Sunday, March 31, 2013
I really love a good fritter but I am often disappointed in the fritters we make at home. We have made a few different versions of zucchini fritters at home (here and here) and both times I found the texture of the fritters to be disappointing. They were soggy and a little oily. Even when the flavor of the fritters is perfect (like it was with these Sweet Potato and Kimchi Pancakes), I just can't get them to crisp up enough. One exception to our fritter disappointments was this Thai recipe for Corn Fritters. They were delicious and had great texture. Somehow our fritter disappointments haven't in any way dissuaded me from making more fritter attempts. This version was among the most successful and I think I have discovered the trick to making fritters at home - you don't want a batter per se. Instead you want a mixture that barely holds together with chunks of vegetable and just enough flour and egg to bind the fritters together. All of our fritter failures have featured batters with more liquid than vegetable (or included watery vegetables like zucchini). And that is totally where we went wrong. This recipe made for a very thick batter that had almost no liquid to it at all. It was almost like a chunky dough rather than a batter. Of course that type of consistency makes the fritters a little more delicate because they have so little filler. They are hard to flip and don't hold together particularly well, but the flavor and texture of the cooked fritters are both excellent. The fritters tasted gloriously cauliflower-y. I liked the flavors of garlic, lemon and salty feta. I also thought that the contrast of the heat from the cayenne and crushed red pepper flakes against the smoky cumin-flavored yogurt and the sweetness of the pomegranate seeds made for a really interesting and flavorful dish.
Recipe after the jump!
Another day, another experiment. I have never tried cooking with kumquats before but I saw some at Fairway the other day and wanted to try them out. The majority of the kumquat recipes I found were dessert recipes, but I really wanted to make something savory. My Andrea Reusing cookbook has a recipe for duck breasts with kumquats, but since we had already made duck in the past few weeks I wanted to try something else. I briefly considered making chicken instead, but we eat too much chicken. When we went through the freezer to see what would work with the chutney I found some organic center-cut, bone-in duBreton pork chops that I had picked up awhile back. We don't eat a lot of pork chops, but I do enjoy a good bone-in chop form time-to-time so I pick them up on occasion. I'm not certain how long these pork chops were in the freezer, but it had been at least a few months. Pork and bitter greens are a natural pairing (see the Baked Pork Chops with Swiss Chard for an example) so the red kale we already had in the fridge seemed like a good idea. We made a really simple pan-roasted pork chop and a simple sauteed kale with pine nuts since the chutney sounded like it would be pretty flavorful and I didn't want the flavors of any of the dish's components to compete or conflict.
I think that the curried chutney worked really nicely with the pork chops and the kale. I was really happy with this meal - happier than I have been with one of our experiments in awhile. The pork chops were juicy and meaty and were a great blank canvas for the chutney. The chutney was sweet and fragrant, with a very interesting flavor. It was very different, but I could see using it in a number of different (savory) ways. The recipe suggests pairing it with goat cheese, which I could totally see, as well as lamb or pork. I'm not sure I would pair the chutney with lamb, but I could definitely see it with another cut of pork and chicken or turkey. It is sweet, but not overwhelmingly so and I thought the sweetness and acidity with the meaty pork chop was really nice. The kale was very simple but I thought it was also nice. It was a good simple side that would pair nicely with a number of entrees. I almost never use red kale because I have a mild obsession with lacinato kale (aka Tuscan kale), but I think it was really nice here. This might be just the wake up call I needed to pick up a bunch or two of red kale more often.
Recipes after the jump!
Friday, March 29, 2013
Recipe after the jump!
Thursday, March 28, 2013
It seems that most of my best menu planning recently has spontaneously occurred while stretching after spin class. I'm not sure why that is, but it seems that everytime I go to spin class on Sunday afternoon I come home with a bunch of new ideas for dinner and/or lunch. For example, the Char Siu Noodle Soup that I made last weekend and the Sping Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls were both post-spin class ideas, as were this guacamole and the red snapper tacos that I served it with. As I was sprawled on the rubber mat at Equinox yesterday I kept thinking about the number of avocados (4) we had in the apartment. I bought the avocados for a salad we made a few days ago and we had a ton left that I didn't want to go to waste. The logical conclusion was that we needed to make some guacamole. I already had a recipe in mind for Sunday lunch, but I decided to scrap it (or save it for dinner) and make some guacamole instead. The guacamole that immediately came to mind was a version we had at La Condesa in Austin, Texas that included queso fresco, pomegranate molasses and pomegranate seeds. It sounded like an odd combination but it was really tasty. And then I thought, ok, let's make some guacamole with pomegranate seeds and serve it with fish tacos (more on the tacos later). Since we had a bunch of mangos left over in the apartment from a recent trip to Whole Foods, I decided that I would make a mango salsa to serve with the fish tacos. Then I stumbled across this recipe and decided that rather than make a mango salsa for the tacos and a pomegranate guacamole for the appetizer, why not make a mango, pomegranate guacamole and kill two birds with one stone? Perfect!
I think that this guacamole was a fun variation on traditional guacamole. I liked the bursts of sweetness from the mango and the pomegranate seeds. Alex can't make homemade guacamole without a pinch of ground cumin (it's kind of his thing) so he threw some in while I was putting together the fish tacos. I still think that the pomegranate guacamole we had at La Condesa was better so the next time I start jonesing for some pomegranate guacamole I will try to recreate that one. But if I were to have people over and offer up a guacamole and salsa bar with several versions of each (maybe for Cinco de Mayo), this one was totally interesting enough make the line up.
Recipe after the jump!
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
I'm not sure when I first stumbled across this recipe (or why), but it has been sitting in my draft post folder for some time. My best guess is that I was looking for recipes using soba noodles and decided to bookmark this one for future use. Who knows? But I'm a sucker for shiitake mushrooms, edamame and soba noodles, so it totally makes sense that this recipe sounded good to me. I decided to use more edamame than the recipe called for (it originally wanted a cup of edamame, but I figured why not use the entire 12 oz bag of frozen edamame) and to add some smoked tofu. I figured that the tofu would add some smoky flavor, and both ingredients would up the amount of protein in the dish to make the dish more filling. I also cut back on the amount of noodles in the original recipe after reading through some of the reviews posted on Epicurious. I love soba noodles, but why not make the healthy choice and go a little heavier on the veggies and a little lighter on the carbs?
When I was explaining the recipe to Alex, he called it "Korean vegetable spaghetti." And he kept referring to it as "Korean spaghetti" all evening. Spaghetti wasn't the first thing that came to mind for me when I saw or tasted the dish, but to each their own. I see what he was saying. It's a noodle dish with lots of veggies - in theory it's like a pasta primavera, only not so much. First of all, I have never had a spicy pasta primavera before. Second, none of these ingredients (except for the garlic) would go anywhere near a pasta primavera recipe. Some of the reviews complained that the sauce here was bland, but I totally disagree. I know we went light on the noodles (and noodles typically soak up and therefore require a lot more sauce than veggies) and added smoked tofu (which is pretty flavorful on its own), but I actually liked how the addition of the soba noodles mellowed the sauce a little and offset the spicyness of the gochujang. I was worried that the recipe didn't call for the addition of any salt prior to the addition of the sauce (with the exception of the salt in the boiling water for the noodles and edamame), but after adding the sauce I'm glad we didn't salt it initially. If we had salted the vegetables I think the dish would have been too salty overall. If I were to make the dish again I would probably keep the ratio of sauce to noodles the same, but I could vary the vegetables according to what I happened to have on hand. I think you could play with those proportions to your heart's content without detracting from the dish at all.
Recipe after the jump!
We are currently on a bit of a Korean kick. We made six (Belated) Chinese New Year meals (I know that I still owe you guys one (Belated) Chinese New Year meal) and then a bunch of southeast Asian meals. Now we have cycled through to Korean or Korean-inspired meals. Randomly enough, we even went out to dinner at a Korean restaurant last night. The inspiration for this meal actually came from a vegan food truck that I like called The Cinnamon Snail. About a month ago I tried one of their dishes that they served with a kale salad. I liked the dish, but I liked the kale salad better. And two weeks ago I tried another of their dishes (Korean barbeque seitan) that also had kale in it. The kale in both dishes had a spicy vaugly Korean flavor to it. When I noticed how nice the Tuscan kale looked at Fairway last week I decided to buy a few bunches and try to make a Korean-y kale salad. And then I started thinking that if I was going to do a Korean-y kale salad I could probably figure out some sort of Korean-y seafood recipe to go with it. Cod immediately came to mind and I went home and did some Google research and came up with these two recipes. The kale salad (recipe available here) wasn't eactly what I was looking for, but I figured it was easy and would give me somewhere to start. I wanted to add some salted cashews but by the time I got home and went for the cashews Alex told he he had finished them off as his afternoon snack. Oh well.
Both dishes were a little salty for me, but otherwise good. I thought the cod had nice flavor - a little spicy, a little sweet. I liked it. Our cod fell apart when I tried to flip it but we have a pretty good habit of ruining fish so there is nothing new there. Alex massacred one of our Dover sole filets the other night too. At least he only destroyed one fillet - I managed to destroy both here (although I reassembled one of them nicely for the photos). I am going to keep working on the salad to perfect it. I like kale salads better when the kale is cut into thin strips (I find it easier to eat that way), although I left the kale in larger pieces for this recipe because it was going to be sauteed briefly in the warm dressing. In the future I would probably skip the step of sauteing the kale in the warm dressing and if I wanted to wilt the kale down, I would make a warm dressing and pour it over top of the kale (like this Korean-Style Romaine).
Recipes after the jump!
Monday, March 25, 2013
I am currently trying to wean myself from too much dairy in my diet. I have been mildly lactose intollerant for years (which is no surprise given that my Chinese mother is violently lactose intollerant) but I think when I hit 30 it started getting worse. Or maybe it started getting worse when I started drinking cappuchinos to keep myself awake in the afternoon after working all night. I have discovered that coffee is a very sneaky dairy delivery system. I have been trying to cut back on the cappuchinos (or switch over to soy milk in my cappuchinos, even though I think the taste of soy milk leaves a lot to be desired), but I'm also trying to cut out more gratuitous dairy. The first things I thought about cutting are yogurt and Polly-O string cheese. I know that the probiotics in yogurt are supposedly good for you, but eating a yogurt a day for breakfast might not be the best move if you're lactose intollerant. And it's not like I love the taste of yogurt (whereas I do love the taste of Polly-o and a lot of other cheeses) so it seemed like a relatively painless sacrifice to make. I'm in the process of trying to find good dairy-free yogurts and that effort has taken me to Fairway, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Not surprisingly I discovered that most of our local markets don't stock many dairy-free options. Thus far I have discovered the following - I do not like the taste of soy yogurt, some coconut yogurts have a really weird texture but taste okay (whereas some have a weird texture and taste), and almond yogurts seem to be the best of the bunch (at least for me). I tried Almond Dream's low-fat strawberry and coconut yogurts over the weekend and thought both of them were pretty decent. So Delicious also makes some almond milk yogurts that I thought were pretty good, but they are harder to find.
While on my dairy-free yogurt hunt I decided to hit the fish counter at Whole Foods and ended up with these Dover sole filets and some cod filets. And then I had to figure out what I wanted to do with my Dover sole that would be light and fresh and springy, but still hearty enough to withstand the neverending winter. With spring stubbornly refusing to appear, I really needed something reminiscent of the warm temperatures and the good times to come. Did I mention that it is currently snowing outside? It's late March. I mean honestly. I settled on sole almondine because it is easy and quick and I think delicate fish like sole benefit from very simple preparations. Dredging sole filets in flour and then sauteing in butter and topping with a squeeze of lemon is a very classic preparation for a reason - it just tastes good. We have been eating a ton of kale lately (and I was already planning on serving a kale salad with the cod) so I wanted to use another vegetable that would still be seasonally appropriate, but would allow me to mix things up a little. Brussels sprouts seemed like a good fit. Rather than roasting the sprouts I decided to shred and saute them because pairing such a delicate fish with hunks of roasted brussels sounded weird. I don't have a ton to say about this dish, except that it was nice, easy and tasty. It was also perfectly springy. I liked the combination of the browned butter and almonds with the delicate fish and the sauteed Brussels sprouts. I also liked the brightness and flavor from the white wine and lemon juice. It is a very simple dish, but sometimes I like simple.
Recipe after the jump!
Sunday, March 24, 2013
If you ever want to try a dark and funky gingerbread cake you should try this recipe. I know that description sounds a little odd, but I used the phrase "dark and funky" to describe the batter and then the cake when I first tasted it. I think that I keep using that phrase because that is how I think of molasses and stout, both of which are principal ingredients in the batter. Molasses is sweet and bitter at the same time and has a really deep and complex flavor. I just can't figure out how to describe it. If you have ever had gingerbread then you have had molasses. We stayed away from blackstrap molasses (which I find super bitter) and used a medium unsulphured molasses. When Alex and I shared our first piece of cake this morning we independently came to the conclusion that it needs something sweet to go with it. I had already discarded the idea of making a glaze for the cake, but I was thinking that a nice, lightly sweetened whipped cream (or whipped creme fraiche with honey) or some Greek yogurt ice cream/gelato would be the perfect accompaniment. Unfortunately we didn't have any of those things. We do have heavy cream so I could have easily made homemade whipped cream but I got lazy. I also considered lightly dusting it with powdered sugar but thought that powdered sugar would be pretty, but wouldn't contribute anything new and interesting to the flavor profile. For some reason, this cake makes me want something creamy to go with it. Alex suggested a batch of cream cheese frosting, which would be great if we had cream cheese in the fridge. We had a little vanilla ice cream left in the freezer and we tried that, but it wasn't quite the flavor pairing I was looking for. Alex thought the cake made the vanilla ice cream almost taste minty. I'm not sure I agree with him about the minty flavor, but I agree that it wasn't quite right somehow. I'm going to keep experimenting with the cake until I figure it out because it is a really interesting cake. I don't taste the Guinness stout, but I definitely taste the molasses and the ginger. I wouldn't be able to identify all of the other spices in the cake by flavor (although I obviously know what spices are in there), but you can tell there are lots of spices in there because the cake is spicy. I wanted to throw in some chopped up crystallized ginger but the batter was so liquid-y that I was worried the ginger would sink to the bottom of the loaf pans and burn, rather than remaining suspended throughout the cake. In the end it's probably a good thing that I omitted the crystallized ginger. But if I were to top the cake with cream cheese frosting I would probably sprinkle the crystallized ginger on top...
Recipe after the jump!
Friday, March 22, 2013
(Belated) Chinese New Year Meal#6: Char Siu Noodle Soup and Smoked Tofu with Celery and Peanuts (Liang Ban Dou Fu Gan)
It turns out that it's a good thing that I made those two homemade stocks while Alex was sick. Guess who caught the head cold now? I guess it was hubris to assume that I would be immune to Alex's most recent cold. In my defense, I only get sick about 50% of the time when Alex brings something home. It just happened that my body decided now seemed like a good time to catch a cold. When I have a cold the only thing I want is wonton noodle soup. It is my absolute favorite cold remedy. If I can't have wonton noodle soup (or I am too lazy to make the wontons) I will settle for a bowl of homemade Vietnamese chicken noodle soup. Since I didn't have any homemade wontons and we had just made homemade dumplings the day before, I decided to mix things up and make some sort of Chinese noodle soup. I didn't want to do a chicken noodle soup because we had just made matzo ball soup with chicken and we had homemade pork-chicken stock in the fridge, so I decided to go with a pork noodle soup. Once I settled on pork I knew that I would make homemade char siu and make a char siu noodle soup. For the char siu I used a combination of two char siu recipes that we have made in the past. I know that I said that I would never make char siu another way after I made Char Siu Take 2, but I didn't want an entire pork shoulder worth of char siu for my soup. I just wanted a few slices for each bowl. Plus, the grocery store nearest our apartment only had pork tenderloin. So I used the marinade from Char Siu Take 2 and the cooking instructions from Char Siu Pork (Chinese Roast Pork) which used pork tenderloin. I threw the marinade together and put it in the fridge, went to the gym, took the dog for a walk, etc. And later that night we made soup. Once you had all of the components prepared, it really didn't take that long to make your soup but preparing each component takes awhile - the broth takes about 3 hours, the char siu marinates for at least 2 hours (although you could easily do it overnight as we have done in the past) and then cooks for 30 minutes...
The thing I liked most about this meal was how homey it tasted. Variations on both of these dishes are available in restaurants, but everything tasted comforting and homemade. The flavors were there, the textures were there (particularly with the tofu with celery and peanuts), but it was all very simple and homey. The char siu wasn't the best that I have ever tasted (or made) and I wanted a little more depth of flavor and richness to the broth, but it just made me (and my head cold) happy. It reminded me of something my grandmother would have made for me. Granted, she probably would have picked up some char siu from the local Chinese grocery instead of making it at home, but the point still stands. It wasn't a perfect dish by any means, but it was very satisfying. And sometimes that is exactly what you want/need. It has been a long time since I have had any smoked tofu and I almost forgot how great it can be. I love the meaty, smokey flavor and the extra firm texture. It works really well with the crisp, grassy celery and the sweet and spicy sauce. I brought in the leftover smoked tofu for lunch this week and I thought it made for great leftovers.
Recipes after the jump!
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
(Belated) Chinese New Year Meal #5: Xi'an Potsticker Dumplings (Xi'an Guo Tie), Tofu Shreds with Baby Bok Choy and Tiger Salad (Lao Hu Cai)
When I first saw this recipe for Xi'an Potsticker Dumplings I got really excited because they look like the pan-fried pork dumplings from A&J Restaurant in Rockville, Maryland (pictured below). A&J is one of my all-time favorite Chinese restaurants and I try to visit every time I find myself in Maryland. The filling is different - I'm not sure that I have ever had Chinese dumplings with a beef filling, but I can't swear to it. I know that I have never made beef dumplings at home. I will be the first to admit that my dumplings don't exactly look like the ones at A&J (and their bottoms are a little bit more cooked than I had intended for them to be), but I did my best. And I was really happy with the way they turned out. I thought these wrappers were easier to make and less doughy than the wrappers from the Pork and Napa Cabbage Water Dumplings (Shuijiao) that we made last year for Chinese New Year. There were errors in execution both times. I am not a proficient dumpling maker and I am happy to admit that. But I thought that all things considered, these wrappers turned out better and the dumplings themselves were easier to wrap. And they they fried up really nicely. While I really liked the wrappers, I was less enamored of the filling. It was good, but when I want a dumpling I really want a nice juicy pork filling. I think I would like to make the dumplings again (with pork) because the skins were awesome and they were easy to throw together.
The tofu noodles were something of a challenge. The problem with buying ingredients at an Asian grocery store is that sometimes you end up with ingredients with no instructions on how to cook them. And that's what happened to us here. Ours were labeled "tofu rolls." When I got home and tried to search for "tofu noodles" all I ended up with were tofu skin noodles or yuba noodles that are much thinner. So I had to wing it. And it didn't occur to me until after we had already made dinner that I should have searched "tofu shreds." Oops. Luckily, our dish came out just fine. I tasted a few of the tofu shreds prior to blanching them and decided that 2-3 minutes in a pot of boiling water should warm them through and make them tender enough to eat. I originally wanted to make a variation on the liang pi cold noodles from Xi'an Famous Foods since we were making Xi'an dumplings, but it has been so long since I had them that I wasn't sure I could replicate them. Instead we tossed them simply with the ingredients we had in the fridge - baby bok choy, garlic, ginger and dried chilis. They were yummy. I love how just a few ingredients - garlic, ginger and dried chilis tossed in the wok can really give a dish great flavor. I know that some people might be put off by the texture of the tofu noodles, but I happen to enjoy how springy they are.
The tiger salad was a last second addition to lunch after I realized that we only ended up with 12 dumplings. I think we were supposed to have 16 (although the recipe never specified), but I ran out of filling after we made 12 dumplings. I really liked the freshness of the dish and the bright flavor, but if I were to make it again I would cut down on the amount of Chinkiang vinegar because the dish was a little too acidic for me.
Recipes after the jump!
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Arepa with Chorizo and Creole Sauce (Arepa con Chorizo y Hogao) and Green Beans with Almonds, Smoked Paprika and Cumin
Last weekend was the first weekend in some time that we visited the farmers' market behind the Museum of Natural History. Every time we go to the farmers' market Brady drags us to his favorite vender, Roaming Acres, for a free snack (homemade ostrich dog treats) and a smoked ostrich tendon dog chew. They look bizarre but he loves them and I would rather he eat ostrich tendon than cow penis (aka pizzles) or cow snout (aka moozles). As luck would have it, they happened to be sold out of his smoked ostrich tendon but we decided to try some of their fresh sausages for us. The farmer recommended their Colombian chorizo so we bought a package. The only problem was that neither of us had ever tried Colombian chorizo (and the farmer had warned us that it had a very different flavor than Mexican or Spanish chorizo) so we had no idea what it tasted like or whether it would be crumbly and loose like Mexican chorizo or firm like Spanish chorizo. We basically had no idea whatsoever what to do with our sausage after we got home. So it hung out in the refrigerator for a few days until I was inspired enough to spend a few minutes poking around for recipes. This one won because it sounded different and interesting, but was still pretty easy to throw together. Then I had to decide what kind of side to serve with our arepas. We haven't made green beans in awhile so I picked some up at the store with the idea that we would make a play on green bean almondine. I decided that we would season our green beans simply with cumin, smoked paprika, garlic and lemon juice, all of which I thought would work with the flavor of the arepas. And just like that, dinner was in the bag.
One thing I will say about these arepas - they were really easy to put together. They required a number of pots, pans and trays (one each to cook the sausages, the hogao and the arepas themselves), but irrespective of the number of pans and dirty dishes, they came together with very little effort. And they were satisfying. I'm not saying they were the most delicious thing we have ever made, but I enjoyed them. For those of you who are curious, Colombian chorizo is firm like Spanish chorizo but it lacks that paprika-flavor and is not smoked, cured or otherwise cooked. Except that both products are raw/uncooked and I didn't think that it was similar to Mexican chorizo, which is much spicier and crumbly. I liked our variation on the green beans too. They had nice flavor and weren't hard to throw together. And I think their crunch and bright flavor were a nice match for the heavier arepas. The flavor of the green beans was just similar enough (thanks to the ground cumin) to work, while still providing a really interesting and bright pop of flavor. The green beans added texture and were just substantial enough (I think salad would have felt too light).
Recipes after the jump!
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Sometimes I am really creative in the kitchen - the creative juices get flowing and I start conceptualing dishes from seemingly out of nowhere. Sometimes I have a case of cook's block. We had wild Coho salmon from Whole Foods in the fridge and while I am generally pretty excited about wild salmon, I literally couldn't think of a single recipe I wanted to make. My fallback recipe for wild salmon is this Salt and Pepper Salmon by Tyler Florence, but I wanted something new. We had just made the Salt and Pepper salmon two weekends ago when we had Alex's brother over for dinner. Plus these fillets were on the thin side so they weren't exactly ideal for the recipe. I briefly considered making a variation on Rachel Ray's Roasted Salmon with Lemon-Herb Matzo Crust, but I wasn't really feeling it. I halfheartedly proposed it and Alex shot it down. So then we were back to having salmon in the fridge with no idea how to cook it. So I decided to back into the recipe by deciding on the side dish and then figuring out what to do with the salmon. I knew I wanted to make a broccoli slaw at some point so we settled on the broccoli slaw recipe (which, I kid you not, is called "Packin' A Punch Broccoli Slaw") and then went back to finding a simple salmon recipe to go with the slaw. In the end we settled on an Asian Glazed Salmon recipe from the New Legal See Foods Cookbook that I found online. I'm not typically a fan of glazed salmon (it's generally too sweet for me) but I literally couldn't think of anything else that sounded better. And this glazed salmon was no different, even though we cut back on the amount of brown sugar in the glaze (partially because we ran out). I think I should learn to stay away from anything with "glaze" in the title. Beyond being a little too sweet from me, I just thought it was kind of blah. And that is as much my fault as the recipe's since I was never really that excited about it in the first place. It didn't do much to highlight the flavor of the salmon so it was probably not the best recipe to use with nice wild salmon. It might make more sense with farmed salmon that doesn't have quite as much flavor or to those who don't particularly enjoy the flavor of salmon. As for the broccoli slaw, I thought it was ok. I liked it more than the salmon, although I wouldn't say that I loved it. I liked the hint of heat from the jalapeno and the red pepper flakes and the acidity from the cider vinegar and lime, which I thought contrasted nicely against the sweetness of the salmon. What I enjoy most about broccoli slaw is the crisp texture. I think I will buy another bag of broccoli slaw mix from Trader Joe's and go with some sort of Asian-inspired slaw and see how that turns out. I know that if I played around a little more I could come up with a kickass broccoli slaw. Perhaps I will add some slivered almonds for additional crunch and then go from there...
Recipes after the jump!
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
I went a wee bit crazy with the grocery shopping last week and we have been working all week to try and use up all of the produce and proteins in the fridge. Somehow we ended up with a ton of tofu in the fridge - smoked tofu, spiced pressed tofu, tofu skin noodles, sprouted tofu, fried tofu... I have used some of the smoked tofu for a tofu and celery salad (which I will post later), but we had yet to use the rest of the tofu. I originally planned to make lettuce wraps with the remaining smoked tofu, but I started thinking about larb and that led me to a number of different recipes for tofu larb using firm or extra firm tofu, including this one from The Mistress of Spices. I figured extra firm sprouted tofu would work for Thai larb. Once I realized we had everything we needed for the recipe, we were on.
When I was thinking through what we should add to the larb, I knew I wanted some texture for the dish and some additional flavor, so I added thinly sliced cucumber (you want it to be thin enough to be tender, but thick enough to retain some crispness) and fried shallots. Tofu tends to be a little mushier and less toothsome than ground meat and the fried shallots and cucumbers provided a really nice textural contrast to the softness of the tofu crumbles. I briefly considered adding peanuts in lieu of the fried shallots, but I'm glad we went with the fried shallots instead because I thought the flavor of the fried shallots really added nice depth and savory flavor to the dish. You could use a variety of different lettuces or cabbages as the wrapper, but we went with Bibb lettuce because we had it in the fridge. I bought it to use as part of a (Belated) Chinese New Year meal because lettuce is a traditional component of Chinese New Year cuisine, but I never came up with a recipe I was excited about. So I ended up repurposing the lettuce for this larb. The larb managed to be both light and flavorful. And I didn't miss the meat at all. Sometimes when I eat tofu I wish I was eating meat instead, but there wasn't a single instant this evening that I wished I had made a chicken or pork larb, rather than a tofu larb. All of the ingredients added something to the dish - depth of flavor, contrasting texture, a degree of freshness... It was light and it was delicious. Sometimes I heart tofu.
P.S. I know I keep using the word "light" to describe this dish, but I cannot think of a single adjective that would be more (or equally) appropriate.
Recipe after the jump!
Monday, March 11, 2013
This soup was... well we can call it a labor of love. You might have noticed a bit of a theme to our posts this weekend. Alex has been sick with a head cold and in a fit of wifely good intentions I bought a ton of ingredients (we're talking 3 lbs of pork neck bones, a whole chicken, 3 lbs of chicken parts, herbs, veggies, etc.) on Friday to make some homemade stocks and soups to help him feel better. I don't know about you, but I love soup when I don't feel well. I made an everyday Chinese chicken and pork stock on Friday (although we haven't quite figured out what kind of soup we are going to make with it yet) and I figured I would make some homemade chicken stock or chicken noodle soup too.
Then I had an epiphany at spinning Saturday afternoon - we're in NYC, matzo ball soup is the only appropriate cold remedy. Of course that required another trip to the grocery store to buy matzo ball soup ingredients (like leeks and rendered chicken fat, although if I had really thought about it I would have realized that making homemade chicken stock provides you with more than enough chicken fat). Strangely enough, Zabars didn't have any rendered chicken fat. They had a zillion different kinds of rugelach, babka and other Jewish baked goods, as well as a selection of kosher meats, but no rendered chicken fat. So I went to Fairway and they came through with all of the matzo, matzo meal and rendered chicken fat I could ever need. But by the time I found a recipe, hit Zabars and Fairway and got home it was late afternoon. And when I looked at the recipe I realized that the stock needs to simmer for 3 hours, and then the matzo balls need to chill for 30 minutes and then simmer in the finished stock for 45 minutes... And when you considered how much prep work, etc. we had to do, that meant we wouldn't be eating dinner until 10 pm. Oops. So I started the broth on Saturday night and let it hang out overnight in the fridge and finished the soup on Sunday. Never having made matzo ball soup before I'm not sure if this was an entirely typical recipe (or if I picked a recipe that was inordinately and unnecessarily complicated for matzo ball soup) but I knew that the recipe sounded interesting. All of the matzo ball soups that I have tried have not included anything beyond the matzo balls themselves in a relatively mild chicken broth. But I liked the idea of including the poached chicken and herbs in the soup. And since I was the one picking the recipe I went with the chicken matzo ball soup. I briefly considered making this Leek and Ginger Matzo Balls in Lemongrass Consomme, but I decided that was taking things a little bit too far. Generally for my first attempt at a classic dish I want to stick at least a little closer to the traditional version.
More (including the recipe) after the jump!
Friday, March 8, 2013
It seems a little ridiculous that we are taking a break from our (Belated) Chinese New Year meals to make a Cambodian version of congee (a traditional Cantonese rice porridge), but Alex is sick and it's gross and snowy outside so I really wanted to make congee. After watching Chrissy Teigen make a Thai version of pork congee on Eric Ripert's YouTube series, On the Table, I wanted to make pork congee. And it just so happened that Hot Sour Salty Sweet had a recipe for a Cambodian congee with pork and a bunch of other deliciousness. So I decided that we could take today off from Chinese food and make some Khmer-style congee.
Congee is homey and comforting (and thus, good sick day food). And when you throw in all of the garnishes that are typical of Southeast Asian cuisine, it can be quite delicious (which appeals to everyone who isn't sick, namely myself, and some of those who are). Fish sauce, chilis, herbs, limes and fried shallots are a lot more fun than just scallions and sesame oil. I'm not knocking Cantonese congee in the slightest - I'm just saying that sometimes Southeast Asian congee recipes are a nice way to mix it up. While the congee was cooking I got a little worried that it wouldn't have enough liquid - that it would be wallpaper paste rather than porridge. And it definitely started to veer off in that direction. We ended up adding a little more liquid to loosen it all up a little, but I have adapted the recipe to include an extra 1-2 cups of water during the cooking process. Note that we used a ridiculously large Le Creuset to cook out congee (which allowed a lot of water to evaporate and necessitated 2 additional cups of liquid) and if we had used a smaller pan an additional 1 cup of water would probably have been sufficient. It was still a little more of a solid than a soup after the liquid cooked off, but that's ok. It was still warm, comforting and yummy. The congee itself had really nice flavor from the combination of dried shrimp and pork. I don't know that I necessarily like the flavor of pork congee better than chicken congee, but this dish made a really good case for pork. Beyond the flavor of the soup itself, I thought that the garnishes and everything else on top of the congee really made the dish. There is something to be said for being able to garnish a dish to suit your own tastes and preferences. We made the fish sauce pretty spicy and it was awesome spooned on top of the congee. But some people might not want quite that much spice. And then I went pretty heavy on the Thai basil, cilantro and fried shallots because I absolutely love all of those flavors. But again, some people might not. For the record, I'm not usually a big fan of bean sprouts (they just don't do it for me because I don't feel like they add anything) but I thought they were perfect here. They provided nice texture. And with congee, one of the things that I really want is texture. Obviously you want the congee to be flavorful, but a bowl of tasty porridge is still a little mushy and boring. You need something to give it a little bite. The bean sprouts, fried shallots and peanuts all added a necessary textural contrast (as well as more flavor) to the congee.
Recipe after the jump!
(Belated) Chinese New Year Meal #4: Stir-Fried Oyster Mushrooms with Chicken (Ping Gu Ji Pian) and Blanched Choy Sum with Sizzling Oil (You Lin Cai Xin)
I wasn't going to include this dish as one of our (Belated) Chinese New Year meals because we have already included a chicken dish and I had another that I was considering making, but I loved this recipe so much that I couldn't resist. The flavors were different from everything we have featured thus far - relatively fresh, simple and subtle. Rather than being hit over the head with spice, fermented black beans or Sichuan peppercorns, this dish features the more subtle flavors of oyster mushrooms, ginger and garlic. It was just so lovely and so very satisfying. I wanted to keep eating and eating and eating. This is a dish that I can imagine serving my kids (first I have to get around to having kids, but you know what I mean). We served the chicken with some blanched greens that were equally homey and delicious. Pouring sizzling oil over a pile of aromatics on top of the lightly blanched greens and then drizzling a mixture of soy sauce and water over the whole kit and caboodle imparts a lot more flavor to the greens than you would think. Alex mentioned that he was totally surprised by how flavorful the greens were. Again, the flavors are subtle (rather than in your face), but each bite of choy sum is nicely seasoned and flavored. And for once, Alex didn't complain or comment that he wished dinner was spicier.
Recipes after the jump!
Thursday, March 7, 2013
It's time for the third recipe for (Belated) Chinese New Year - Yunnan-Style Cold Noodles. I know that it's still a little cold outside for cold noodles, but I really wanted to add a recipe from (or inspired by) Yunnan province to our series of meals and this recipe was the one I was most excited by. I also found a few recipes in Hot Sour Salty Sweet from Yunnan province, but none of them appealed to me quite as much as this one. Coincidentally the recipe was by the chef at Yunnan Kitchen and the meal we had there last week really sealed the deal for me. The fact that this recipe filled my noodle niche for Chinese New Year was an added bonus.
I'm happy to say that this dish was my favorite of the dishes we have made for Chinese New Year thus far. I thought it had great flavor and it was fresh, bright and clean. Sometimes stir-fried noodles (or other stir-fries) can be a little heavy and greasy, but these noodles felt light and wonderful. I think a large part of that is due to the fact that the noodles were served cold (and were never actually stir-fried). Unlike some noodles, these aren't going to leave you in a food coma with what feels like a noodle brick in your stomach. Beyond that, the dish had great balance. Star anise and Sichuan peppercorns can both be a little overwhelming, but I think the amounts in the dressing were spot on. I was a little worried that there wasn't going to be enough salt for the pork or the noodles, but once you drizzled the dressing over the pork and noodles it all came together. The herbs and cucumber make it perfect for a hot sticky summer day, but I think the pork and aromatic dressing made it rich enough to work for winter. Throw in a little crunch from the peanuts and you have the complete package, texturally and otherwise.
Recipe after the jump!
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
(Belated) Chinese New Year Meal #2: Kung Pao Shrimp and Smacked Cucumbers with Sesame and Preserved Mustard Greens
The funny thing about this recipe is that I started thinking about kung pao shrimp after Alex pulled down all of our various nuts and complained that we had far too many nuts in the apartment and needed to go ahead and use some of them. I already had a recipe in mind that required some peanuts but the first thing that came to mind when it came down to using more peanuts was to make kung pao. And as we have already made kung pao chicken and I was looking for a seafood recipe anyway, kung pao shrimp seemed like a really good alternative. I can't say that I have ever tried kung pao shrimp before, but since when has that stopped me before? I briefly considered taking the kung pao chicken recipe we made some time ago and modifying it to use shrimp, but then I decided to try something new and go with a recipe I found online. I was looking at two recipes - one from Rasamalaysia and another from Appetite for China and I ended up deciding to use the one from Appetite for China because I thought the picture was prettier. As you can see, I'm not above admitting it when I make a decision for purely shallow reasons. And rather than deviating from the recipe at all, I decided to make it exactly as written. I was pretty proud of myself for sticking with it. And we threw in yet another variation on smacked cucumbers from Fuchsia Dunlop's new cookbook because I wanted some sort of easy veggie to go with our shrimp.
Alex and I are currently in disagreement about which of our two (Belated) Chinese New Year meals we preferred. I preferred Sunday night's Cold Chicken with Spicy Sichuan Sauce and Stir-Fried Broccoli with Chili and Sichuan Pepper whereas Alex preferred last night's kung pao shrimp and smacked cucumbers. While the shrimp was perfectly cooked, I thought the flavor balance was off - the sour flavor and numbing sensation of the Sichuan peppercorns overwhelmed the sweet and spicy flavor that I was hoping for. I love the flavor of Sichuan peppercorns, but my biggest complaint about some of the "Sichuan" restaurants in New York City is that they abandon developing layers of flavor in favor of dumping on a bunch of Sichuan peppercorns or hot chilis. A lot of these restaurants would do well to cut back on the amount of Sichuan peppercorn in their dishes so that the peppercorns perfume but don't overwhelm the dish. But enough of that. If I were to make this dish again I would cut the amount of Sichuan peppercorn by half, or forgo them entirely. I would probably modify the sauce recipe to leave out the hoisin and perhaps play with the proportions of the other liquids. As for the cucumbers, I am a total sucker for Chinese cucumber salads of all sorts. We have made several different variations on smacked cucumbers from Fuchsia Dunlop's cookbooks and while this one wasn't my favorite, it was different and easy. It was nice to have a non-spicy version for a change. I think her new cookbook has another two variations on smacked cucumbers so we will have to give those a try at some point and I'll see which one I like best.
Recipes after the jump!
Monday, March 4, 2013
(Belated) Chinese New Year Meal #1: Cold Chicken with a Spicy Sichuan Sauce (Liang Ban Ji) and Stir-Fried Broccoli with Chili and Sichuan Pepper (Qiang Xi Nan Hua Cai)
Look everyone - I finally put together our first (belated) Chinese New Year meal! And we have a bunch of other meals planned so stay tuned. I am trying my best to not just cook from our new Fuchsia Dunlop cookbook, but there are so many recipes that I want to cook that it is difficult. But I had to start off with two recipes from the cookbook that I have been dying to make. As you can see, I am still squarely stuck in my broccoli phase. And I threw in some chicken because why the heck not? You can't have Chinese New Year without chicken. Granted, the chicken is usually served whole and not shredded for New Year, but I'm taking a little creative license here. Don't worry - the dumplings and noodles are both coming, but it's going to take a little time so you are going to have to be patient. Whole fish is also traditional but as of right now the only concrete plan we have for seafood is for shrimp. We might still make a whole fish because our plans aren't set in stone yet (and I have a few recipes set aside in case I switch things up), but I'm just giving you a sense of what is to come. There will also be tofu, some more veggies, another chicken dish... And then we will have to see what we decide on for our final Chinese New Year meal. We went to Chinatown today for ingredients and noodle inspiration (more on that later), so we should be on track to post 3-4 more (Belated) Chinese New Year meals by the end of the week! We might need to re-stock a bit or pick up a few minor ingredients along the way, but we are now re-stocked with the essentials.
As for the chicken and broccoli, if every dish we make from this cookbook turns out as well as these two, I will be very happy. These recipes were not the best Chinese dishes we have ever cooked, nor did they particularly stick out amidst the other Chinese New Year meals we have prepared. However, they were so easy to make that I really can't complain and I think they totally lived up to the premise of the cookbook (i.e. simple Chinese home cooking). The broccoli was incredibly simple and it had really nice flavor. I liked the combination of Sichuan peppercorns and whole chilis. The broccoli was nicely cooked and lightly perfumed with sesame, heat and the sour, numbing flavor of the Sichuan peppercorns. It's the perfect easy (and vegetarian) Chinese side dish. As for the chicken, I have always been a fan of cold Sichuan chicken salads. I love the combination of luscious poached chicken, spice, slight sweetness and scallion. I have had better versions of this salad (and worse versions if we're being honest). But I have never made a better version at home. And that makes me happy. We made a few minor modifications to each recipe - an extra dash of sesame oil here, a little extra sugar there, but isn't that what all home cooks do? I would totally make both of these recipes again and bring them into the office for a fantastic lunch at my desk. Or just make them for dinner again sometime - perhaps a potluck? That's another totally viable option.
Recipes after the jump!
Sunday, March 3, 2013
I know I have said this before, but I'm not typically a big potato-eater. I love McDonald's french fries as much as the next person (although I love sweet potato fries more), but mashed potatoes and baked potatoes don't really do it for me. I will eat them from time-to-time if they are part of a dish I order at a restaurant, but that really only happens once a blue moon. Every once in awhile I like to humor Alex (who really is a potato lover) and roast some fingerling potatoes at home. This tends to happen in the fall and early winter when the farmers' markets first start displaying pretty little fingerling potatoes. This year we discovered roast sunchokes and I think they are better than roast potatoes. So these fingerlings might very well be the first potatoes we have made all year...
This recipe was intended to be made with new potatoes, but I decided that I wanted to use fingerlings instead because I think they crisp up better. When I think of new potatoes I tend to think of boiled or steamed new potatoes, rather than roasted new potatoes. And if I am going to do potatoes (roasted or fried), I want them to be crispy. These potatoes weren't as crispy as I would have liked but I thought they had good flavor. Even though the addition of the balsamic vinegar decreased the crispy texture it added a nice mildly sweet flavor. And I loved the salty porky flavor of the country ham. In the future I would add another poblano pepper for additional mild pepper flavor. I might also add some onion for additional sweetness and flavor. Alex thought the potatoes would be improved by the addition of some heat (nothing new there) as a counterbalance to the sweetness of the balsamic, but I'm not sure if I would add red pepper flakes or just serve the potatoes with some hot sauce. These potatoes would make an interesting alternative to home fries for brunch. The cookbook recommends serving any leftover potatoes with poached or fried eggs for breakfast. We tried the potatoes with fried eggs and I think they would work nicely either way.
Recipe after the jump!
Last night Alex and I decided at the last minute to invite his brother over for dinner. I'm ashamed to admit that a large part of the reason for inviting him over for dinner was entirely selfish - I wanted to make this salad and I knew that making it for just Alex and I would be a little ridiculous. On Friday morning I swung by Whole Foods on my way to work and I picked up some really beautiful Tuscan kale. I knew I wanted to make a salad with it, but I wanted to make something different. We have made several different kale salads in the past (many of which were either Caesar-like or featured a lemony vinaigrette and cheese combo) and I wanted something new. I have looked up this recipe several times and considered making it, but the timing (and/or the contents of our fridge) never seemed right. Luckily we had both Tuscan kale and Brussels sprouts in the fridge yesterday and with a third person at the dinner table it didn't seem quite as ridiculous to make a heaping bowl of kale and Brussels sprouts salad. And even more luckily, I really loved this salad. It had everything - a the tangy mustardy vinaigrette, salty cheese, crunchy nuttiness from the almonds... We have made several kale salads in the past where our chief complaint was that the salad was missing something crunchy and/or buttery (e.g. croutons or toasted nuts). This recipe felt, for lack of a better word, "complete" - I can't think of anything that it was missing or anything that I would really change. Some of the reviews on Epicurious complained that the recipe doesn't create enough dressing. I like my salads to be lightly dressed so it was perfect for me (and I used the entire amount of dressing), but if you like a little more dressing on your salad I would suggest making a little additional dressing. Some reviewers suggested doubling the dressing so take that into consideration when you make the salad - I would say look at how much shredded Brussels sprouts and kale you have and go from there. And be a little more generous than you think you need to be. I think it also helped that we dressed the salad about 30 minutes prior to sitting down to eat so the kale and Brussels sprouts had some time to hang out in the dressing and wilt down a teensy bit. Other reviewers added pomegranate seeds to the recipe. I'm not sure that the pomegranates are necessary in my book, but it's an option. I would serve this salad at any dinner party - it is different, full of flavor and delicious. You can also throw it together far in advance of dinner (although you might not want to dress it too far ahead) and just let it hang out while you prepare the rest of dinner. I think it would make a wonderful counterpoint to a rich holiday meal or an interesting addition to a potluck dinner. I will definitely be making this salad again and I'm pretty excited that between this recipe and the Mediterranean Salad with Prosciutto and Pomegranate I have two new delicious and festive salad recipes for future dinner parties. Of course, future dinner parties are going to have to wait until we get out a one bedroom apartment in NYC, but that's ok.
Recipe after the jump!