Monday, August 25, 2014

Mapo Tofu

This dish consisting of slippery cubes of bean curd in a rich scarlet sauce is an instantly recognizable Sichuanese classic. It's always a standout at my beloved Han Dynasty's monthly epic tasting dinners, and after attending the last one I consulted my Sichuan bible, Fuschia Dunlop's Land of Plenty, for a good recipe so I could satisfy the mapo tofu craving whenever it arose. The recipe is remarkably straightforward if you, like I, have collected a couple key ingredients - which is totally worth your time and investment to do if you like cooking this cuisine. I'm still scraping at the dregs of the giant jar of Pixian doubanjiang (authentic-as-it-gets Sichuan chili bean paste) my husband gifted me with two years ago (!), and will be instantly re-ordering when I finally run out. It lends its indelible fire and funk to not just this delicious mapo tofu, but to many other Sichuan dishes as well. I'm very happy to always have some on hand so that now, armed with this fantastic recipe, I can whip up a batch of mapo whenever the craving hits.


Ma Po Tofu
Makes 3 servings

Adapted from Fuschia Dunlop's Land of Plenty 

*1 block tofu (12 oz to a pound), cubed
*Scant 1/2 cup peanut oil
*A couple ounces of ground pork
*1/4 cup chili bean paste
*1 clove garlic, minced
*1 small nub of ginger, minced
*1 tablespoon fermented black beans, rinsed
*1 cup chicken stock
*1 teaspoon sugar
*1 teaspoon finely ground roasted Sichuan peppercorns
*4 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 6 teaspoons cold water
*Light soy sauce
*3 scallions, 2 sliced in larger diagonal pieces and the final sliced thinly for garnish
*Sesame seeds for garnish

Put the tofu cubes in gently simmering salted water while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Pour the peanut oil in a wok over medium-high heat and when it is nearly smoking, throw in the pork. Using a wooden spoon, break it up into small pieces and stir-fry for about 5 minutes or until the pork is beginning to brown and crisp. Reduce heat to medium and add the chili bean paste; stir fry for about 20 seconds before adding the beans, garlic and ginger. Continue cooking for another 20-30 seconds before pouring in the stock. Sprinkle in the sugar and peppercorns, and season with soy sauce (I use less than a teaspoon). Gently drain the tofu and add the cubes to the mix, stirring carefully to not break them up too much. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 5 or 6 minutes, stirring every now and again. Throw the larger pieces of scallion in about half-way through.

To thicken the sauce, add the cornstarch slurry a teaspoon at a time and mix well after each addition - only use as much as you need to thicken it to your desired consistency. Serve garnished with thinly sliced scallion and a spangle of sesame seeds, with rice.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kedgeree

It's fun to learn what other people keep as mainstays in their kitchen. You think you know a person, only to find out that they are opening tins of "kipper snacks" and getting to the bottom of tubs of goats' milk yogurt on the regular. Such was my experience when I agreed to house/pet sit for a good friend of mine; she left me a panoply of groceries and a note encouraging me to take anything in the pantry or fridge that I wanted, so I of course had to take stock. In the pantry were a couple boxes of aforementioned kipper snacks and in the fridge, a half-empty carton of goats' milk yogurt plus another, unopened. I was fascinated and delighted. Eyeballing the kippers, I thought to use them in a batch of kedgeree, a Brit-Indian dish of spiced rice, eggs and smoked fish first brought to my attention at the superlative Lawrence in Montreal. I decided that the dish could use a little tang, so I stirred in some of the goats' milk yogurt as well - it turned out to be fabulous. Every spoonful yielded tasty fish fragments, greenery, voluptuous egg, warming spices and toothsome rice. I loved it. I think I'll be stacking kipper snacks in my pantry from now on, too. Maybe leave the goats' milk yogurt to my friend, though.



Kedgeree
Makes 2-4 servings

*1 organic egg per intended serving
*2 1/2 cups leftover cooked basmati rice (Cooked with a shard of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, a couple crushed cardamom pods, and a clove, ideally!)
*1 tablespoon ghee or butter
*1 small onion, somewhere between diced and minced
*1 clove garlic, minced
*1 teaspoon Madras curry powder
*1/2 teaspoon turmeric
*1 teaspoon cumin
*1/4 teaspoon coriander
*1 tin smoked kipper fillets (or smoked haddock, or another smoked fish), flaked, pin bones removed
*Good handful chopped parsley and cilantro
*1 heaping spoonful Greek or goat yogurt       
*S&P

Bring a pot of water to a boil and soft-boil the egg(s). Meanwhile, in a wide skillet, melt the ghee over medium-low and saute the onion until soft, then add the garlic. Sprinkle in the spices and let bloom before adding in the rice and fish. Cook a few minutes on low to heat everything up, while you remove the soft-boiled egg. Run it under cold water and peel gently. Stir in the herbs and yogurt, season to taste, dish out and fleck each serving with quartered or chopped soft-boiled egg.

For the record, I did scrape off the skin on the kippers (Crown Prince brand) and fed them to the lovely kitty I'm caring for. If you're not icked by fish-skin then that isn't necessary. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Herbed Pearl Couscous Salad

Cold pasta salads are ubiquitous during high summer, but for good reasons - they're excellent vehicles for summer produce, they're delicious, and can be made in advance and left to loiter in the fridge (or in the cooler toted to a picnic) until needed. This is one of my absolute favorites to make; the pearls of Israeli couscous deviate from the well-trod rotini rut, and it is superlatively tasty and cooling on a hot summer day. It's a nice way to showcase all the herbs that are exploding on my porch, too - the basil, parsley and cilantro provide a rich green backdrop for the mint to accent in refreshing little flourishes.


Herbed Pearl Couscous Salad
Makes 5-6 servings


*1 1/3 cup pearl (Israeli) couscous
*1 cup water
*3/4 cup vegetable stock (or, just use 1 3/4 cup water)
*1 small onion, thinly sliced (or, about a half cup of caramelized onions)
*2 packed cups of assorted herbs: my breakdown is 1 cup parsley, 1/2 cup cilantro, a palmful of basil leaves and a couple sprig’s worth of mint leaves, maybe 7-8. Mint is essential, but don’t overdo it!
*1 clove garlic                        
*1/4 cup olive oil
*S&P
*Handful of pistachios, toasted and chopped
*Handful of arugula or nasturtium leaves, chopped
*Healthy squeeze of fresh lemon juice
*1/2 teaspoon citrusy hot sauce (I love Chile Spot's Fatalii Fantasii Sauce for this)

In a pot over medium heat saute the onions in some evoo until translucent if you're not using caramelized onions. Remove the onions and add the couscous; saute a few minutes while you bring the water and stock to a boil. Add the boiling water/stock to the couscous, stir well, cover, and cook on low for about 11 minutes. Make the herb pistou by blitzing the herbs along with the oil, garlic and pinches of S&P in a small food processor.  Add the pistou, nuts, onions and greens to the couscous, mix everything together well, and then season with the hot sauce, lemon juice, and S&P to taste. Serve at room temp or chilled.  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream

How is it that it's nearly come to August and I haven't posted a single ice cream recipe yet!? Well, I decided that since I've dawdled this long, the first one of the summer better'd be a doozy - and let me tell you, this ice cream is a doozy. The other household half deems it the best ice cream I've ever made, surpassing even the famed cereal milk ice cream. This one oozes summer; it was born of a lazy, sticky evening out on the porch around the charcoal with sticks in hand, slowly and carefully turning marshmallows over winking-red embers. It also oozes pure toasted marshmallow flavor in every creamy cold bite: fire and smoke and hints of those charred sugary blisters from when you push your luck too far and a marshmallow bursts into flame. You must make this ice cream. Yet *another* reason to build a campfire or get a nice charcoal grill going this summer!



Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream
Makes about a pint
Adapted from The Merry Thought

*5 oz marshmallows
*3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
*1 cup whole milk*
*1/4 cup sugar

*Pinch kosher salt
*1 scant teaspoon vanilla extract
*1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled
Find some roastin' sticks and recruit a partner to toast all the marshmallows over a dying fire, throwing them all in a blender. Combine the milk, sugar, salt and vanilla extract in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over medium heat until steaming. Temper the yolks with a little of the hot milk, whisking constantly, then pour the egg mixture back into the pan over medium heat, stirring, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Don't let it boil! Remove from heat and let cool just a touch, while stirring. Pass the custard through a sieve into the blender and blend for about a minute. Let sit for a few minutes, then blend again for another minute. Add in the cold heavy cream and blend for another 20 seconds or so. Pour the mix into a container and chill overnight or at LEAST 6 hours until entirely chilled. Whisk or blitz the ice cream batter well before churning, churn for about 20-25 minutes, and either enjoy soft-serve style or pop into a good container and let ripen in the freezer for a while longer. Enjoy with chocolate drizzle and a graham cracker, if you please!

*In complete honesty, I only had about half a cup of whole milk and subbed cream for the rest, so mine was, like, transcendentally creamy. Feel free to die young and happy with me and do the same, whether or not you have gallons of milk on hand. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Haricot Vert, Purslane & Swiss Summer Panini

A dear friend invited me to raid her garden over the weekend and I was there almost before I hung up the phone. After a lovely evening filled with berry juice-stained fingers, floppy hats, the warm wink of fireflies and the thunk of beans hitting the bottom of a new bucket, I came away with quite a bounty, including a bit of a brand-new-to-me edible weed, purslane. Her Turkish beau pointed out its presence on her property - I gather it is greatly enjoyed by Turkish folk (with yogurt, especially). I like it; it has a slight mucilaginous quality but it is succulent (and IS a succulent!), with a lightly sour, cress-like flavor. A perfect addition to salads, or in this case, a crisply verdant summer panini with beans also plucked from the garden. However, if you don't stumble across it outdoors, you can always sub arugula or watercress.

This sandwich is inspired by the haricot vert panini on the menu at my beloved Tired Hands, although I must confess that even though it has intrigued me for months I have never ordered it because their meat ones are SO GOOD that I'd never dream of eating anything else there. However, my version has me convinced that it's a true contender with the meat'uns, especially in these summer months where something lighter is better. Sometime I'll have to actually order my inspiration while I'm sipping a delicious saison and see how it stacks up!


Haricot Vert, Purslane & Swiss Summer Panini
Makes 1 sandwich

*About 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
*1 teensy shallot or 1/2 of a small sweet onion, sliced thinly
*1 big handful of haricots verts, trimmed & blanched (briefly, like 10 seconds max)  
*1/4 cup purslane leaves + a few extra tender sprigs
*2 slices hearty bakery bread
*4 slices of really good Swiss cheese
*Your favorite fancy Dijon mustard, about a teaspoon & a half
*2 tablespoons good EVOO
*2 teaspoons lemon juice
*Leaves from a few thyme branches
*S&P

Whisk together the mustard, evoo, lemon juice, thyme leaves and pinches of S&P, set aside. In a skillet, melt a pat of butter with a drizzle of oil over medium low and add the shallots. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and saute for a couple minutes before adding in the beans. Saute a few minutes more then add the purslane leaves and remove from heat. Toss with the mustard vinaigrette. Season to taste.

Brush one side of each of the bread slices with a bit of the other tablespoon of butter (melted or room temp), then assemble the sandwich by smoothing a thin layer of mustard on one slice, then top with half the Swiss, the bean-purslane mix, the reserved sprigs of purslane, and then the rest of the cheese. Press the sandwich in a preheated panini maker for a couple minutes until the sandwich is toasty and the cheese has oozed. Cut 'n eat!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Christmas Chilaquiles

A couple years ago, on one of our many long car trips back from Montreal, my husband and I made a pitstop for some vittles and beer. We happened to land upon a taco joint in the middle of Nowhere, VT, run by extremely stoned hippies. Hippies who made damn good Mexican food. The tousled gamin behind the counter asked about sauce preference; when we asked for both red & green options he said with a shaggy grin, "we call that Christmas". We ate our Christmas enchiladas and took that description back home with us to make our own, along with some of their delicious salsa verde.

Chilaquiles is a dish I'm very fond of, especially when you just want to throw something comforting and savory together quickly. With leftover roasted chicken, salsas from the local taqueria in the fridge (they make 'em better than I do, anyway) and stale tortillas begging for a purpose, this is a great clean-out-the-kitchen dish as well. Plus, it's always fun to have Christmas in July. 

Apologies for the iPhone photo - DSLR will be back in action soon.

Christmas Chilaquiles
Makes 3-4 servings

*Vegetable oil
*1 cup salsa verde
*1 cup salsa rojo
*2 cups shredded chicken, divided
*10 stale corn tortillas, cut into wedges
*Sour cream, cotija cheese, lime wedges, cilantro for serving

Preheat the oven to 400. In a heavy pot heat a couple inches of vegetable oil to fry the tortilla wedges. In batches, fry the tortillas until crisp and browned, and drain on paper towels. Take two smallish baking dishes and ladle a little bit of the salsa verde in one, and the salsa rojo in the other. Toss the cups of chicken with a little respective sauce and then layer tortilla chips, ladles of salsa and shredded chicken in each baking dish. Repeat until all the chips have been used. Bake for 10-15 minutes, then serve by portioning out red and green salsa'd chilaquiles on a plate together. Add a dollop of sour cream + any other fixin's, and enjoy. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Caramelized Onion & Anchovy Tart

This is my dead-simple take on the classic Provençal onion tart, pissaladière, which is so uncomplicated in itself that I feel bad about nixing one of the main ingredients in making it palatable for personal consumption. However, I just ... cannot ... do ... olives. It's a major flaw, I know. I get the essential element of brininess from chopped capers, but feel free to be traditional and scatter cured olives about the tart if that's your thing. A slice of this makes for a perfect summer lunch or dinner, paired with crisp greens and a funky Berliner weiss.

In making caramelized onions, I have found the easiest route is to throw a bunch of sliced onions with butter, oil and seasonings in a cast iron pan and caramelize them at 350, stirring every 15, 20 minutes or so, until they're that lovely deep brown and of jammy consistency, about an hour or two. Plan on cutting up more onions than what the recipe calls for - you'll want more of them hanging around, trust me.



Caramelized Onion & Anchovy Tart
Makes 6-8 servings

*1 cup caramelized onions, about 4 onions' worth
*1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves
*1 tin anchovies (use as many as you want, I nearly clear the tin out)
*1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
*1 teaspoon capers, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400. When the puff pastry has thawed, roll it out a few times and put on a lightly cornmeal-dusted baking sheet. Score a thin border around the sheet and spread the onions around inside. Garnish with as many anchovies as you'd like, and rain down some thyme leaves (fresh is preferable but I used dried) over top. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the pastry has risen and is golden brown. Garnish with chopped capers.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Palak Chana

Or, "lazy lady's palak paneer".

I had a hankering today for luscious, spiced spinach and immediately jumped to palak paneer, but examining my afternoon and the errands & chores that splintered it up, I decided I didn't *quite* have enough time to make homemade paneer, even though it's a rather simple process. Instead, I quickly cooked up the greens in my usual way, added a can of chickpeas to the mix, and satiated my spinach craving even without the help of firm cubes of fresh cheese! My palak chana might have been makeshift, but I was pleased enough with the combo of chickpeas and spinach that I'll purpose to make it again!


Palak Chana
Makes 4 servings

Recipe adapted from various influences, but 101Cookbooks' recipe for saag paneer was most helpful in the framework.

*Cooking oil or ghee
*1 bag of baby spinach (8 cups), chopped into fine ribbons
*Kosher salt
*1/2 onion, diced small
*5 cloves garlic, chopped
*Nub of ginger, about an inch, peeled and chopped
*1 serrano chili, seeded
*1/4 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
*1 teaspoon ground cumin
*1 teaspoon ground coriander 
*Heaping 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
*1 15oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
*1/2 teaspoon garam masala
*Dash or two of cayenne
*Spoonful of plain yogurt (optional, but a lovely addition)
*Rice or naan, for serving

Heat some oil or ghee in a heavy pot over medium and add the whole cumin seeds; when they pop, add and saute the onions with a scattering of salt. You can either mince the garlic, ginger & chili and add them too, or do as I do and make a paste of them in a small food processor by adding a touch of water and a spoonful of canned diced tomatoes to help (if you, like I, always have a jar of leftover canned diced tomatoes hanging around in a mason jar in the fridge). Add the mince or paste and saute for about a minute before adding the spices and a pinch of salt. After they aromatize the kitchen add the spinach and stir for a minute until the spinach wilts, then add the chickpeas. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring often, until spinach is very soft, about 20 minutes. Stir in the yogurt, garam masala, and cayenne. Check for seasoning and serve over rice. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Chipotle Chicken Lettuce Wraps

The jar of leftover chipotle chilis in adobo from a $1.69 can beckons my guilty gaze when I open my fridge when I start to make dinner, because much like leftover tomato paste from a .50 cent can or half a tin of evaporated milk, I cannot abide by throwing what I don't use away but I also can't for the life of me remember to use them before they have overstayed their welcome. I caught sight of my chipotle jar loitering near the back of the fridge yesterday and determined to finish the stragglers off once and for all. In noodling around for some new ideas I came across an entry on Bev Cooks for chipotle chicken lettuce wraps, which got the ball rolling. The other household half opted for tortillas instead of lettuce, but I was very pleased with the verdant crunchiness of the lettuce contrasted with the smokey spicy bite of the piquant chipotle sauce. Leftovers successfully and deliciously dispatched! 

  
Chipotle Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Makes 6-8 lettuce wraps

Recipe inspired by Bev Cooks


*2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
*Cooking oil
*1/4 cup chicken broth
*1 cup tomato sauce (I use a can of El Pato Mexican Hot Style Tomato Sauce which I find at my local Walmart)
*2-3 canned chipotle chiles en adobo (remove the seeds, if you want)
*1/4 onion, chopped
*3 cloves garlic          
*Pinches of oregano, thyme, cumin, allspice
*Couple sprigs' worth of of cilantro leaves (or more, depending on how much you like cilantro)
*1 teaspoon lime juice
*S&P
*1/2 small red bell pepper, diced
*Boston or butter lettuce 
*3 scallions, sliced
*Lime wedges for serving

Heat some oil in a skillet over medium and season the chicken breasts. Saute about 5-6 minutes per side or until entirely cooked through. Meanwhile, blend the chicken stock, tomato sauce, chipotles, onion, garlic, spices, cilantro and lime juice in a food processor until smooth. When chicken has cooked, move to a cutting board and pour the chipotle sauce into the pan and cook over medium-low while occasionally stirring for 10 minutes or so, until it's a little darker and thicker. Dice the chicken and in a bowl, combine it with the diced bell pepper - add as much of the sauce as you want and stir until the chicken is well-coated. Spoon portions into the lettuce leaves and garnish with scallions before serving with lime wedges and any additional sauce to drizzle on top.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Maple Nut Granola

Throughout granola's pretty storied and interesting history involving patent infringements and puritanical health-guru doctors its always been seen as a model healthy foodstuff, although if we're all being honest here, granola sometimes isn't any healthier than an oatmeal raisin cookie. Which, because I go through granola like crack, is why I tend to make a batch of it only once in a while. You can't make good granola without the fat 'n sweet stuff. However, if enjoyed in units of a couple tablespoons spangled over yogurt, or a handful here and there for a snack, I don't think too much guilt (or calories) will accrue! It's just the self-policing that gets difficult.

Much thanks to a recipe posted on The Kitchn for introducing me to the magic missing ingredient that, in tandem with all the others, makes granola clump up so well - oat flour! Simply blitzing some old fashioned rolled oats in a food processor until they're powder will work perfectly.


Maple Nut Granola
Makes about 8 cups

*3 cups oats, 1 blitzed to powder, the other two blitzed a few times to break 'em up
*2 cups coarsely chopped raw nuts (I used hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios)
*1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
*1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
*1/3 cup maple syrup
*1/4 cup brown sugar
*1/8th cup almond oil
*2 tablespoons butter
*1 tablespoon water
*Big pinch kosher salt
*1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
*1 cup dried fruit (I used cherries and cranberries)

Preheat the oven to 280. In a large bowl, combine the oats, oat powder, nuts and spices. Heat the syrup, butter, oil and sugar together in a small saucepan over medium heat until the butter has melted and the mixture is hot. Stir in the vanilla and salt and then pour the hot sweet sludge over the oats and nuts, combining well to coat. When it's uniformly moist, let it sit a few minutes.

Spread the mix out on a large baking sheet, separating it into clumps with your fingers, and allowing for space between the clumps. Slide into the middle of the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, rotating once or twice, or until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and flip clumps over, gently breaking up the knots into smaller clumps. Return to the oven and bake another 10 minutes or so before stirring again. Take stock of the granola - is it as crunchy and browned as you'd like it to be? If you want to push on further, continue the stir-check cycle in 8-10 minute increments. When it's to your satisfaction, cool completely, then stir in any dried fruit you want to use.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature and it'll keep for a couple weeks (but it won't last nearly that long).