Monday, February 27, 2012

Andhra Spiced Eggplant and Andhra Scrambled Eggs

From time to time we fall into a rut.  I think everyone does, whether it's a food rut, an exercise rut, an occupation rut, etc.  There are certain ingredients we always have in the apartment and that we use with abandon because we are so comfortable with them.  But most of the ingredients in this meal did not fall into that category.  This meal was so different from anything else we have made in recent memory that I think it completely blew any rut we might have been in right out of the water.  I'm not sure exactly what drew me to these two recipes, except that I was thinking that I have been neglecting a bunch of my cookbooks recently.  While we use Hot Sour Salty Sweet quite often, we rarely use this cookbook, Mangoes and Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent.  Both books are by the same authors, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid and both are fantastic, but while Hot Sour Salty Sweet is right in our Asian wheelhouse, the recipes in Mangoes and Curry Leaves are not.  One problem with the recipes is that they often require a number of Indian, Nepalese or Sri Lankan ingredients that we don't have in the apartment.  I'm not even sure if or where I can find some of the ingredients.  Unfortunately that knocks out a lot of recipes.  Luckily I happened to have everything we needed (or I knew where to find it) for these two recipes.

I can't think of enough good things to say about the Andhra Spiced Eggplant, which both Alex and I were fairly blown away by.  The flavor combination is just so unique and wonderful.  I really thought that the eggplant would be spicy, but somehow all of the flavors really melded together to create a very nice savory dish with great depth of flavor.  The recipe recommends serving the eggplant as a dip for chapatis/pita or serving with white rice.  We happened to have some frozen parathas that we served with the eggplant dip and the buttery, flaky parathas worked really well but I'm sure that chapatis/pita would be an equally good combination.  I will definitely be serving this one again in the future.  As for the eggs, I thought they were nice too.  We both preferred the eggplant, but I was very happy with the eggs.  I don't generally like cooked tomatoes (I love them raw, but I don't like the mushy texture when you cook them), but they really worked in these eggs, which is something I never thought I would say.  Scrambled eggs and tomatoes are a very typical homestyle Chinese dish that they used to serve in China all the time that I avoided like the plague.  But it was good! 

Recipes after the jump!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ginger Catfish (Trey Cha K'nyei)

Somehow we are on a Cambodian kick, which is a little strange considering I don't think we have ever cooked Cambodian before and I went on this whole tangent in my last post about how Cambodian food didn't make an impression on me while I was there.  And here we are, making two Cambodian dishes in a row.  Random, huh?  Anyway, I know I have said this before but catfish and/or basa are not among my favorite fish options.  I tend to find catfish/basa to be bordering on fishy with a strange mushy texture and a muddy flavor.  But every once in awhile I have a catfish dish that surprises me by how tasty it is.  This was one of them.  Another is the Crispy Basa (Catfish) with Onions and Coriander.  I guess I only like Asian catfish dishes?  Anyway, I was surprised by how tasty this dish was.  I actually liked it better than the Quick Khmer Pork with Green Beans, which also surprised me.  The onions were delicious and the fish was really tasty.  The crispy ginger is really nice too, but I could see how some people would be turned off by that amount of ginger.  This quantity of ginger is powerfully warm and spicy.  If you want to cut it back a little so that the ginger perfumes the dish, rather than permeating the dish, go right ahead.  We used slightly less than the recipe called for (mostly because we got lazy with the julienning).  For what it was, I can't think of anything I would change in this dish.  And Alex agrees.  This isn't one of those dishes that you will dream about for years to come because it was so amazing, but it is exactly what it is meant to be - a simple, flavorful stir-fry.  And I really appreciate that from time to time.

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Quick Khmer Pork with Green Beans

Cambodian food left the least impression on me out of all of the countries I visited in Asia.  The Angkor Wat ruins in Cambodia left a huge impression on me, but that is a different matter entirely.  All I remember about food in Cambodia was that their curries were pretty good (less spicy and different from a Thai curry, with lots of coconut milk) and in Phnom Penh most of the restaurants serve what they call "happy pizza" (which is pizza with marijuana on it).  Other than that, I don't remember many specifics.  Cambodian food wasn't as fresh and bright as Vietnamese food, or as spicy as Thai food, but there were many similarities to those cuisines.  The Cambodian food I ate during the week that I traveled around Phnom Penh and Siem Reap was... simple (for lack of a better word), with mild flavors and little complexity.  That isn't to imply that the food wasn't very good.  It was good.  It just lacked the flash and liveliness of other Southeast Asian cuisines to really distinguish it.
This Cambodian dish is mild and simple, but flavorful - it just screams home cooking to me.  It's the type of dish I can easily imagine my mother or grandmother throwing together in the kitchen at home (of course this is all presupposing that my mother actually served pork at home, which she never really did and also that she has some familiarity with Cambodian cuisine, which she doesn't).  But that is beside the point.  The point is that this dish is simple, comforting and easy to make.  It's not the best dish we have ever made, but after a long day at work, it was a really nice homey thing to throw together for casual dinner.

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chinese New Year Meal #7 - Lion's Head Meatballs

I'm not sure if I am happy or sad that this is our last Chinese New Year meal for 2012.  The funny thing is that I sat down in January and got really excited for our Chinese New Year meals and picked out a bunch of recipes.  I got so excited that I couldn't wait until Chinese New Year and picked some recipes to make as a warm up - Chicken with Ginger (La Jiang Men Ji), Red-Braised Pork (Hong Shao Rou) and Stir-Fried Mongolian Lamb with Scallions.  Somehow I managed to not make a single recipe that I had originally selected for Chinese New Year.  Instead, I went out and found a whole new set of recipes.  I did stick to some of the same categories - I wanted to make dumplings and noodles, I wanted to make seafood, I wanted to make tofu and I wanted to make meat.  Plus I wanted to throw in a few new sides so I did that too.  Alex and I are in total agreement with each other on our favorite meal.  Our favorite new side was definitely Daikon Slivers in a Spicy Dressing.  And our favorite entree was Ants Climbing a Tree.  

This recipe falls somewhere in the middle of our Chinese New Year meals.  The meatballs were incredibly moist and tender and had really good flavor.  Somehow the broth didn't have quite as much flavor as I had expected.  Therefore the cabbage didn't soak up quite as much flavor as I would have hoped, although the Taiwanese cabbage is inherently nice and sweet.  Although this dish wasn't as labor-intensive as the Pork and Napa Cabbage Water Dumplings (Shuijiao), it didn't exactly come together quickly and easily.  And while the meatballs were pretty good, I don't know that I would go to the trouble of making them again, especially as they didn't rank among my favorite Chinese New Year dishes.  Strangely enough, my favorite Chinese meal of late was the Red-Braised Pork (Hong Shao Rou) we made back in January.  It was amazing!

Recipe after the jump!

Things I love about Austin, Texas...

Alex and I recently made our first ever trip to Austin, Texas with a group of friends.  Having never been to Texas before (or at least never having stepped foot outside of the airports in Houston and Dallas Fort Worth) I wasn't really sure what to expect except that I had been warned that we would be eating a LOT of barbeque and drinking a lot of beer over the course of our long weekend.  But I didn't realize that in addition to the barbeque (and more on the bbq later because we had a TON of it), Austin actually has a really good overall food scene.  We had really great ice cream at Amy's Ice Creams and a phenomenal meal at Uchiko.  For those of you who aren't Top Chef fans or just haven't been watching closely this season, Paul Qui (my favorite contestant) is the executive chef at Uchiko.  The meal we had there was better than anything I have had recently in New York City.  That's how good it was.  We did the 10 course tasting menu and there were a few courses that just blew me away - the jar jar duck (duck confit and crispy duck skin in a jar with candied kumquats, endive and rosemary smoke), the uchi salad (baby romaine leaves crusted with a bit of sea salt, served with an edamame-based dipping sauce/dressing) and the fried milk dessert (pictured below).  I wish Uchiko were in New York so we could go all the time.

More (including pictures) after the jump!

Radish Sliver Omelet

I love easy egg dishes.  Eggs are one of my go-to quick and easy meals because you can do so many different things with them.  And they are so freaking easy to make!  In the spirit of Chinese New Year I decided to make this Radish Sliver Omelet from the Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province with the eggs and daikon that I picked up at the farmers' market.  I'm on a bit of a daikon kick lately, in case you couldn't tell.  I am addicted to the crunch.  I briefly considered counting this as one of our Chinese New Year meals, but then I decided that was lame since the dish is so incredibly simple.  So I'm giving you guys another bonus Chinese recipe!  It's not an earth shattering/ground breaking recipe, but it is tasty and very simple to make.  Alex thought the omelet would benefit from a slightly sweet dipping sauce, but I thought it was perfectly fine on its own.  It does require a little time because you have to salt the daikon slivers and set them aside for 30 minutes to remove excess moisture, but aside from that it comes together in a matter of minutes.  You could do what Alex and I did and prep the daikon, then go shower, and then come back and cook lunch.  It worked out pretty well if I do say so myself!

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Chinese New Year Meal #6 - Stir-Fried Squid with Black Bean Sauce

I wanted to do something entirely new for our second to last Chinese New Year meal - no more Sichuan or Hunan dishes from Fuchsia Dunlop for at least the next few days.  And I have picked out a traditional Shanghai dish for our last Chinese New Year meal so I think we have done a pretty good job mixing things up this time.  I looked around for awhile before deciding that this dish fit my goal of trying a new dish really well.  We rarely made squid and when we do, we tend to make Mario Batali's Two-Minute Calamari Sicilian Lifeguard Style or some form of calamari salad.  We also rarely make anything with a black bean sauce.  We buy fermented black beans and use them for a number of dishes, but they are usually only one of many flavoring components.  And black bean sauce is such a classic Chinese sauce that I find it hard to believe that we have made so many dishes without ever making black bean sauce.  So this was an interesting alternative.

Let's see.  What were my thoughts on the meal?  I thought the squid was really tender and the dish had a very different flavor from everything else we made for Chinese New Year.  I was really happy with both of those things.  However, I didn't think the flavors were that amazing.  I would say they were...pretty good.  I'm still going to consider this dish a win because it was a new technique (poor Alex was in charge of scoring the calamari so that it curled up all nice and pretty), a new sauce, and a new flavor that we threw into the mix.

Recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Faux Turkish Manti

I know I mentioned Alex's challenge to make a week's worth of original recipes months ago.  And I also know that we're midway through our annual week's worth of Chinese New Year recipes.  But I have been conceptualizing this recipe for some time now - since before he even mentioned that challenge.  And if I were to publish an actual week's worth of original recipes I would want this to be one of them.  But I don't know if I am ever going to get around to doing it.  However, I will try to make more original recipes of our own from here on out.

We have been buying pre-made Turkish manti (both frozen and dried) from Kalustyan's and making it for years now.  It is one of my favorite quick and easy pre-made meals.  Another favorite is the tarte flambee from Trader Joe's.  I'm not sure when and how I first discovered manti, but I think it was from a tiny whole in the wall Turkish place near my first apartment.  Since moving uptown it has become much harder for us to get our semi-regular manti fix.  The last few times I have gone to Kalustyan's they haven't sold or stocked manti.  It was a huge disappointment.  And it is something of a trek to get down there now.  So I decided that we should make some manti of our own.  Only instead of making traditional manti (which involves making dough and then folding lots of teensy little dumplings), we could make a play on manti - all of the same flavors, but a simpler method.  So instead of making dumplings stuffed with a beef and onion mixture, I picked up some fresh pappardelle and topped it with some sauteed beef and onions.  And then I used the traditional yogurt and butter sauces (or at least what I consider the traditional sauces).  I thought this was a very satisfying play on manti.  The flavors were all there, but it was so easy to put together.  I was incredibly happy with it.  The best part is that from now on, we can make these faux manti at home whenever we want them.  Go us!

Recipe after the jump!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chinese New Year Meal #5 - Fragrant-and-Hot Tiger Prawns with Stir-Fried Yu Choy with Oyster Sauce

My one pet peeve with this recipe (and with a lot of Chinese cooking) is the amount of peanut oil that you end up using.  So much Chinese cooking requires large amounts of peanut oil or vegetable oil to "pass through" (aka deep-fry briefly).  I try to cut down on the amount of oil whenever possible, but there is only so much you can do with some recipes.  While I dislike disposing of this much oil, I have to admit that briefly deep-frying the shrimp in their shells gave the dish great flavor and texture.  The shrimp were succulent and juicy.  And the other ingredients in the stir-fry gave the shrimp a slightly spicy, finger-licking good shrimpy flavor.  Alex thinks these prawns rank right in the middle of our Chinese New Year meals thus far - #1 was the Pork and Napa Cabbage Water Dumplings, then the Ants Climbing a Tree, Fragrant-and-Hot Numbing Tiger Prawns, Xinjiang Lamb Kebobs and his least favorite meal was Peng's Home-Style Bean Curd.  I'm not sure exactly where I would rank the shrimp, but they would definitely be in the top 3.  I think I would rank the Ants Climbing a Tree above the dumplings and I might rank tonight's prawns above the dumplings.  The daikon slivers were by far my favorite side that I have made thus far (followed by the naan and sauteed watercress), but if we are just judging the meals based on the entrees themselves, I would probably rank the dishes in that order (followed by the lamb and then the tofu).

We served our shrimp with some white rice and some sauteed yu choy.  It was a very nice meal.  I think we are going to take the next few days off from our Chinese New Year mission, but stay tuned later this week or this weekend for another installment!

Recipes after the jump! 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chinese New Year Meal #4: Peng's Home-Style Bean Curd

I will lead off by saying this, it really is difficult for tofu to be delicious.  Or at least it is difficult for it to compete against dumplings, noodles and Xinjiang lamb kebobs.  But I have to say (and I think Alex would agree) that this dish was my least favorite of our Chinese New Year meals thus far.  It was good, we both just expected the tofu to soak up more flavor.  There were a bunch of potent ingredients used in the dish - fermented black beans, chicken stock, soy, chili oil and sesame oil.  But the tofu turned out a little bland.  We were both expecting a lot more flavor.  I also felt like the sauce was a little oily/greasy.  To be perfectly honest, it was a decent amount of work frying the tofu and then braising it in the sauce for only a moderate payoff.  The pork slivers were tasty.  But the rest of it was just kind of ehhh for me.  Or at least it was ehhh in comparison to the other Chinese dishes we have made as part of Chinese New Year.  I'm glad we finally made it because I have been interested in making the dish for awhile, but there are definitely better tofu recipes out there (including some of the recipes on the blog).

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Things I love about Colorado...

Ever since I was a little girl my parents have taken me skiing out West every winter.  We took a few years off while I was in college and law school, but the tradition is once again going strong.  This year we packed our bags and went to Copper Mountain and Breckenridge (both about an hour to an hour and a half outside of Denver).  Now our trips to Colorado are definitely not food-based or food-motivated in any way.  We are there for the skiing and if we happen upon good food, so be it.  This year we happened to stumble on a few good restaurants that I thought bore mentioning.

More after the jump!

Chicken Stir-Fried with Lemongrass and Chili

We're back!  These past few months have been pretty crazy with traveling.  First we were in Austin, Texas and then we went skiing in Colorado for a week.  And in another week I will be down in North Carolina.  Lots of travel means few(er) blog posts.  Sorry guys.  I have a few prepped and ready to go that I will get up over the course of the next week or so, but it's not going to be a big February on the blog.  Here's hoping March will be a bit quieter.

I know we have made a dish that sounds (and in reality is) shockingly similar to this one about a year ago.  It was called Caramelized Chicken with Lemongrass and Chili from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens.  The key differences between these two recipes - coconut milk, red bell pepper, Madras curry powder and much less lemongrass in this particular rendition.  This recipe also contains a lot less sugar than the other version (I guess that's what happens when you aren't trying to caramelize your chicken), but the coconut milk will lend its own sweetness.  Otherwise, the ingredients are strikingly similar.  To be perfectly honest, I can't decide whether I preferred the flavors of the Caramelized Chicken with Lemongrass and Chili or the flavors of this dish.  As I said, they are very similar.  The dishes were equally flavorful and both had a really good amount of spice, balanced against the sweetness of the coconut milk sauce in this dish and the caramel sauce in the other dish.  The Caramelized Chicken with Lemongrass and Chili was fresher and brighter (with a lot more spicy, floral lemongrass flavor), but this dish was warmer and richer.  I really enjoyed the warmth of the curry powder - even though Madras curry powder isn't exactly a Vietnamese flavor.  I could take or leave the red bell peppers in this dish, but I always feel that way about cooked bell peppers.  In the end, if I was only able to make one of these two dishes again, I would probably pick the other dish by a hair.

Recipe after the jump!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fried Rice with Chicken and Chinese Sausage

When I was younger I hated fried rice.  I'm not sure why I hated it, except that (1) I loved plain white rice and I thought putting things in it or on it (including soy sauce) ruined it and (2) I disliked cooked carrots and peas so I couldn't understand why you would add them to any dish.  It took me years to grow to appreciate fried rice and even now, I have to admit that I prefer plain white rice with any meal.  I'm happy to eat fried rice as a meal in and of itself, but if I am going to order family-style and share a bunch of dishes with friends or family, I would prefer to stick with plain white rice as the accompaniment to my meal and not fried rice.  True story.  So I almost never order fried rice at a restaurant because I just don't see the point.  Somehow it is an entirely different story at home, where we make fried rice from time to time.  But I think that fried rice serves a purpose for me at home that it doesn't serve at a restaurant.  Fried rice for me is an amazing way to repurpose leftovers (both rice and protein) and is also a comforting, homey meal.  At restaurants I generally want meals that I cannot or for whatever reason prefer not to make at home.  Somehow in my mind, fried rice is not a restaurant-quality dish.  And to be perfectly honest, so many restaurants make such inferior, mediocre fried rice that I wouldn't order it even if I considered it to be a restaurant-quality dish.  I guess that's the rice snob in me rearing its ugly head.  This fried rice is wonderful because it has a variety of flavors and textures - I love the chunks of egg, the sweet sausage and the marinated chicken.  And you can really modify it to suit whatever it is that you have in the fridge.  No peas?  No problem.  I considered adding some dried shiitake mushrooms like we did in this Stir-Fried Rice with Pork and Shiitake Mushrooms, but I got lazy.  I also considered adding more soy sauce or other liquids to season the rice itself like we did in this Thai Fried Rice and this Fried Rice with Chinese Sausage and Chicken Adobo.  But I generally prefer my fried rice on the dry side and I wanted a more clean/pure fried rice, so I left the soy sauce out as well.

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chinese New Year Meal #3: Xinjiang Lamb Kebobs (Yang Rou Chuan) and Naan with Sauteed Watercress

I promised you guys another Chinese New Year meal and I delivered!  Actually, we made fried rice last night as well, but in the spirit of last year I decided not to count it as one of my seven Chinese New Year meals.  I will post the fried rice later as a bonus.  Whoo-hoo!  Go me.  Really I should say "go us" because Alex was instrumental in getting this meal started since the dough needed to rest and the meat needed to marinate for 2 hours.

I am really really excited about these recipes.  They are not perfect, but they are a much better approximation of the Xinjiang food I used to eat on the streets in China than anything else we have made in the past.  We even made naan like they used to make at the Xinjiang restaurants I used to visit (and love).  The kebobs could use a little tweaking, but we are definitely getting closer!  One of the biggest things I wish we could change about the lamb is that it would be that much better if we had a charcoal grill.  I really miss the char and the smoky flavor.  And the spice mixture needs to be tweaked a little - next time I am going to omit the Szechuan peppercorns and cut back on the amount of coriander seeds (I already cut back the recipe a little from what we made).  It was just a little too floral for me and didn't pack quite enough heat.  I like my yang rou chuan pretty spicy.  Alex had a problem with the texture of the meat - he didn't like biting into a layer of spices on the outside of the kebob.  Since that is how I remember the lamb kebobs as being heavily spiced (sometimes even more heavily spiced, almost furry with spices) I have no problem with it.  But I can see where he is coming from.  The bread I thought was a huge success.  The texture is a little different (and it was a little sweeter than I remember), but it was really good - nice and soft and slightly chewy.  We tried a variety of toppings on the bread - one round had sesame seeds, one had cumin seeds, one had scallions, and the other had all of those toppings, plus a few fennel seeds.  In the end Alex preferred the bread with sesame seeds.  I might have to agree with him, although I did really enjoy the combination as well.  The sauteed watercress is a dish that we have made in the past that I generally make with a heavily spiced meal that I don't want the vegetable to compete with.  I love how easily it comes together (and aside from the annoying process of tearing the leaves off the stems, it is a really quick side).

Recipe after the jump!