that I want to make too!  So I'm reserving judgment.  But I am going to use this month to make a lot of the Chinese recipes that I have bookmarked to try, but not gotten around to in my Fuchsia Dunlop cookbooks because there are a ton of them.  So for this first recipe I decided to make a shrimp recipe from her Hunan cookbook.  I promise that I will get around to noodles and dumplings (because both are traditional dishes served at a Chinese New Year banquet/meal), but I wanted to whip up a quick stir-fry tonight.  And I wanted to use some shrimp because I feel like Alex and I have been gorging ourselves on pork lately and there is definitely more pork to come later in the week.

This stir-fry came together quickly and beautifully (as many stir-fries do).  You get the wok screaming hot, drizzle in some oil, add your aromatics and your protein, stir a little and WHAM - your meal is finished.  I love it.  The most onerous part of putting together a stir-fry is prepping all of the ingredients, although this one really wasn't that bad.  And it was really delicious.  The shrimp has this wonderful garlicky, mildly spicy flavor.  And the potato flour and egg white marinade creates this... crust isn't quite the right word because it's soft, extra texture to the outside of the shrimp, and also works to help the garlic stick to the shrimp.  Then you have the wonderfully mellow onion flavor from the chives.  And it's all just wonderful.  We served the shrimp with some steamed rice and Hand-Torn Cabbage with Vinegar, another Fuchsia Dunlop recipe.  I really really enjoyed the cabbage.  It was super easy to put together and very flavorful.  We both agreed that it made an excellent side dish.  It was a little spicy and had a nice sour tang from the vinegar, and a sweetness from the cabbage.  I thought it was an excellent meal, and an excellent start to my Chinese New Year project!

Recipes after the jump!