Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tuesday Turkey Pot Pie

Stage two of Sunday's turkey dinner is Tuesday's turkey pot pie.  There's no trick to my version of it other than making sure there is plenty of creamy gravy in the pie.  On Sunday, I removed the rest of the meat from the turkey and cut the bones into quarters.  Today, I made a stock from the bones, some chopped celery, and half an onion.  I let the stock simmer for 2 hours and then reduced by almost half by boiling the stock rapidly until it became opaque in color and concentrated in flavor.  After straining out the solids,  this produced maybe 2 1/2 cups of stock.
Saute in butter, 1 chopped onion, 2 carrots, and 3 ribs of celery.  Season with salt and pepper.  Once the onions are softened, add in a sprinkle of thyme and the left over turkey.  I had one side of the breast and a few other smaller pieces which I cut into 3/4 inch squares.   Add 1/4 cup of flour and cook for a bit longer.  Then deglaze the pan with about 1/4 cup of vermouth and add in the stock to mix well.  The creamy part comes from the 1/4 cup of cream I added.  Let come to a boil and simmer covered for about 10 minutes more.  Check for seasoning and add more salt or pepper if needed.  Remove from heat and let cool down a bit before placing into individual dishes.  Cover and place in the refrigerator until ready to bake.  
About an hour before you are ready to eat, take the pies out of the fridge.  Using prepared puff pastry, cut squares to fit over the top of the dishes.  My favorite prepared puff pastry is from Big Johns Pacific Food Imports.  Buy the sheets made with butter and while you're down there, check out all the other wonderful items they carry, including a large variety of cheeses and olives at great prices.  Brush the pastry with a little melted butter and place in oven to bake at 400f until the pastry is puffed and golden.  About 40 minutes.  Let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. 
Every last bit of that turkey got used.... even the bits I removed from the bones after making the stock.  Pacino got a little turkey treat.  As for the pot pie?  Creamy, crispy yumminess!

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Elusive Kung Pao Chicken

How good the Kung Pao Chicken is at a Szechuan restaurant is my gauge for grading that restaurant.  All Chinese restaurants I've been to here in Seattle serve it, whether they are in the Szechuan category or not.  There are so many versions of it, but most fall short of the standard set by restaurants I've eaten at in Taiwan, Hong Kong or even New York.  When I was living in Taiwan after college, we frequented a restaurant called The Welcoming Economic.  It looked to be a family run restaurant, very inexpensive, and partially self serve.  Bring a large group, get some cold beers, order up to your hearts desire and never pass on the kung pao chicken.  On our tight budget, with dishes costing around $2.00, we could feast.  And we did.
The essential tool in Chinese cooking is super large fire power.  We could sit at our table in the restaurant and hear them turning on their burners.  It sounds like jet engines, like they were pumping oxygen into the flame to make it rise higher.  When we remodeled our kitchen, I installed what my friends have dubbed, the Death Star.  It is a Viking 24" wok burner firing at 27,500 BTU.  Better than a regular burner at 15,000 BTU, but still not close to the fire power of a commercial kitchen.  I did a quick internet search just to see what those burners have in the sense of BTU and found this little statement: "A high power 32 tip jet 160,000 BTU burner can be added for holes 18" or larger"  
Clearly, I am outgunned.  But I continue to try to master my favorite Chinese dishes and tonight, it was a little kung pao chicken.
3/4 Pound chicken thighs, diced into 3/4" pieces
1/4 cup green onions cut into 1" long pieces
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
1 tsp red chili flakes
1 Tbsp water, dark soy sauce, white vinegar
1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp corn starch
1/4 cup peanuts
In Szechaun cooking, the meat is often passed through a vat of hot oil to par cook it.  I go with the boiling water route to save the mess and the health.  Shocking, I know, but I do draw the line somewhere.  So, boil the chicken in water until about half way cooked.  Combine the water, soy, vinegar, oil, sugar and cornstarch.  First, turn your hood vent on to high.  Warn your children and pets they may want to leave the kitchen area.  With your burner on high, heat your wok to smoking hot and add in 1-2 tablespoons of cooking oil.  I use a well seasoned carbon steel wok for high heat cooking. Toss in garlic, peppercorns and chili flakes.  I like to use chili flakes so I don't have to pick out the individual large chilies.  The chilies look better for presentation, but for the family, I'll go for eating ease and safety.  Give it a stir and add in the chicken, green onions and combined sauce.  Give it a quick stir and let it cook for 30 seconds or a minute before you stir again so everything can sear.  Repeat once more and toss in peanuts to finish.  Fry quickly and serve immediately.  

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Why do I have a Turkey in my freezer?

Every Thanksgiving I buy two smaller turkeys instead of one large one.  I like this not only because it's a shorter cooking time, but it's also easier to accomplish even cooking.  Having two also gives me the opportunity to experiment with different cooking techniques and compare the two side by side.  Last Thanksgiving, I ordered my usual two - 8 pound Diestel Petite Turkeys, but we wound up only needing one.  I roasted it same as in past years but our friends made the most wonderful roasted duck.  That duck was so good, I might have to make it a new tradition for Thanksgiving.  So now it's March and I find myself with the other turkey still in my freezer.  
I defrosted the turkey in the refrigerator for 3 days.  On Friday, I placed it in a salt and brown sugar brine.  Last night, I removed it from the brine and placed it back in the refrigerator.  
We had planned to barbecue the turkey, but the weather isn't cooperating, so standard oven roasting it is.
I took the turkey out well in advance to let it come close to room temp.  I brushed the outside with melted butter and stuffed the cavity with lemon slices, a chopped onion and celery and a couple sprigs of fresh sage.  I roasted the turkey on a rack set inside a roasting pan at 425f for 20 minutes.  Then turned the oven down to 350f.  In the bottom of the pan, I put 2 cups of water and some onions and chopped carrots and roasted the turkey until a thermometer inserted into the leg read 165f.  About 2 hours total.  Let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes before slicing.  
With the neck and giblets, and juices left in the roasting pan, I made a simple gravy.  That's the kids' favorite.
Chris requested a blue cheese and apple sauce that I've made in the past for pork tenderloin.  For the sauce, I sauteed sliced apples and onions with a bit of tarragon.  Add in chicken broth to and reduce a bit.  Then add in a little heavy cream and reduce a bit more.  To finish, stir in crumbled blue cheese until melted.  This is a very rich sauce.  I am happy with my gravy.
Not matching the production of Thanksgiving, I served simple mashed potatoes on the side and a wedge of iceberg lettuce.  The girls always have the drumsticks.  
I don't know why we don't eat turkey outside of the holidays.  It is so yummy and makes your house smell so good.  On a rainy day like today, it was just the coziness we needed.
Dessert was compliments of Stella.  Vanilla bean ice cream, Fran's caramel topping and whipped cream.  

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chicken and Shiitake Mushroom Lettuce Wrap

Speaking of wraps... this one is simple, light, yet very tasty.  
1 Package of rice paper rounds
2 chicken breasts
2 cups sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
green lettuce leaves
fresh basil leaves
fried wonton strips
Peanut sauce for dipping

Marinate the chicken breast overnight in the same marinade as used in this previous post.  Grill over medium high heat and let cool before slicing.  Slice chicken into 1/4 inch pieces.
Saute shiitake mushrooms in a little bit of oil with 1/2 tsp minced ginger and 1 green onion sliced.  Add a 1 tsp soy sauce, and 1 tsp sweet soy sauce and continue to saute until mushrooms have softened and are fully cooked.
I've seen wonton crisps sold in the salad section in the grocery store.  Or make your own, like I did.  Slice store bought wonton shells into strip and fry in 350f oil until golden.
Have all of your ingredients ready before you start to assemble. 
To wrap, place a sheet of rice paper in warm water to soften.  Don't over soak as the rice paper will become too soft and very difficult to handle without ripping.  Dry the sheet on a clean towel.  Place 1 lettuce leaf on the lower third of the rice paper round. Then top with a few basil leaves, a few slices of chicken and shiitake mushrooms, and a few wonton strips.  Roll the whole thing up, leaving one end untucked.  Cover the wraps with plastic wrap as you make them so they don't dry out.

For the Peanut Sauce, bring the following ingredients to boil over medium heat  for 10-12 minutes stirring occasionally.  
2 cups coconut milk
1 tsp Massaman curry paste
2 Tbsp each of fish sauce and peanut butter
3 Tbsp each tamarind juice and sugar
1 tsp each paprika and garlic powder
4 Tbsp crushed peanuts
Serve at room temperature

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Night Wedding Dinner

Chris has been asking for a remake of the meal we had for our wedding reception.  That night was a blur and I have said over the years I would love to regather our friends and redo that celebration when there wasn't the whirlwind dizziness of a wedding.  But our wonderful venue has long since changed ownership and we've lost touch with our wonderful Corinda Le Clair, who planned our wedding, but we do have that meal.  

Wild Sockeye Salmon with Crab Butter Sauce
Creamy Black Thai Rice
Grilled Vegetables

For the Sockeye Salmon, just brush with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cook salmon under the broiler, skin side first, then flip over to finish.  About 2 minutes per side.

The crab butter sauce is what makes the salmon special.  The original sauce called for crab tomalley, the yellow eggish looking matter in the shell and body of the crab.  But I did not buy a whole crab for this dish, so I will have to skip that and just use a little crab meat for flavoring.
1/2 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup chicken stock
1/4 tsp thyme
1 small garlic clove smashed
a few turns of the black pepper mill
1/4 lb lump crab meat
4 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste 
Bring wine to boil, add in thyme, pepper, garlic and a small pinch of crab meat.  Reserve the rest of the crab meat to top the salmon.  Boil and reduce the wine by one third, then add in chicken stock and bring back to a boil reducing a bit more.  Strain liquid through a sieve to remove the solids and return to saucepan to simmer.  Add in butter one tablespoon at a time to melt.  Do not bring sauce back to a boil or else the butter will separate from the liquid.  

I chose not to do grilled vegetables from a practicality standpoint.  For the variety needed, we would not be able to finish them all.  Instead, I went for some snow peas and fresh English green peas.  Blanche both in water immersing them in ice water immediately after.  This will maintain the color of the vegetables.  Saute in a little olive oil and salt.

The black Thai rice has a nutty flavor and brings a little wow factor to your plate because of its dark purple color.  Rinse the rice and cook according to package instructions.  After cooking, add in some whipped heavy cream.  For 1 1/2 cups of uncooked rice, I prepared 1/2 cup of whipped cream.  
We know it will never be as good as the original as there are so many factors at play that contribute to the experience of the meal.  Any special memorable moment is almost impossible to replicate.  We can only hope to capture a small piece that brings us back to the memory of it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chicken Wrapped Prosciutto, Mushroom and Gruyere

There is an abundance of various cuts of chicken in our freezer right now.  They have all been Costco purchases.  They are wonderfully separated into small packets, sealed in way that makes them easy to defrost.  Of course the best way to defrost anything is to have the forethought and planning to take it out of the freezer and place it in the refrigerator to let thaw slowly and safely.  This is not usually the case with me.  This morning I took out two sealed packets of drumsticks and placed them in a bath of cool water.  This method is quicker and will safely defrost any meat, as long as you are not leaving it for hours on end.  The water will cool as the meat defrosts, but if you leave it too long, the water will eventually come to room temp, and we know we don't want to store meat at room temp.  Also make sure the meat is in a leak proof package as prolonged soaking of meat in water will alter the texture of it.  
As I was driving, I was taking a mental inventory of what was in the refrigerator while trying to come up with something new to do with chicken.  I decided to debone the drumsticks and stuff them with prosciutto, mushrooms and a cheese of some sort to hold it all together.
Mushroom stuffing:
8 oz white button mushrooms thinly sliced
1 shallot and 1 garlic clove minced
10 fresh sage leaves minced
splash of white wine
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese
Saute shallot and garlic in olive oil until soft.  Add mushrooms and toss to combine.  Cook until mushrooms have softened.  Add wine and cook until liquid has evaporated and add in sage and salt and pepper.  Save the cheese to place on top of the mushrooms later.
Lay each drumstick out and place a half slice of prosciutto, a spoonful of mushrooms and a sprinkle of gruyere cheese.  Wrap tightly and secure with a couple of toothpicks.  After I rolled my second one, I thought that perhaps I should have pounded the drumsticks out a bit to make them thinner.  It would be easier to wrap up and to cook evenly.
Sear chicken in a large, nonstick pan over medium high heat.  You only need the smallest bit of oil as the fat from the skin of the chicken will cook out.   Depending on the size of pan you have, do in batches if you need to, in order not to crowd.  If they are squeezed together in the pan, they will not brown properly.  Place browned chicken on a baking sheet and set in a 425f oven for 15 to 20 minutes to finish.
Of course there is a sauce!  We are all about the sauce.  Pour out extra oil left in the pan from searing the chicken.  Deglaze over medium high heat with a bit of white wine, 1/4 cup-ish.  Then add 3/4 cup of chicken stock and let reduce a bit.  I had extra mushroom stuffing left so I threw that in with a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar.  Turn heat down to low, add in a pad of butter and add in a few drops of white truffle oil.   
I served this with two favorite vegetables.  Simple roasted potatoes and broccoli roasted under the broiler.
It turns out pounding was not needed.  The chicken cooked evenly and the addition of the balsamic and truffle oil turns your plain ol' chicken into a star.

Chinese Rice Rolls

While I was in the realm of wrapping with last night's dinner, I got to remembering about one of my favorite breakfast items from Taiwan.  I am not a huge fan of breakfast because I am not usually hungry first thing in the morning.  And when I do have breakfast, I go for the savory, not sweet, category.  When I was living in Taiwan, there were two breakfast stops I would make.  One was across from my office, in what was basically a garage with stacks and stacks of bamboo steamers.  They would only be open until about 10:00am and they only sold pork dumplings and spicy cold noodles.  I would sometimes go and buy a few pork dumplings for breakfast, which they would serve up in a plastic baggy with a little soy and vinegar sauce.  And at the same time pick up the cold noodles and save them for lunch.  I think it was probably US$2.00 for both.  
My other favorite was served out of a cart.  It was a rice roll with dried shredded pork, chinese fried donut, and some pickled radish inside.  I remember on one of my work trips back to Taiwan, I skipped the hotel breakfast knowing I would find a cart on the walk to the office where I could buy my rice roll and eat it on the way.  My co-worker was shocked by my roadside purchase.  That was many years ago, and on our recent trip back to Taiwan I found the carts were no longer.  We did find a small shop around the corner from our hotel serving just my kind of breakfast.  All savories and a made to order rice roll.  
Start with glutinous or sticky rice.  I rinsed and soaked the rice for an hour and then cooked it in my automatic rice cooker.  If you eat a lot of rice, treat yourself to this wonderful machine.  Fill the water to the number line matching the cups of rice you put in.  It's that simple.
When making the rolls, use a small towel as a base, then a sheet of plastic wrap.  Spread the rice out thinly into a sheet.  As the rice must be hot to do this, you will need the towel to keep from burning your hands, and help you shape the rice into a roll.  I made mine today with dried shredded pork, salted duck egg yolk, pickled radish and some ginger scallion sauce.  A perfect little lunch.  
  For the girls, I'm hoping they will try one for an after school snack.  I took last night's leftover flank steak, thinly sliced to almost a shred, and added in a little bit of teriyaki sauce.  I wonder how that will go over.  It's best if they are not refrigerated, but if you need to, like I did, just reheat in the microwave for 20-30 seconds.
Think of the rice like any other type of shell and go crazy with the endless combinations of fillings.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Marinated Flank Steak Ssam

Yesterday, I pulled a flank steak out of the freezer and marinated it in yet another Momofuku recipe.  The original calls for hanger steak, but it's freezer week.  With the flank steak, I sliced it in half length wise before marinating.  After grilling 2-3 minutes per side, let the steak rest for at least 5 minutes.  Cutting into it too soon will cause the excellent juices to escape.
Accompaniments are similar to that of the Bo Ssam.  Butter lettuce would have been better, but I had iceberg, which worked out fine.  That ginger scallion sauce... I made a larger batch this time as it is so good on so many things.   The cookbook reads, "..know that you need ginger scallion sauce on your noodles, in your fridge, and in your life."  I welcome it with open arms.
For the pureed kimchi, I bought a jar of kimchi and pureed it.  Simple.  
We are in love with my ssam sauce.  My version of it, which is probably not ssam sauce at all, is a combination of Korean hot pepper paste with Sambal Oelek chili paste along with sherry vinegar and vegetable oil.  The Momofuku recipe calls for ssamjang (fermented bean and chili paste) and kochujang.  Whatever mine is, I'm thinking about bottling it.  
I really love the lettuce wrap.  It makes everything taste a little more refreshing.  As we ate, we decided that pretty much anything could be wrapped in lettuce with these sauces and we'd love it.  Every component of this meal had its own distinct character, yet when combined, became a well married symphony of flavors.  

Oh, and I have to add, the lovely dish with the rose and petals are compliments of Stella and her pottery class.  She gave it to me last night beaming and saying, "it will probably wind up in your blog, won't it?"  

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mary, Mary, how does your garden grow?

The new sprouts that have erupted from my planter boxes have been pulled out by our neighborhood squirrels.  Every morning as we leave for school, I look for new growth, and what I find are small holes everywhere from squirrels digging for their hidden treasures.  This has been a common occurrence in my back yard, but in retrospect, it does seem strange they've never done this before to my vegetable garden.  Last year, I planted about 200 crocus bulbs in our back yard, all but about 10 were dug out and taken away.  Someone wound up with a lot of crocus in their yard... but not me.
There was a discussion among the girls that perhaps we could rent a dog and put it out there to guard the planters.  I pointed out that we have a dog, but it was decided we were better served having Pacino inside so we could hug him.  Stella said you don't rent dogs, you own dogs.  The idea of getting another dog for this purpose is a possibility that I'm sure is occupying her mind all day.  I went for a less drastic measure.
Here are my deterrents for the animals that have visited by garden.
Squirrels: I sprayed a mixture of a bit of cayenne pepper and water all over the soil.  We'll have to see if this works.  I don't want to hurt the squirrels, so I figure an increasing degree of cayenne might be the best way to go instead of going full throttle out of the gate.
Cats: cut up a variety of citrus fruits and lay a border around the soil.  In past years, the neighborhood cats have decided to use my planters as their litter box.  Cats do not like the scent of the citrus 
Birds: strips of metallic ribbon / tape hung around the area flapping in the wind keep birds from eating your seeds
It may wind up looking like a fruit circus out there, but hopefully I will have some delicious potatoes to show for it. 

As for dinner... it's short rib ragu from the freezer.  I'm back on track.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Salt and Pepper Ribs

Okay, so it's day 2 of eating out of the freezer week and I am already cheating.  We knew I wouldn't be able to keep myself from veering off course.  In my own defense, due to parking circumstances, I found myself in the store having to buy something.  Baby back ribs were on special.  They were previously frozen... just not in my freezer.  Trying to come up with ribs I hadn't made before proved to be a challenge.  I feel as though I've been on a pork odyssey, but one thing I haven't done yet is fry them.  
You can find spare ribs in an Asian market already cut into strips and you just have to section them by cutting between the bones.  If you buy a rack of back ribs, have your butcher cut them length wise once or twice so that you have small pieces of ribs.  I had not done this since I wasn't sure how I was going to cook them when I bought them.  So, I found myself with my large Chinese meat cleaver chopping each piece in half.  This is the only knife that will cut through the bone.  If you are going to try this, make sure you do it on a large, thick butcher block.  Otherwise, I would fear cracking your countertop if it's made of stone, like mine is.  It must be done with conviction and precision and with all fingers far away from the cutting area.  In my parents' restaurant, we had one of those stand alone butcher block tables.  Over time, there developed a large round concavity, like a divot, from all of the chopping and scraping done on it.  That block saw a lot of good food pass through.   
Marinate the ribs in the following for at least 3 hours, or overnight.  I had about 2 1/2 lbs of ribs.
1/2 tsp ground Szechuan peppercorns
1/2 tsp ground 5 spice
1/2 tsp salt
a few turns of the pepper mill
a few sprinkles of ground white pepper
1 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp cooking wine
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
Remove ribs from marinade and coat with 3 tbsp of cornstarch.  Heat frying oil to 350f and fry ribs in batches for about 4 minutes each until lightly golden.  Do not overcrowd and move the ribs around in the oil to separate them.   Set the batches aside together.  Then heat the oil back up to 350f and fry all the ribs together for another minute or so until the ribs darken a bit more.  Drain on paper towels.  I like to serve them topped with a mixture of fried green onions, garlic and jalapeno peppers and offer ground white pepper on the side.  Crispy, salty, little bites of yumminess.

Spice Drawer

Last night started off a week of freezer eating.  We had a combo of sweet potato ravioli and duck ravioli.  The girls had the extra pappardelle which I had dried and put away in our cupboard.  I served both with a shiitake mushroom sauce.  I was happy to find that both were just as delicious as the first time around.  The frozen ravioli maintained that fresh pasta consistency and taste as did the dried pappardelle.   
So, in lieu of posting a newly made meal, I decided to share my spice drawer.  I was vacuuming it out the other day and when I appreciated again its appeal.  The canisters have magnetic bottoms and they lie on a magnetic sheet inside the drawer.  In the beginning when the drawer was not full, this kept everything from sliding around and getting out of place.  I arrange my spices by color order.  For me, it is not only visually pleasing, but also easier for me to identify each spice.  The caps twist to give you the option of sprinkling or pouring.  There are varying opinions on the shelf life of a spice.  I like to go by color and aroma.  If it has lost itself in either category, it has likely lost its flavor too.  I've gathered my collection over time and some are rarely used and some are used almost daily.  My favorites?  Red chili flakes are across the board, most used.  There are so many Chinese food applications, but I like it for almost everything that needs a little spice.  It imparts the spice without changing the other flavors of the food.  Yellow mustard powder for Caesar salads and my barbecue rub.  Bay leaves for braising and stewing.
I was trying to think of something pointed to say about spice, but my love of sci-fi movies brings to mind Dune and the quote, "he who controls the spice, controls the universe".  I have to go have my lunch and think about that metaphor for a minute.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Steak with l'Entrecote Sauce

Several years ago, when we were in Paris, Chris and I had dinner at le Relais de l'Entrecote, a strictly steak and pomme frites restaurant.  It was our first trip to Paris, and perhaps this was a tourist trap of a restaurant?  I don't know.  But we loved that sauce.  We loved the fact that they only served steak, pomme frites, and salad and that they had wonderful inexpensive wine.  We loved that they served half of your steak at a time so that you would have it hot.  I love that they knew their best dish and stood by it, daring to say we do this so well, it will be the only thing we offer.
Since then, I've been making my version of their sauce.  It has been long enough since we've been there that perhaps a field trip is in order to confirm whether I am close to replication or not.
Tonight, we are having grilled rib eye steak with l'Entrecote sauce and truffle french fries.  Select a well marbled steak.  Entrecote, by definition, is the meat between the ribs.  Here in the U.S., I think rib eye is the closest thing you can get unless you butcher the steak yourself.  Grill the steak to your liking - for me, it's rare.
For the sauce, I sauteed 2 shallots, minced, in 2 tablespoons of butter.  Once the shallots are softened, add a sprinkle of rosemary, thyme, tarragon and sage.  Then add 2 tsp of dijon mustard and a splash of white wine.   Bring to a boil until wine has mostly evaporated.  To that I added a mixture of 1/2 cup veal broth (remember the little cubes I had frozen when I made veal scallopini?) and 1/2 cup beef broth.  I heated just until my cubes of veal broth melted.  Put in blender to puree and return to pot and boil to reduce to 2/3 of original amount.  Add in 1/4 cup cream and reduce until thickened.
For the french fries, cut russet potatoes into 1/4" x 1/4" widths.  Soak in cold water until ready to cook.  Bring a vat of peanut or canola oil to 250f and par fry the potatoes until soft.  Remove from oil and then increase the temperature to 350f and fry until golden.  This creates a pillow soft center and a crispy shell.  Sprinkle with truffle salt immediately while the fries are hot, freshly out of the oil.  This will adhere the salt to the french fries. 
It's our family's practice to go around the table and tell our favorite part of our day.  As I'm typing this, I hear our friend say, it was this meal.  You know I am beaming.  

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thai by Request

We have a friend visiting for the weekend and in preparation, a few emails were circulated to discuss food options.  On the menu tonight:
Tom Ka Gai - Coconut Chicken Soup
Grilled Halibut with lime, garlic, ginger
Fried Rice with lemongrass and coconut milk
Wok Fried Pea Sprouts with garlic

The Tom Ka Gai is a recipe adapted from Pranee, a woman who cooked, with us, a thai meal at a friend's house.  
1 1/2 Cups Water
6 pieces sliced galangal
1 lemongrass stalk, smacked and sliced into one inch lengths
4 shallots, smacked
5 Kaffir lime leaves - 1 substituted 2 slices of lime
3-5 smacked chilies - left out because of the kids
2 chicken breasts, sliced - I only  used one
1/2 to 1 cup coconut milk - I used 1/2
1/2 cup oyster mushrooms - I used 1 cup - love em
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves
Sugar as needed - I used a bit of palm sugar
In a saucepan bring water to boil, add in galangal, lemongrass, shallot, Kaffir lime leaves and chili.  Let boil 1 minute.  Put in chicken.  When chicken is cooked, put in coconut milk.  Still until it boils.   Add in rest of ingredients and bring just to boil.  I remove all the herbs so you don't have to pick thought it when eating.  The lime slices make it a bit bitter.  Oh, how I miss the Kaffir leaves.  The soup is a burst of a fragrant bouquet,  acting as a wake up call.  It is flavorful and light and disappears from my bowl almost immediately.

This was a beautiful piece of halibut.  Snow white, firm and marble like.  I didn't want to cover it up, so 15 minutes before cooking, I brushed the fish with the following mixture hoping it would not be overpowering:
For 2.5 lbs of halibut
2 tsp each of minced ginger and garlic
Juice of half a lime
1 tbsp palm sugar
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp veg oil
1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sweet soy sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce
1tsp sesame oil

Pea sprouts are my favorite vegetable.  Simple and pure wok fried in a bit of vegetable oil, salt and garlic.  When prepping, pinch off the thread like fronds and only keep the tender portion of the sprout.  If it feels tough to break off, then it will be tough to eat.  
Be careful not to overcook.  Saute on high heat only until the leaves just wilt.  

Fried Rice with Lemongrass and Coconut Milk
4 cups white rice
1 tsp each of minced garlic and ginger
1 tbsp minced lemongrass from inner tender portion of the stalk
1 small shallot minced
2 tsp sweet soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp coconut milk
about 20 or so basil leaves
vegetable oil
In a large wok, saute garlic, ginger, lemongrass and shallot in oil until softened.  Add rice and combine.  Then add in soy, fish sauce, and coconut milk.  Toss and stir fry well and add in basil leaves to finish.  Top with a fried egg, or two, if you'd like.
I felt a little off my game tonight.  What was it?  I don't know.  Everything was good.  But it felt like it could have been better.  I am left wanting...something.

In Search of Kaffir Lime Leaves

Tonight's meal is going to be Thai inspired.  I picked up all of my spices yesterday but did not find any Kaffir Lime Leaves.  No problem, I thought, I will get them today when I get my fish.  Alarmingly, they did not have any at Uwajimaya.  Only a note posted reading "No Kaffir Lime Leaves until further notice".  Well, this is strange, I thought.  Maybe just a coincidence.  I hit two more asian markets.. none to be found.  Research required!
A brief search on the internet revealed some chatter about the missing Kaffir leaf.  Though I could not find anything directly on the USDA's site, it seems there's a quarantine in place.
Oh sad day.  There is nothing quite like the Kaffir.  It imparts a difficult to put a finger on flavor.  Limey, but not too acidic, flowery, but not sweet.  The scent is so clean and refreshing, you want to carry it around with you just to brighten your day. The most interesting thing I've ever made with it was a dish I saw in a movie.  Her secret ingredient to the Quail with Saffron Sauce was this mighty little leaf.  Not having it now, reminds me how many wonderful foods this gem can enhance.  What are Thai restaurants doing in lieu of this?  Bootlegging?  Smuggling?  Do they have a secret supply?  Oh, give us our little gem back.

(I should also mention thanks to Market Manila, from whom I copied the above photo.)

Thursday Pork Belly for Chris

Chris asked me last night if he should blog about the left over frozen pizza he was planning on reheating tonight since I will not be home.  Oh, you are in luck I said.  I had a piece of pork belly in the freezer which I bought and never got around to using.  I pulled it out of the freezer yesterday morning and after it defrosted, I combined kosher salt, sugar and 5 spice powder and rubbed it into the pork.  I placed into a shallow pan, covered it and let marinate in the refrigerator overnight.  This morning, I took it out and rinsed off the rub and placed it back in the frige until ready to cook.
Take the pork out and let come to room temperature.  My piece of pork belly did not have the skin on it, just a layer of fat.  It should have the skin on if you want crispy pork belly.  Pierce skin all over with a fork.  This will help the crackling crisp up.  Place pork skin side up on a rack set on a baking sheet and put into 450f oven and roast for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and pierce skin once again with fork.  Reduce oven to 400f and roast for another 45 minutes.  Let pork rest for 20 minutes before slicing.  Serve with steamed buns, cilantro, thinly sliced green onions, chili sauce and plum sauce.  Make your bun to your liking.. use everything or nothing at all.  

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March 17, What else... Corned Beef and Cabbage

Well, it's St. Patrick's Day, and while no one in our family is Irish, and I'm not even sure that this is what they eat in Ireland on this day, I always make corned beef and cabbage.  The why is because if there's an event or holiday that involves eating something which might be delicious, I am going to cook for it.
I purchased my brisket already brined.  Had I planned ahead, I should have brined it myself.  A goal for next year!  As such, it feels like a bit of an overstatement to say I 'made' corned beef.  I removed it from its wrapping and placed it into a large dutch oven, cracked open a large bottle (22 oz) of Guinness and poured it in, then added enough water to just cover the beef.   I then decided to add in 1/3 of an onion thickly sliced.  Cover, bring to a boil, then turn heat down to simmer for 2 1/2 hours.  Chop up some carrots and add to the pot and boil for 15 minutes.  Then add in the chunks of cabbage and boil for another 15 minutes.  It was very good, but pretty salty. I am a salt fiend, so for me to say it's salty, means it's really salty.  The leftovers were saved for a corned beef hash and poached egg breakfast.  That will be the bigger pay off!  

Xiao Long Bao - Got Juice?

Today I made another run at my pursuit of the perfect xiao long bao.  My very first posting talked about my work in progress and the challenge of keeping the broth from escaping the shell.  I  actually started yesterday by preparing the pork filling, which is the same recipe as used for my kuo tien , but with one essential addition of a gelatin broth.  I took 2 lbs of pork neck bones, 1/4 onion, a few slices of ginger and 5-6 cups water and made a broth.  Simmer together for about 2 hours, let cool a bit, remove bones and strain soup.  I think in the end, I had about 4 cups of broth.  I put half away in a jar for later use and to the rest, I added a packet of gelatin stirring to dissolve.  Pour into a square shaped pan and refrigerate until set.  It's like making an aspic.
Today, I removed the gelatin from the pan, same as you would remove jello from a mold and sliced into pieces to add to the pork mixture.  When cooked, the gelatin will melt and turn back into a broth.
For the dough, mix unbleached flour and boiling hot water with a pair of chopsticks first, and then add cold water to finish.  The hot water brings out the gluten in the flour.  I make my dough purely on feel.  My guess is in the past, my dough has been a little too moist, soft and stretchy and that is the reason why it does not hold in the broth during cooking.  Today, it was more firm, and unyielding.  My arms got a good workout kneading.  Let rest for 30 minutes or so before rolling.  
Divide the dough into small enough pieces to work with.  Squeeze and roll each piece into one long thin piece about one inch thick, like a thick rope.  Then cut into small pieces, flatten with your palm, and roll out each individually.  To roll, use a small rolling pin working the edges out as you rotate the round.  This creates a thinner edge while the center stays a little thicker.  When you pinch and fold the dough over itself at the top edge to form the bun, it will make the top less doughy while keeping a slightly thicker and stronger bottom.   
With my main meal already on the stove, this was going to have to be an appetizer.  I could not resist testing them out.  Tonight I tried a different steaming method.  I was thinking my cute little bamboo steamers were perhaps doing the job too slowly, causing the shell to become too wet and flimsy.  I might not have the right set up for those small steamers.  So, I decided to use the metal steaming pot my mom bought for me.  Not as cute, but it cooked them perfectly.  
 Maggie beamed, "I've got juice!  YUMMMMY!"  

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring Planting

I have a couple of planter boxes that I built several years ago which sit on our back parking pad behind our house.  It is the sunniest spot we have.  I have always planted predominantly tomatoes.  They have been my cash crop, but last year I had an epiphany after eating some home grown potatoes.  They were by far the best potatoes I had ever eaten.  So, well, potato-y and rich and creamy and I've been searching for that potato experience ever since.  Even the ones I subsequently bought at farmers markets did not compare.  This year I am abandoning my cash crop and diving into, hopefully, potato heaven.
Two weeks ago, I started by tilling the soil and pulling out any left over debris from last summer. Then I supplemented it with a barnyard blend, which is a combination of compost and barnyard manure.  Let that all sit and steep like tea until ready to plant. 
I purchased my potato starts from our local nursery and planted my variety of red and yellow potatoes on yesterday's beautiful sunny day.  Along the back of the planters, I planted Oregon sugar snow peas and in one corner, birdhouse gourds.  I give the gourds a small chance of success as they will have to trail along the concrete surface, but thought it would be something fun to try.  This fall, I'll be blogging about birdhouses.  The snow peas will serve two purposes.  Wok fried pea shoots are my favorite vegetable.  You pick off the tender new shoots before they flower.  They are tender and so clean tasting sauteed with a little garlic and vegetable oil.  Then you get the snow peas  once you let the plant grow and flower.  
There is something very empowering about growing vegetables.  Learn about it, nurture it, be patient and it will, in return, nourish you.  One tiny seed can bring you a bounty of riches.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lamb Pops

After a short cooking hiatus, I'm feeling a little off my stride.  I have a few things I want to try, but not quite feeling it yet.  So, I walk up and down the meat counter until something moves me into action.  Have you ever looked at the marked down meats?  There is a section at my neighborhood QFC that has items coming close to their "Sell by" dates marked down.  I struggle with this concept as I am one of those shoppers that picks through the stack, finding the one with the latest date of expiration.  I do this on everything edible.  It is one of my little cooking quirks.  But, I still like to look at the mark down section.  After all, who doesn't like a good deal?  You can usually tell by looking at it if you're good to go.  In my last working life, I remember one of my managers saying, it's part of our jobs to look.  We are paid to look.  On this particular day, I find some very fine looking lamb chops marked down to less than half their original price.  Expiration date: tomorrow.  Sold!
In the marinade are sherry vinegar, port, honey, fig jam, sweet chili sauce, dijon mustard, olive oil, minced shallots and ground black pepper.  A heavy nose in the lamb confirms no worries here.  
I served it with a green onion, mushroom and lemon risotto.  "Where'd you get this lamb?" Chris asked.  I said, you'll have to read the blog.  Isn't everything better when you feel like you got a deal?  We loved it, but once Chris reads this, he will love it even more!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thursday Reunited with My Chicken

Yes, we did meet again.  Chicken number two from my Costco purchase came out of the freezer today to meet a brine of water, sugar and kosher salt.  Once the chicken was defrosted, I followed yet another Momofuku cookbook recipe; this time for fried chicken and octo vinaigrette.
I was online looking for a recipe link when I found an abundance of blogs from other folks who had made this.  So, I started to hit the delete button on my writing. I will say, it reminded us of mandarin fried chicken, a favorite in our house.  But, do we need another blog on this fried chicken?  Probably not.
Just one sidebar.  I saved the liquid at the bottom of the pan after steaming the chicken.  I couldn't help but taste it.  It was super rich in chicken flavor and salty.  I  shall use it to enhance the flavors of other dishes I make.  It reminded me of what I know to be gao tang, or high broth.  In Chinese restaurant kitchens, there is often a large pot of this made of bones and parts from chickens, pork, etc., slowly stewed to make a rich broth.  It's used to cook with instead of water.  This was an unexpected by-product worth making the meal itself!  
And yes, the chicken was DELICIOUS!  

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Recovery Eggplant Ricotta

Coming off that pig high from last night's dinner, I decided no meat tonight.  Eggplant is one of those things I hated as a kid, but love as an adult.  I love it roasted, grilled, szechuan wok fried, pureed in a spread, in a timbale, curried, caponata, baked in parmesan.  The options for this beautiful aubergine are abundant and distinct.  In my refrigerator I already had a partially used tub of ricotta, home made tomato sauce, parmesan and pecorino romano.  So, today I picked up a couple eggplant and some basil.
Slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/4" thick slices.  Brush with olive oil.  If you heat (microwave) the oil slightly, it will make it easier to brush on the eggplant.  Grill until soft and golden.   Alternatively, you can roast the eggplant in the oven at 400f.  For the ricotta filling, I had about 10-12 oz of ricotta, to which I added grated parmesan and pecorino, finely chopped basil and salt and pepper to taste. When eggplant has cooled, wrap ricotta mixture inside and set into a shallow dish.  Ladle tomato sauce over the rolls and sprinkle with a little bit more parmesan and pecorino.  Bake in the oven until heated through and cheese has crisped.   Satisfying and flavorful, yet not too substantial.  Just right for a quick rehab.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bo Ssam

 We are headed to NYC in a few weeks and we've all been researching online what we want to do.  Chris has been making his restaurant list and found Ssam Bar serving bo ssam .  Anthony Bourdain raves about it on his Food Porn episode of No Reservations.  Unfortunately, upon further investigation, Chris discovered they will only take reservations for the bo ssam for 6-10 people or you can order it to go for $250.  After describing it in detail to me, I pointed out to him I had David Chang's cookbook containing the bo ssam recipe.  Ooops.  
So, it's Tuesday morning and I've pulled out  my eight pound whole bone-in Boston pork butt which has been marinating in equal parts sugar and kosher salt overnight.  The recipe calls for 1 cup of each, but I think 1/2 cup of each was all that was needed to generously coat the meat.
Into the 300f oven it went at 11:30am.   The good news is that after that, the only work to be done for the next 6 hours is basting once an hour.  With simple ingredients, effortless cooking, all I hope for is that I got a quality piece of pork.  Only time will tell.
At 5:45pm, I removed it and let it rest and "mellow out" until ready to serve.  At 6:20pm, I turned the oven to 500f, rubbed a mixture of 1 tbsp kosher salt and 7 tbsp brown sugar all over the pork, and returned it to the oven for 10 minutes. 
Ssam literally means wrap.  So, the meal is served with bib lettuce for wrapping, shucked oysters, ginger scallion sauce, ssam sauce, and I threw in some steamed buns and diluted hoison sauce for the girls.  Last night, Chris said we should decorate the house especially for this meal.  And now, I see it deserves a special celebration.  Chang describes, "it's like shoulder encrusted in pig candy".   That is the perfect description!  When everything was set on the table, Stella uttered, "it feels like Thanksgiving!"  
I have to say, this is the best pork I have ever eaten.  It is beyond good.  Of all the bbq's and slow cooking we've done with various pork shoulders, this is my favorite.  The essential trait of the pork butt is that it is well marbled, but all of the fat had cooked out of it, leaving it succulent and tender.  The ssam sauce and ginger scallion sauce were my favorite.  I say leave the oysters out.  It is not necessary and steals away the sweetness of the pork.  I brought out the pickled daikon and carrots I had previously made. The wrap was delicious, but I think just eating it with white rice and the ginger scallions and ssam sauce was even better.  Can something so humble be so good?  We know the answer is yes!

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Go To Dinner

I've already mentioned this dish before, but it really is too good not to go into further detail.  This is one of my kids' favorites.  Hong shao (red cooked) pork ribs.  They are actually also known as sweet and sour ribs.  I have used both baby back ribs and spare ribs for this.  Once in a while, I find the perfect, small boned ribs already cut into perfect width, but outside of that I think my favorite is the baby back ribs.  I have the butcher cut length wise into sections for me and then I cut the ribs up into smaller pieces.  Blanche the ribs in water to remove the outside blood and impurities.  Discard water.  Return the ribs to the pot and add in water to cover, dark soy sauce, white vinegar, cooking wine, sugar, sliced onion, sliced ginger and a couple garlic cloves.  Simmer for 15 minutes and add in 2 bunches of green onions.  This is my and my dad's favorite part of this dish - the braised green onions.  Continue to simmer for another 30-45 minutes and  uncover, and boil rapidly until sauce is slightly thickened.  This is one of those sauces that, as Chris says, you can pour over old shoe leather and you would eat it.  I wish I could bottle the sauce.  My girls spoon it over their white rice gobble it up like they are in an eating contest.  I actually threw in a brain teaser exercise tonight to stop our gorging.  We love a good meal and are not afraid to show it!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Duck Ravioli with Porcini Mushroom Sauce

It's Oscar night, and while I'm in my sweats, in my mind, I am in my made to order Chanel gown.  There are two television events I cook for.. the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards.  Menu items are polar opposites.  I love both.  I seared two duck legs and placed on top of chopped onion and apple with a bay leaf, a little rosemary and thyme, and a splash of port.   Double wrap in foil and bake at 325f for 2 hours.  
When done, take legs out, set aside.   Take juices from inside aluminum pouch and separate fat from liquid.  Take liquid with apples and onions and puree.  For duck legs, remove skin and discard, and shred the leg meat.  To the leg meat, add sauteed chopped button mushrooms, chopped porcini mushrooms, ricotta cheese, mascarpone, grated parmesan, one egg yoke, truffle salt and freshly grated pepper to taste and mix well.  I made my ravioli with freshly made pasta sheets.  
For the sauce, I took the pureed apple, onions, juices from the duck and added the liquid in which I soaked the porcini mushrooms.  Bring to a boil and add a bit of cream and reduce.   Salt & pepper to taste.  Boil ravioli for 3 minutes, ladle sauce on top and finish with freshly grated parmesan.
I have to say, it was so very good.  I wanted to lick my plate.

Devils on Horseback with Fennel, Leek and Potato Soup

Besides its ease, this little tidbit is worth making just so you can use the name.  Wrap yearling oysters in bacon and bake at 425f.  Use a half slice of bacon for each.  I par cooked the bacon first before wrapping the oysters.  
A little shot of fennel, leek and potato soup made good company.  Thinly slice one fennel and one leek (white and tender green part only) and peel and cube two small red potatoes.  I sauteed them in half oil, half bacon fat until softened.  Yes! I keep my bacon fat, otherwise known as liquid gold, in a jar in the refrigerator.  Add two cups of chicken broth and boil until potatoes are break apart soft.  Cool slightly and puree in blender.  Salt and pepper to taste.
Quote of the night... "I'll eat anything if it has bacon wrapped around it!"

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Too Sunny for Saturday Lunch Beef Noodle Soup

I should have checked the weather forecast before deciding on beef noodle soup.  But I've been promising Maggie to make this for a few weeks now.  This was our specialty at my family's restaurant when I was growing up.  I remember two vats of beef and beef stock cooking every Saturday at our restaurant for the Sunday lunch service.  One was for the lighter stock made of beef bones and one was the thicker sauce of braised beef shank.  Since 1991, after living in Taiwan for a year, we have been frequenting the Szechuan Noodle Bowl in the international district.  It is a modest little restaurant delivering the closest to, in my opinion, real Taiwanese beef noodle soup, green onion pancakes, and kuo tien in this area.  If you are looking for service, niceties, and ambiance, this is not your spot.  But if you are searching for the best beef noodle soup and green onion pancakes in town, stop in, and you will not be disappointed.
When we were in Taiwan recently for a wedding, we requested of our friend Eddy, to bring us to his favorite beef noodle soup joint.  Eddy always has the best restaurants in town on his radar.  The place he took us to was just slightly larger than a street vendor's stand, but it blew us away.  The soup was rich and savory, and the noodles had the perfect balance of elasticity and chewiness.  You could tell they were freshly made.  Eddy, once again, delivered us to the best spot in town.  It wasn't until after we sat down and ordered, that Eddy told us he no longer ate beef.  Now that's a good friend.
For my beef noodle soup, I did as my mom did, two vats, one stock and one beef.  I started the stewing last night.  The two pots contain basically the same ingredients but the stock gets more water, while the stewed beef less water and more quantity of the same ingredients.
1 package of beef bones, about 2 lbs
2 large pieces of beef shank, about 3 lbs
5 - 1/2" thick pieces of ginger
5 garlic cloves
1/2 onion thinly sliced
4 green onions
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp vegetable oil
2 star anise
1 tsp szechuan peppercorns

Take your beef bones and beef shank, cover in water and bring to a boil for several minutes.  This cooks off the outer impurities.  Remove bones and shank and discard water.  I should mention you can probably only find beef shank at an asian market.  More popular are veal shank or lamb shank in your neighborhood grocery store.  
In one large pot, I sauteed the ginger, garlic, onions in the oils until fragrant, then add in the star anise and peppercorns.  Transfer 1/3 of this mixture into another pot.  Place the bones in with the 1/3 mixture, a few tbsp of dark soy and cooking wine and cover with approximately 3 qts water.  Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer.  Simmer for approximately 4 hours.
For the beef shank, slice the shank into 3/4" thick pieces.  Combine with remaining ingredients of first pot and add in a few tbsp of dark soy, cooking wine and sugar along with 5 or 6 cups of water .  Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer.  Depending on the shank, I've cooked it for as little as 1 hour or as much as 3 hours.  You have to check on it from time to time.  My disclaimer on the measurements is that I don't do any.  I just eyeball it, so these are approximates.  Taste along the way and it will be ok.
To serve, I purchased fresh white noodles - well, fresh in that they weren't dried, and were in the refrigerated section.  Boil for 2 minutes, toss in the baby bok choy pieces in the same water.  In the bowl goes the noodles, then the bok choy, some slices of beef then enough stock to cover the noodles with the addition of some of the sauce from the beef.  A chili oil and minced pickled mustard greens are offered as condiments.  The chili oil is a pick up from the restaurant in Taiwan.  They use the oil skimmed from the top of the stock and mixed with chili powder.  This gives you the spice without altering the taste of the soup.  Chris passes on the pickled mustard greens, but I love it.  Add a little vinegar to the soup if you like.  We do!  The girls love the braised baby bamboo shoots on the side.  
Bellies full, we are off to enjoy the sunshine!