Friday, May 18, 2007

Fried rice?

Tonight I took a three hour long nap only to wake up and realize there was nothing to make for dinner. On nights like these you have to resist the urge to just order a pizza. I didn't wake up hungry but I had a hankering for Chinese food. So off to the store I went, in search of something I could quickly throw together. I snagged some sliced pork sirloin, shitakes, snow peas, a can of pineapple, and some peas and carrots. I was set.

I never had fried rice with pineapple until I met P. I'm not sure if it is a Cantonese thing or not but it is really wonderful especially with shrimp. So get a wok or a big skillet throw in your veggies, pineapple, scramble some eggs in it and throw in the rice. Add a little salt but avoid the soy sauce else it will be too salty and soggy.

I nosed around the internet for some interesting sauce ideas to toss in with the rest of the meal. Cut up the bits of pork and marinade them in soy sauce (low sodium of course), honey, red pepper flake, and a good bit of grated ginger. Scale down the proportions according to how much pork you have and how spicy you want it. It would probably be a good idea to let the pork mingle in the sauce for at least an hour but I never plan ahead. Just let it sit while you make the rice and get everything else ready. In a skillet, brown the pork and reserve the leftover liquid. Normally you always use peanut oil for stuff like this but since it is so incredible bad for you I never use it. I say just use a really mild olive oil -- I promise it won't taste funny. Once the pork is cooked take it out and set it aside. Keep the pan hot and add a couple cloves of garlic and a good splash of orange juice and a tad of mirin to kinda deglaze the pan. Let that reduce down a bit then add your veggies. I let the snowpeas wilt down then added sliced shitakes towards the end so they would keep their shape. Toss in the reserved marinade, the pork, and give it a stir. As always, this is way better than takeout and no delicious MSG!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Soba Noodles

Soba noodles are typically served cold. They can be a little tricky to cook just right. If you boil them too long they get sticky and gummy. If you boil them just right, they will be wonderful. The possibilities are endless when it comes to adding other ingredients. The key is to have a really great sauce and the rest is easy.

Soba Noodles with Tofu and Cucumber
adapted from Clotide's site Chocolate & Zucchini

8 oz soba noodles
1 medium-sized English cucumber, seeded
10 oz firm tofu, cubed
1/4 C (or less) of frozen baby green peas
2 tblsp low sodium soy sauce
1 tblsp white wine vinegar
1 tblsp mirin
1 tbsp tahini
1 tsp sugar

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Lightly fry the tofu in a small pan with whatever spice you'd like or just plain. Add the peas towards the end. Cook until tender and set aside to cool. In a large bowl whisk together the tahini, soy sauce, mirin, vinegar, and sugar and set aside. Cook the soba noodles in boiling water as per the package directions. (Mine said 4 minutes.) Drain them immediately and run cold water over them or place them in an ice bath to stop cooking. Toss the noodles in with the sauce and then gently fold in the tofu, peas, and a diced, seeded cucumber. Serve immediately.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Indian Food Take 37

Its no big secret that Indian food tops my list of favorite ethnic foods (right behind sushi). So I find it unbelievably unfair that I live in a place that has 2 Indian restaurants both terrible. (Luckily there are several excellent sushi places around.) In an attempt to satisfy my needs, I have tried and tried again to work my Indian food skills in the kitchen. After countless attempts, some better than others, I think I'm actually getting somewhere. Thanks to a surprise issue of this month's Saveur to inspire me, I was able to make two dishes rather successfully and even naan!

Matar paneer is pretty typical Indian fare. This version is slightly different than others I've tried. It lacked cream, used red onions, and required infusing the base with whole spices instead of ground. I made the paneer from scratch, which is how this whole overly involved dinner started. When milk is about to go bad in my fridge I simply make Indian cheese with it and I can either freeze it or turn it into a paneer dish right away. The recipe made enough to feed 8 people, I would say, and was wonderfully fragrant.

Bhagan bharta looks like a bunch of mush, and it is. Three red onions are cooked down to a nice sweet mush with cumin. Then tomatoes are added, some more spices, and two perfectly mashed roasted eggplants. This is typically a super hot dish but after four serranos, mine was mild at best.

I've tried making naan before but I didn't have a rolling pin at the time and it was a disaster. This recipe was a piece of cake since it required no yeast and just a little bit of elbow grease. The secret is to roll them out very thin so when they hit the skillet they puff up nicely and cook evenly. You can mix spices in the dough like garam marsala, coriander, or garlic is great too.

Indian food, I shall conquer you one of these days. I'm hoping for a trip to Hyderabad, India in the near future so I'll have to be patient until then. In the meantime, I need to figure out how to make Indian food in under 4 hours. It is killer.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Taste of Yellow

As of tonight I have officially endured the worst of my unfortunate food week(s) and am back in the kitchen churning out tasty food. I'm relieved. Last night nearly did me in when I realized I had no chicken broth, that my avocado had gone bad, and that my mango was a stringy mess like I'd never seen before. I was on the verge of tears, seriously.

I've been thinking of yellow food after having read about Live Strong Day on other blogs. I thought it would be perfect since I had a giant bag of lemons waiting to be used for something. The idea behind it, as far as I can tell, is to raise awareness about cancer and to show support for those currently battling the condition. In the food blogger community at large, we have decided to participate by making dishes with yellow food. Here's my take on yellow food starting with lemon risotto.

This is pretty much the same recipe as the red wine risotto but with lemons. Add 2 tsp of zest and the juice from one lemon with a nice handful of parsley and you have a lemony fresh dish that is so thick and creamy yet totally light.

I didn't stop there with the lemons or the yellow food. I haven't made chicken piccata in ages so I thought it was high time that I did. You can't make a dish easier than this. Flatten some chicken breasts, dust them with flour, salt and pepper, and brown them in a pan. Add 1/3 C white wine, 1/4 C chicken broth, 1/4 C lemon juice, 1 tbsp butter and bring to a boil. Add some more butter and a bit of flour to thicken things and throw in about half a handful of capers, some lemon slices, and some parsley and pour the sauce over the chicken. Yellow food in no time flat.

I just love these little baby carrots don't you? They're so cute. This recipe came from the back of the bag of carrots and I was surprised at how wonderful they turned out.

Honey-Vanilla Glazed Baby Carrots
from 'the back of the bag'

8 oz baby carrots
2 1/2 Tbsp honey
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp white wine vinegar
1/2 Tbsp butter
pinch of salt

In a saucepan large enough for the carrots so that they lie flat, melt the butter. Add the honey, vanilla, vinegar, and salt and stir to combine. Add the carrots and toss to coat with the sauce. Cook them on
medium-high heat until fork tender -- tossing to coat every so often.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The bitter truth

Here's the truth -- the stuff coming out of my kitchen has stunk lately. Things just haven't been working out. I've had mediocre braises, a brine-job gone horribly wrong, sub par pasta dishes...we've gone out for sushi a lot instead. A stroke of bad luck? Maybe, but I need to get back in the swing of things. Instead of going for something exciting and challenging to get me back in the grove, I thought I'd start simple and ease my way back in.

We don't have Chinese often. Let me rephrase that, we don't have American-style Chinese food often (ever). Since the mouth I feed sees Cantonese cuisine as the only good Chinese food, I avoid that territory until I get further instruction from the family experts. This recipe comes from Gourmet and it literally takes about 15-20 minutes to make.

Cashew Chicken Stir-fry
Gourmet May 2007

Diced chicken breasts or thighs, trimmed (about 1 lb)
1 red bell pepper, diced
bunch of scallions thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 inch knob of ginger, minced
1/2 C dry roasted unsalted cashews
1 - 1 1/2 tsp red pepper flake
3/4 C free-range low sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch

Season the chicken with salt and pepper then brown in a skillet (or a wok if you have it). Cook it until it is barely cooked through, you'll add it to the pan later for another minute or two so you don't want to overcook it. Remove the chicken to a plate and add the garlic, ginger, red pepper flake and cook until fragrant. Add the red pepper and scallions. Cook until the pepper gets soft. Mix together the broth, soy sauce, sugar, and corn starch and add it to the pan. Let it cook for a minute or two until it thickens. Add the cashews and the chicken and stir to coat. Serve it up. This is a piece of cake and better than Chinese takeout.