Saturday, December 29, 2012

Blueberry-Buttermilk Pancakes

Breakfast frequently gets the short shrift in my household. I rarely have time for more than slightly toasted bread hastily slathered with jam during the work week and on weekends, too often I'm already out the door by ten and lunch ends up taking precedence. However, to commemorate the first glorious, genuine snowstorm of the season, I decided to make a full lazy-Saturday breakfast spread, including a nice fluffy stack of pancakes. I adapted a Martha Stewart recipe for buttermilk pancakes and made use of some blueberries chilling in the freezer, and after dousing with maple syrup, the first bite had me wishing for more lazy, snowy, breakfast-y Saturdays in the future. Hopefully January will provide.

Blueberry-Buttermilk Pancakes
Makes about 9 pancakes

*2 cups flour
*2 teaspoons baking powder
*1 teaspoon baking soda
*Pinch kosher salt
*3 tablespoons sugar
*2 eggs, lightly beaten
*3 cups buttermilk
*4 tablespoons butter, melted
*1 cup blueberries, fresh or thawed

Preheat your oven to its lowest setting, which for me is about 175 degrees. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the eggs, buttermilk, and -most- of the melted butter, about 3 tablespoons, and whisk to combine. Don't go stir-crazy; the batter should still have lumps.

Heat a cast iron pan (or griddle) over just-south-of-medium heat. Brush the pan with a little of the melted butter, and when it is hot, ladle about 1/2- 3/4 cup of batter onto the center. Dot the disc with blueberries, and cook until bubbles are a'poppin' and the ends start to set, about 2-3 minutes. Flip carefully, and cook another 2ish minutes on the other side. Repeat with the rest of the batter, brushing the pan with more melted butter in between cycles. Place the pancakes on an oven-proof plate and pop 'em in the oven to keep warm until you've flipped all of them out. Squeeze ripples of maple over the stacks, and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy Holidays

I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas...I'll be back at'cha in the new year!

Until then, please enjoy this shot of Mr. Frisky, with visions of steamed buns dancing in his head. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Flemish Beef Stew

I suppose with a blog entitled "Zou Bisou Beef Stew", I had to deliver a beef stew recipe sooner or later! Voila, my Flemish beef stew, or carbonade à la flamande as it is otherwise known. When the winter winds start licking underneath the doors and rattling the window panes as they did yesterday, there are few comfort foods I enjoy cooking more than this dish of tender, savory chunks of chuck braised in a rich burgundy-brown gravy spiked with a spicy and complex abbey-style ale.

Important tips - do not scrimp on the beer, and, make sure to get an extra bottle or two to sip with the meal! I recommend Ommegang's Abbey Ale. Enjoy!

Note: this picture is of leftovers; there is significantly more gravy in the initial go-round!
Flemish Beef Stew
Makes 3 servings

Recipe heavily adapted from a Saveur clipping; online copy here

*About 1 1/2 lb beef chuck roast, cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch cubes
*1/4 cup flour
*1 teaspoon ground coriander
*Healthy pinches of kosher salt & pepper
*4 slices of bacon, cut into 1/4 inch lardons
*2 tablespoons butter
*5 cloves garlic, minced
*2 small yellow onions or one very large onion, halved and thinly sliced
*14-16 oz Belgian abbey-style ale (I always use Ommegang Abbey Ale)
*1 cup beef stock
*2 teaspoons brown sugar, divided
*2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
*A couple sprigs of thyme and parsley, plus one sprig of tarragon, tied together
*1 slice crusty country bread, preferably a day old, slathered with 1/2 teaspoon grainy Dijon mustard on each side
*1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
*Bread, mashed potatoes or egg noodles, for serving

Heat oven to 325. Combine the flour, S&P and coriander in a large ziplock bag. Add the cubed meat and toss the bag around until the pieces are lightly floured; remove and shake off excess flour. Meanwhile, cook chopped bacon over medium in a dutch oven until fat has rendered. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon, and then working in batches, add the meat and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes total per batch, adding a touch of olive oil if needed between batches. Transfer the meat to a plate and set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and add the onions. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of brown sugar and a pinch of salt over them and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, about 20-30 minutes. Add the garlic, increase the heat back to medium and cook for another few minutes. Add half of the beer; cook, scraping at the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, until the beer has slightly reduced, about 3 minutes. Return beef and any juices to the pot with the remaining beer, stock, the rest of the sugar, vinegar, bacon, bound herbs, paprika and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat, place the mustard-slathered bread on top of the stew and cover.  Braise covered in the oven for at least 2 1/2 hours, preferably 3. I usually stir half of the bread into the stew, depending on the thickness of the gravy, and then toss the other half (or let the cats lick it for a while).

You could also crockpot this sumbitch, if you so prefer.

Buttered egg noodles tossed with salt, pepper, and minced parsley is my favorite foundation for the stew, but pick your favorite starch to pair - just make sure that you have some extra crusty bread on hand as well!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Chicken Salad Wraps

I have to admit, I'm not too familiar with the quintessential "chicken salad". I may or may not have had chicken salad at some point in my life, but if so, it never made an impression on me. It certainly wasn't anything I thought about making myself! That is, until a number of months ago when I was browsing a really beautiful food blog, What Katie Ate, and came across her recipe for chicken salad. It sounded so tasty that I made it almost immediately after reading the recipe - and it was just as good as it sounded. Over time I've tweaked and prodded at the recipe, and this is my final draft - without knowing the ins and outs of your traditional deli-style chicken salad, I still think I can say with certainty that this is damn good chicken salad. If you have a secret ingredient that goes into your batch though, do share! There's always room for further perfection.

Chicken Salad Wraps
No. of servings vary - I usually get one big wrap's worth plus another sandwich/half sandwich out of this recipe

*1 chicken breast, butterflied or cut into a few strips
*1 tablespoon black peppercorns
*1/2 lemon
*1/2 stalk celery, very finely sliced
*1 heaping tablespoon golden raisins
*1/4 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
*Leaves from one branch of tarragon, roughly chopped
*1 1/2 teaspoons cream cheese
*2 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise
*A couple passes over the microplane with a hunk of good Parm-Reg
*1 wrap skin or large tortilla, OR a couple slices of your preferred bread.

Fill a wide pan with a couple inches of water, enough to cover your chicken breast. Add the peppercorns and a sprinkle of salt along with the juice of half a lemon, and then cut the spent lemon half into a few pieces and throw them in too. Bring to a boil and continue boiling rapidly for a few minutes before adding the chicken. Turn the heat down to low, cover and poach the chicken for about 10 minutes or until just cooked through. Remove the chicken and shred when cool enough to touch.

Combine the celery, tarragon, raisins, toasted walnuts, mayonnaise, cream cheese, and chicken, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Grate in just a touch of Parm-Reg, stir, and then pop into a container and chill for a while. When ready to eat, assemble your wrap/sandwich, and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mole Chili

My chili plans nearly came to a grinding halt over the hurricane holiday when I saw that my chile powder stash was dismayingly low, but then my thoughts trailed to the cache of dried peppers I had hanging around for whenever I make mole, and I started to wonder what the chili would taste like with a base of chile pepper puree instead of the usual dumptruck-size load of powder. Well, turns out adding chile pepper puree made for a delicious chili, with a truly vibrant flavor and a deep sweet-smoky-piquant complexity that I haven't gotten with powder alone before. I guess the Texans are on to something, even though I'll never understand the anti-tomato-and-bean sentiment. Still, I don't think I'll be chucking my master chili recipe into the waste basket just yet - its the comforting long-term relationship to the mole chili's torrid international affair. Like mole, this new, exciting chili kinda warrants the "special occasion" dish status....but let's just say I'm really looking forward to the next special occasion.

Mole Chili
Makes 4 servings

*Beef chuck, about a pound, cut into small cubes
*2 dried arbols
*2 dried anchos
*2 dried pasillas
*1 yellow onion, diced
*4 cloves garlic, minced
*1 fresh habanero, minced (wear gloves)
*2 teaspoons smoked paprika
*2 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
*2 teaspoons cumin
*1 tablespoon chili powder
*Pinches of allspice, coriander & cinnamon
*1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
*2 chipotles in adobo, seeded
*1 cup stout beer (or, Theobroma, which really would be the perfect beer to use here)
*1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
*1 15 oz can of black beans, drained

Remove the seeds and stems from the dried chilies, and then toast them in a dry cast iron pan over medium-high until they start to blister and char. Transfer the chilies to a bowl and cover them with a couple cups of boiling water until they are well-submerged; let them sit for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, brown the beef in a large heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven in a bit of fat (bacon fat is what I used, highly recommended) and then remove.  Saute the onion, garlic and habanero in the drippings, salting them and adding a little more oil or fat if necessary, for about 10 minutes over medium-medium low. Add the spices and stir the mixture around for a few minutes before adding the stout, beans and tomatoes. Take the reconstituted chilies and puree them with a little of the soaking liquid and the chipotles and then add the chili puree to the chili. Keep the rest of the soaking liquid on hand in case you want to add an extra tablespoon or so to slightly thin out the chili, which does get quite thick over time..although you could also use beer for any liquid addition. Add the chuck back to the pot, and cook on low heat for at least two-three hours. Check for seasoning along the way and add anything you wish to up the ante. Garnish with cheddar, pepitas, sour cream, whatever you so desire.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Dark 'N' Stormy

We and the rest of the Eastern seaboard are currently being scrubbed by Sandy so I thought it would be good timing to post a pertinent cocktail, but unfortunately the requisite "Hurricane" proved to be beyond my grasp - I keep a well-stocked bar, but regrettably didn't have any passionfruit pulp on hand.  Imagine that. Instead, I went with one of my all-time favorites, a drink introduced to me a while back by my friend Jessica: the delicious Dark 'N' Stormy. Its a warm, tingly, frolicsome tipple, sure to keep you in good spirits while the rain and winds rail against your shutters. Plus, with power hanging on by a thread, you should really be making use of all that extra ice you bought. Enjoy, and to all my fellow East Coasters in the hurricane's path, stay safe.

Dark 'N' Stormy
Makes one drink

*2 oz dark rum (I like Kraken, or more traditionally, Goslings Black Seal)
*4 oz ginger beer (I prefer Fever Tree)
*Juice of 1/2 lime
*Spangle of allspice

Combine the rum, ginger beer and lime juice in a glass over ice, and sprinkle with a smidge of allspice.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

At the risk of inundating the blog with pumpkin posts, no matter how seasonally apropos they might be, I'm going ahead with this entry for one of my favorite personal recipes, one for pumpkin mac & cheese. A couple years back, I came across a tasty pumpkin mac & cheese dish at The Institute in Philadelphia which inspired me to create my own version, as it saved me oh, a good 50 minute drive and parking woes whenever a craving would come up. After numerous tweaks, I finally achieved a dish that I'm proud to say trumps other pumpkin macs I have had since, which unfortunately seem to be widely overspiced and sweet - a problem that plagues other savory gourd-based dishes I've had whilst eating out in autumn. Open note to all area chefs: easy on the nutmeg...!

(The Institutes's remains absolutely delicious, though - I go pay homage to the source every autumn).

This version made with habanero cheddar & gouda, with Parm-reg and  manchego on top

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese
Makes 8-9 servings

*1 lb of any short ‘n stubby pasta shape. I like cavatappi or shells.
*6-7 slices of bacon (optional)
*A couple tablespoons of butter (4, to be precise, if you’re not using bacon fat)
*3 tablespoons flour
*3/4 cup pumpkin beer at room temperature. I recommend Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout or Schlafly's Pumpkin ale. Alternately, a roasty porter would work nicely. If you want to nix beer altogether, chicken stock’s your sub
*2 cups milk (whatever % you have on hand, but whole is best)
*A couple of shakes a'piece of: allspice, curry powder, cayenne. I go heavier on the curry, about 1/2 teaspoon's worth
*Salt and pepper
*12 oz of pure pumpkin purée, or MOST of a 15 oz can. (I like to have a bit of leftover pumpkin to stir into yogurt or oatmeal the next day, or to make the Pumpkin French toast I posted about earlier)
*2 3/4 cups grated cheese(s) of your choice plus extra cheese for topping. I usually use about 1 cup of extra sharp yellow cheddar, 1 cup of smoked gouda, and 3/4ths cup of a delicious habanero cheddar from the local Shadyside Farm, Parm-Reg and manchego for the topping. But feel free to use any combo of good melting cheeses you like
*Sprigs of thyme (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 350 and set a large pot of water on to boil. Cook pasta until al dente and set aside. Fry the bacon in a pot over medium until crisp and then set pieces to drain on a paper towel, reserving the rendered fat. Supplement the drippings with butter to have 4 tablespoons of fat sizzling away in the pot (I usually render about a tablespoon, so I add 3 tablespoons of butter). When the added butter froths and begins to brown, sprinkle in the flour and cook for a couple minutes, whisking constantly. Gradually pour the pumpkin beer into the roux and continue to whisk very frequently for 4 to 5 more minutes before gradually adding in the milk, stirring all the while. Speckle the mixture with shakes of allspice, curry, cayenne, salt & pepper. Adjust seasoning as you see fit. Mix thoroughly and continue to cook a couple more minutes or until the sauce leaves a luxurious coat the back of a wooden spoon. Whisk in the pumpkin purée and then stir in the cheese until everything is melty, orangy goodness. Mix the pasta into sauce, crumble the bacon in, and dump it all in a large casserole dish. Add a good carpeting of the extra cheese and dot the top with small nubbins of butter. Throw in the oven uncovered for 15 minutes or so and then flick on the broiler for 1-2 minutes, keeping careful watch to make sure it doesn’t burn. Garnish each serving with tiny green flecks of thyme leaves, if you so desire.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fennel, Cabbage & Grapefruit Salad

There are some evenings where my teeth just yearn for the sensational experience of the raw, vegetal crunch. Usually carrots are sacrificed for the cause, but today I decided to make use of the giant head of red cabbage which has been loitering in my fridge and taking up valuable space for a week or so now. I ate this undressed (the salad, that is) but you could dress it with a simple emulsion of lemon and good olive oil. A yogurt-based dressing might not be too bad, either (...she muses to herself). I liked this combination of flavors and crunches a lot, and will be toying with its components in the future. As it stands now though, I find it a great, filling salad entree - I'll be taking the other portion for lunch tomorrow. My teeth can't wait to get their next crunch fix. 

Fennel, Cabbage & Grapefruit Salad
Makes two entree size portions

*1 bulb fennel, inner core removed + some of the threadlike fennel leaves reserved
*1/4 head red cabbage (depending on how large your head is!)
*1 bunch tarragon
*1/2 grapefruit, skin and pith peeled with a knife, cut into sections
*Roasted pepitas
*Golden raisins (not pictured on salad - I sprinkled them on after my camera had died)

Slice the cabbage and fennel thinly and toss in a bowl with chopped tarragon leaves and bits of the gossamer fennel threads. Divide onto plates and garnish with the grapefruit sections, pepitas and raisins. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Pumpkin French Toast

The crush of busyness to which I alluded in my last post? It didn't stop. In fact, it got worse; October has been nothing but a maelstrom of activity. However, on this rainstreaked Friday morn, I was actually able to rub a few minutes together and somnambulate into the kitchen to rustle up a good gourdy breakfast.  Even if I can't remember the last time I went to the store, canned pumpkin always seems to be readily available at a moment's notice in my kitchen during the month of October, and all that's needed for this tasty breakfast recipe is a healthy dollop, which leaves you free to use the rest for other pumpkin-based needs (I'll be making a pumpkin-black bean soup tomorrow, for example). If you happen to have some day-old French, brioche, or challah, those would be ideal bread vehicles for French toast. Pepperidge Hearty Farmhouse White straight out of the double-wrapped bag is usually what I reach for, though. You could be outrageously decadent and try this with pumpkin bread as well, but I just am too meek for that. Maybe on the next lazy rainstreaked Friday....

Pumpkin French Toast
Makes two slices

*2 slices of bread, on the thicker side
*2 eggs
*1/4 cup milk
*1 teaspoon sugar
*A healthy pinch of cinnamon
*A smidge each of ground cloves, allspice, and nutmeg
*1/8-1/4 cup of pure pumpkin puree
*A splash of bourbon or dark spiced rum (about a teaspoon)
*1 1/2 tablespoons butter, plus a little bit of vegetable oil

Whisk the eggs, milk, sugar, spices, bourbon and puree together in a wide, shallow dish and set the bread slices in to soak for a few minutes. You may need to flip them to coat both sides. While bread is bathing in the stuff, throw a tablespoonish lump of butter in a wide nonstick skillet over medium to melt, and drizzle just a touch of the oil over it as it slides across the pan to prevent burning. When the butter has completely melted and sizzles, drape the dribbling slices in the pan and let them develop a nice crust before flipping and browning on the other side. Drizzle with maple syrup and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Shrimp Curry

I've been sporadically posting because I've been sporadically cooking - late August, early September are always crushingly busy times of the year. And, I'm flying away to the land of vermilion buttes and grand gashes in the earth at the end of the week, so I'm about to get a whole lot quieter! I'll resume regular life and regular posting in late September. Until then, please enjoy this simple curry pieced together from disparate corners of Raghavan Iyer's 660 Curries. The spices are warm and piquant but don't shout over the briny flavor of the shrimp; its a very tasty bowl of food to cook up quickly on my rare idle night during the busy spell.

Shrimp Curry
Makes 2 servings

*Neutral oil
*3/4 lb shrimp, peeled & deveined
*1 teaspoon sugar
*1 teaspoon salt
*1 teaspoon dried thyme
*1/2 teaspoon paprika
*1/2 teaspoon turmeric
*Heaping 1/4 teaspoon garam masala
*Pinch of cayenne, black pepper, coriander
*1/2 yellow onion, chopped
*2 garlic cloves, minced
*1 hot red chili, minced (optional)
*1 softball-sized tomato, chopped
*1/3-1/2 cup coconut milk
*Cilantro for garnish

Toss the shrimp with the spices and pop in the fridge to marinate for about half an hour. Heat a wide skillet over medium high, add a little slick of oil, and then sear the shrimp briefly on each side and transfer to a plate. Turn the heat down a touch and add the onion, chili and garlic to the spiced oil and saute for about 5 minutes before adding the tomato. Cook for another 5 minutes, then blend the softened vegetables in a food processor with coconut milk to thin the mixture. Pour the sauce back into the skillet, add the shrimp, and cook until the shrimp are done, about 4-5 minutes. Serve over rice, garnish with cilantro, and enjoy!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Coconut Milk Ice Cream

I'm happy to present another one of those stupid-simple, throw-some-stuff-together-and-chill ice cream recipes. And such a tasty one, too! Voluptuous coconut flavor, and no fussing around with egg custard necessary. I was inspired by this beautiful post on one of my new favorite cooking blogs, Feasting on Art, and adapted the recipe slightly from the one listed on that site. Next time, I think I'll have to mix in pieces of Mounds bars in the last minute of churning, for some extra deliciousness.

Coconut Milk Ice Cream
Makes about a pint

1 can (14 ounces) full-fat coconut milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon coconut rum (optional)
Pinch of salt

Combine all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and stir constantly until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool before popping it in the fridge to chill thoroughly overnight. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.  Serve with a sprinkle of toasted coconut or a mint sprig, if desired.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Jolokia Chorizo Burritos

Lemme talk to you a'bhut jolokias.

One of the hottest (yet tastiest!) peppers in the world, the naga bhut jolokia (ghost pepper) will satisfy not only your need for incendiary yet flavorful spice, but will also keep pesty pachyderms away from your property. We are lucky to have a purveyor of fantastic peppers, Chile Spot, in the area and in years past have bought single jolokias from them to mince up for vats of fiery stews, chili, etc. This past spring, we decided to take matters into our own (carefully gloved) hands and spring for a jolokia seedling from Chile Spot. We thought we'd be fortunate if it yielded, oh, one or two. Well, now in late August I can say with authority that the jolokia plant is one hell of a prolific little bugger, and we're pulling peppers off the plant at a rate of a couple per week(!). You can only make so much spicy chili, so I thought I'd take a cue from our favorite Mexican joint in Kennett Square, La Pena, and make some super-spicy burritos. Although we usually spring for spicy cabeza burritos at La Pena, I went with a delicious chorizo recipe I adapted loosely from a member's post on Chowhound a while back ('Antilope', I believe). I'm going to repeat it many times, but if you purchase a jolokia for this recipe's purposes or any other, pleasepleaseplease wear gloves and be careful. This is a pepper meant for weaponization. One minced up in this recipe provides a pleasantly scorching kick, but it's not to be dealt with casually. 

Jolokia Chorizo Burritos
Makes 3 burritos

*1 1/4 lb ground pork
*Scant 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
*2 tablespoons chili powder
*1 teaspoon smoked paprika
*1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
*1 teaspoon salt
*1 teaspoon garlic powder
*1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
*1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
*1 fresh jolokia pepper, seeded and minced FINELY. Wear gloves. No exceptions.
*Healthy pinch of ground cloves
*Dash of pepper
*Neutral oil
*3 12-inch flour tortillas
*A handful of chopped cilantro
*1/2 red onion, diced
*Hot sauce or salsa roja (optional)

Combine chili powder, paprika, cumin, salt, garlic powder, coriander, oregano, minced jolokia, cloves and black pepper in a bowl, and then pour in the vinegar and stir until everything has come together. Add the ground meat and mix throughly. Pop the mixture in a container and store for a couple hours in the fridge to let the flavors mingle. When ready to start cooking, add a slick of oil (or melt some lard) in a cast iron skillet over medium and when hot, fry the meat mixture until cooked, 8-10 minutes.  

To form burritos, briefly heat the tortillas between two lighly damp paper towels in the microwave. Mix about a cup and a half of chorizo with a tablespoon or two of cilantro and a tablespoon of diced red onion, as well as a touch of hot sauce or salsa roja, and drop the mix in the middle of a tortilla. Fold the sides over, then tightly fold and roll up from the bottom. This is the traditionally Mexican way to stuff a burrito, but if you'd rather add refried beans or cheese or what-have-you, go for it and adjust the amount of meat accordingly.
Wrap a bit of foil around the bottom of the behemoth to keep spillage at a minimum. Enjoy the burn.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Some people get insatiable cravings for chocolate cake; I get mad cravings for softened rice paper. There are some moments where I just could die for a moistened sheet of chewy, glutinous rice paper, rolled neatly around veggies and herbs. Aum! Other household half blanches at the thought, but I just know there are like-minded folk out there. My recipe is infinitely variable; you can essentially pick and choose among the stuffing ingredients or add in others, to your personal taste. If you've never made Vietnamese spring rolls before, I've tried to write detailed instructions on how to fold them, but there are also numerous videos to consult on Youtube that show the process. Once you've got the technique down, banging out a bunch is a snap. Just make sure to eat them relatively soon after making them, as they don't keep very well. Any leftover filling ingredients get chopped up and thrown into a bowl for a tasty next-day lunchtime salad.

This is the best lighting I can manage when I cook after sunset!
 Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Makes 6-8 rolls; 2-3 servings

*6-8 rice paper wrappers (available in Asian grocers and the International section in most large supermarkets)
*1-2 oz rice vermicelli
*1/4 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
*1 small cucumber, peeled (optional), seeded, halved, and cut into thin batons
*1 handful of cilantro leaves
*1 handful of mint leaves
*1 handful of Thai basil leaves
*A couple shiso leaves, torn
*1 jalapeno, seeded and cut into thin slivers
*A lobe of mango, cut into slivers
*A couple leaves of romaine or butter lettuce, cut into strips (if using romaine, its helpful to remove the ribs)
*3 scallions, green parts cut into sections

Boil the rice noodles according to package instructions, about 3 minutes. Drain, then add some cold water to the pot, pop the noodles back in and swirl, then drain again and set aside to cool, fluffing every 10 minutes or so. Fill a small shallow pan with enough water to cover shrimp and bring to a simmer. I usually add a bruised piece of lemongrass stalk, a tablespoon of coriander seeds, and a few dried peppers to the water, but plain eau is fine. Add the shrimp when the water is simmering, and cook for about 3ish minutes or until just cooked through. Drain, cool, and slice in half lengthwise. Pick the rest of your ingredients and cut, rinse, dry...whatever is entailed. Fashion all the fillings into an assembly line of sorts, and then pull out the rice paper wrappers.

To assemble the rolls, run your sink tap until the water is flowing warm-but-not-hot, and gently turn the rice paper wrapper under the stream for about 5 seconds per side to soften it. Lay it on a clean, dry surface and then start to add fillings. I usually put in a nice strip of lettuce first, laying it down near the bottom of the circle, and the lettuce acts as a cradle for the rest to come - a bit of noodles, followed by a little bit of everything else, artfully arranged. Just be careful to not overstuff. Start to roll by grasping the bottom edge and folding it tightly over and around the filling. Once you've got a full revolution and a half in, you can fold the open sides of the roll in towards the center, and then lay a couple sliced shrimp on top before continuing to roll over again, sealing the shrimp in. Once you've rolled to completion, place the tube on a platter, wipe off your surface, and repeat the process with the other wrappers. Serve with sriracha, lime wedges and a dipping sauce of your choice (peanut sauce is good here).

Vegetarian Variation:
Nix the shrimp!

Pork Variations:
Poach thin slices of lean pork until cooked, cool and add to spring rolls. OR, fry bacon and cut to fit - I love the salty crunch this variation offers (and it pairs really well with slices of mango).

Also works with tofu, fried egg strips, chicken, crab, lemongrass beef strips, and so forth. What's YOUR favorite filling combination?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mango Margarita

I had a cut-up mango on hand; I wanted a margarita. 1+1=2. Done. 

Mango Margarita
Makes one cocktail

*2 oz tequila resposado
*1/4 cup fresh mango pulp (about half a mango, cut up in chunks)
*Juice from one lime
*3/4 oz triple sec
*A couple ice cubes
*Optional: Good coarse salt and chili powder to rim the glass

Cut up about half a fresh mango and puree in a blender - enough to yield about a quarter cup of pulp. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth. Throw in the freezer to chill a little longer before pouring. You can also sub frozen mango chunks for fresh and nix the ice. Optional rim job: Prepare a small plate with a little bit of salt and chili powder mixed together. Take a spent section of lime and run it around the rim of a cocktail glass to wet it, and then dip the glass rim into the salt mixture. Pour the margarita into the glass when chilled, and enjoy!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Roasted Tomato Soup and Grilled Habanero Cheddar Cheese Sandwich

This summer has marked my first foray into growing tomatoes, and after lots of fretting and waiting, my enormous German Johnson heirloom tomato plant finally yielded some red-ripe fruit yesterday. After cutting and eating a slice I'm salivating for more - this is a delicious varietal. Although I could have sliced the whole monster up and eaten it with a sprinkle of salt, I decided to put them towards a soup & sandwich combo - the most beloved of all, tomato soup and grilled cheese. I've made this soup many, many times after transcribing the original recipe from an old Gourmet magazine years back, and can say with authority that it's only as good as the tomatoes you use. Please, for the sake of delicious soup, search out fresh-picked, organically grown tomatoes, either from a farmers market or a roadside stand or your own backyard!

Roasted Tomato Soup
Makes 2-3 entree-size servings

*Approximately 3 lbs fresh-picked, organically grown tomatoes
*4 unpeeled garlic cloves
*1 small shallot, minced
*1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
*1 tablespoon butter
*1 cup chicken or veg stock, plus a little extra (preferrably homemade)
*1 tablespoon heavy cream
*1/2 teaspoon adobo sauce

Heat the oven to 350. Quarter the tomatoes and spread them skin side down in the one layer onto foil-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with a little salt. Add the unpeeled garlic to the sheet and roast it all for about 45 minutes or until the tomatoes are very soft and their skin is dark brown.  Peel the garlic when its cooled enough to touch.

Towards the end of the roasting time melt the butter in a pot over moderate heat and saute the shallot with a sprinkle of salt and fresh cracked pepper for about 10 mins. Add the tomatoes and any accumulated juices, the garlic, stock and oregano to the pot, and then cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Puree in a blender (prudently!), or use an immersion blender to blend the soup until it is smooth.  Add more stock in little amounts to thin to desired consistency, making sure to taste after every addition, and season with more salt & pepper if necessary. Mix the cream and adobo sauce toegther, ladle out the soup, and then drizzle the cream over the top.

Grilled Habanero Cheddar Cheese Sandwich
Makes 2 sandwiches

*4 slices sourdough or farmhouse style bread (I use Pepperidge Farm)
*3 tablespoons softened butter
*2 heaping cups grated habanero cheddar cheese (I use Oak Shade Farm)

Heat a wide cast iron or nonstick skillet over moderate heat. Lay your bread slices out, and evenly butter one side of all 4. To assemble the sandwiches, lay one piece of bread into the hot pan, buttered side down, and carefully pile a heaping cup of grated cheese onto it, gently spreading it around the bread raft. Lightly press another piece of bread, buttered side up, down onto the pile of cheese and then cover your pan and cook for 4-5 minutes. Covering the skillet speeds up the melting process. When you take the cover off, you can scrape out all the delicious, crispy cheese-bits that didn't stay on the bread and while nibbling them, flip the sandwich over carefully and press down with a spatula. Brown on the other side for another 2-3 minutes.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Momofuku Milk Bar's Cereal Milk Ice Cream

We are heading up to NYC next month to catch a screening of The Master as early as one not attending Venice Film Festival can and, naturally, are going to be wedging in some great food around the main event. Having never been to any of the Momofuku establishments, I was browsing their menus and stumbled across Cereal Milk Ice Cream in the Milk Bar menu. I was absolutely delighted with the concept and decided that I couldn't wait until September, so I tried my hand at churning some out myself with their recipe which I found online here. As with nearly every Momofuku recipe I've seen, it's uh, involved, but eminently rewarding. This is quite simply one of the best ice creams I've ever made. I'm going to try it with Lucky Charms next time - Lucky Charms produces the finest of cereal milks.

Cereal Milk Ice Cream
Makes about 3 1/2 cups

*10 cups corn flakes
*1/2 cup powdered milk
*4 tablespoons sugar
*1/2 teaspoon salt
*1 1/2 sticks butter, melted
*4 cups whole milk
*1 cup heavy cream
*1/2 cup sugar
*Pinch of salt
*1 teaspoon vanilla extract
*4 large egg yolks

Heat the oven to 275. Put the cornflakes in a large mixing bowl and crush them with your hands a few times. Stir the milk powder, sugar and salt together in a smaller bowl and add to the cornflakes with the melted butter, tossing to combine. Spread the cornflakes out on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper and bake for about 35 minutes, or until deeply caramelized. Let cool to room temperature.

Here's where it helps to have a small kitchen scale: combine 14 oz of the caramelized cornflakes and the milk in a large mixing bowl and let steep for an hour in the fridge. Set the rest of the cornflakes aside. Fair warning: this next part is gonna be gory. Strain the milk from the cornflake mush as well as you can. For me, this involved several laborious steps in which I squeezed milk out of gobs of the soggy mash through cheesecloth, and then strained that milk through a fine-mesh sieve, and then squeezed THAT gently through a coffee filter. All you need is a cup of cereal milk for the ice cream, so only gross yourself out for as long as it takes to get a well-strained cup!

Combine the cup of cereal milk with the sugar, salt and vanilla extract in a pot and heat over medium. Whisk the egg yolks in a separate bowl and pour the cream into yet another bowl over an ice bath. When the sugar has dissolved into the cereal milk and the mixture is steaming hot, slowly pour it into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, to temper them. Scrape the eggy mixture back into the pot and place over medium heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom, until the custard coats the back of a wooden spoon. Do not let it boil! Pour the custard through a strainer into the cold heavy cream and stir over the ice bath to combine. Chill the mixture overnight, then freeze it in your ice cream machine for about 25 minutes or according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You can eat it immediately, soft-serve style, or pop it in a container and let it firm up in the freezer for a few hours. Crumble the remaining caramelized cornflakes on top when you serve it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gemelli with Browned Sage Butter and Sausage

I took a look at my extensive herb garden yesterday and realized that I hadn't yet used sage even once this summer. In order to rectify this oversight, I recalled a delicious and simple recipe given to me by my friend and Italian food guru Michael G. - twists of pasta and sausage coins bathed in browned butter beautifully scented with fresh sage leaves. A sagacious choice to highlight the herb! I went with gemelli, but Michael recommended cavatelli as his choice pasta shape to use. Anything with nooks and crannies to catch the sumptuous sage butter will do, though!

Gemelli with Browned Sage Butter and Sausage
Makes 2 hearty servings

Recipe adapted from my generous pal Michael.

*1/2 lb hot Italian sausage
*1 tablespoon + 3 tablespoons of salted butter
*6 fresh sage leaves
*Lots of freshly cracked pepper
*8 oz gemelli pasta
*1/4 cup grated Parm-Reg
*Handful of chopped parsley

Put water on to boil for the pasta. Fill a wide saute pan with about a half-inch of water over medium heat, and lay the sausage in when it starts to simmer. After 10 minutes, flip the sausages over and simmer them for another 5 minutes, at which point the sausages should be firm and almost entirely cooked through. Transfer them to a cutting board and slice them into coins about half an inch thick. Discard the water in the pan and after a quick rinse 'n wipe, add a tablespoon of butter to the pan and put back on the burner on the higher side of medium. When the butter melts, add the sausage coins in an even layer and let them cook – untouched – until they are deeply browned on the first side. Flip and brown them on the other side. When the sausages are browned, set them aside and add the fresh sage leaves, 3 tablespoons butter, and a few twists of pepper. Stir the butter and scrape at the browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. After a minute or two, it should stop foaming and start to take on color. Cook a few more minutes while you drain the pasta, and then add the pasta and the sausages to the pan. Add the cheese and parsley and a little more pepper, stir everything together until nicely incorporated, then dole out dinner!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Master Chili Recipe

The combination of enduring a spate of drab grey days and watching my pepper plants edge their way into fruition has made me yearn for a bowlful of chili with an exquisite spicy smolder as of late. Serendipitously, our habanero plant suddenly exploded with ripe red bounty over the weekend. I jumped at the chance to mince one up for the chili cause. This post contains what I refer to as my master chili recipe - a personal, perfected concoction that is excellent as is, and provides the general foundation for any variations I have made or will make in the future. Good eats for the late summer evenings swollen with storm, to tide us over while we all wait patiently for fall.  

Master Chili Recipe
Makes 2-4 servings

*1 lb lean ground hamburger
*1 yellow onion, finely chopped
*4 cloves garlic, minced
*1 habanero, minced
*1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
*3 teaspoons dried oregano
*1 teaspoon maple syrup
*3 tablespoons chili powder
*1 teaspoon smoked paprika
*S&P to taste
*1 minced chipotle in adobo
*1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes (I use Cento)
*1 can (15 oz) black beans, drained
*1 cup brewed chicory coffee (regular coffee will sub in a pinch)
*3/4-1 cup stout beer (Try to avoid using an overly sweet stout. Something with a subtle bite of bitterness to it like Dogfish Chicory Stout or North Coast Old Rasputin works exceptionally well)
Brown the meat in a large dutch oven, drain fat, and set the beef aside. Give the pot a nice oiling, add the diced onions and sweat them out until they are limp, about 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic and habanero, and continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so. Be wary of the initial fumes coming off that pepper, as they can be strong! Add the spices and stir for another minute before adding the can of tomatoes, the beans, coffee, beer, maple syrup, and chipotle pepper. Bring to a boil, add the beef then reduce to low and simmer partially covered for at least 45 minutes, or indefinitely. I usually transfer it to a slow cooker set to low and keep it going all afternoon before serving.

Garnish with some good meltin’ cheese (I use a wonderful habanero cheddar), sour cream, toasted pepitas, green onions, or whatever your preferred chili topping may be!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Perfect Guacamole

No one seems to agree on the "perfect" guacamole. There are the pro-tomato and anti-tomato camps, the factions that insist on adding diced onion or raw garlic, the cumin crusaders, and then there are the Zen-like guac'ers that insist only on avocado, salt and lime. Although I don't draw a hard line about anything but tomatoes (noooo tomatoes in guac. Come on.), my version does skew rather traditional and clean, with just a soupçon of nonconformity. It is perfection to me, and hopefully it will be to you as well.

 Perfect Guacamole
Makes 2-3 servings

*2 large ripe avocados, halved and pitted
*1 finely chopped Serrano pepper, seeded
*Juice from one small lime
*Small palmful of chopped cilantro
*Plenty of salt, to taste
*Teensy splash of tequila (1/4-1/2 teaspoon)
*Paprika (optional)

Roughly mash the avocados with a fork and add in the rest of the ingredients, stirring and mashing together until nicely melded. I serve mine with blue corn chips that have been dusted with paprika, but if you'd prefer to add a dusting of paprika on the top of the finished batch, well you go right on ahead.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dan Dan Noodles

My adoration for our local Sichuan restaurant Han Dynasty has been briefly detailed in some previous posts, but I haven't yet mentioned the dish that upon first bite made us fall in love with not just the restaurant, but with Sichuan cuisine as a whole - the dan dan noodles. A toothsome tangle of pasta bathed in a pool of fiery sauce topped with flavorful pork mince and coarsely cracked peppercorn, this scrumptious, scorching bowl has us coming back to Han with feverish devotion at least once a month. This recipe is my valiant effort to construct an acceptable simulacrum of the dan dan noodles at home, and although it certainly doesn't top Han's, it's a super tasty and satisfying bowl of food. Fair warning though, it's very spicy... so approach with caution!

Dan Dan Noodles
Makes 2 hearty dinner servings

Recipe is a composite of a couple Fuschia Dunlop recipes in Land of Plenty, with some personal additions

Lay out two bowls. Measure out the following for each bowl:
*3 teaspoons Chinese sesame paste
*1/2 heaping teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorn
*1 tablespoon light soy sauce
*1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
*2 tablespoons chili oil
*1/2 teaspoon black vinegar
*1 pinch of sugar
*1 scant tablespoon peanut oil

*10-12 oz good dried spaghetti (or Chinese noodles)
*Peanut oil
*1 teaspoon coarsely ground toasted Sichuan peppercorns
*4 oz ground pork
*1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
*2 teaspoons light soy sauce
*Sliced scallions (optional)

Put water on to boil. Measure everything from the sesame paste to the peanut oil and place the stated amounts into each of the two bowls - you can either mix the ingredients together to form a sauce (as I like to do) or leave them in sitting in a state of heterogeneity (like the other household half prefers). While the pasta is boiling, heat a bit of peanut oil over medium-medium high in a wok and stir-fry the coarsely ground peppercorns for about 30 seconds before adding in the pork. As soon as it starts to separate, splash in the sherry and the soy and continue stir-frying, scraping the bottom, until the pork mince is entirely cooked and starting to get a little crispy. Drain, rinse, and drain the pasta again and then dole out between the two bowls, onto the sauce, and top with the pork mince (and sliced scallions, if using). You can either stir the noodles into the sauce at this point, or let everything meld together naturally as you eat your way to the bottom.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Roasted Cajun Chickpea Snax

Roasted chickpeas are one of my all-time favorite snax - I have to check myself though, because even though they're "healthy" in certain regards, it is all too easy to decimate an entire can! This recipe represents my preferred way to spice the chickpeas but there are as many ways to flavor them as there are spices in your cabinet, so experiment!

Roasted Cajun Chickpea Snax
Makes, oh, 5-6 servings...technically... 

*1 large can (1 lb 13 oz) of chickpeas, drained
*1 tablespoon of olive oil
*1 1/2 teaspoons of Tabasco
*1 heaping teaspoon Cajun/Creole spice mix (I use homemade; recipe found in this post)
*A couple shakes apiece of cumin, cayenne, garlic powder & paprika, to taste

Drain the chickpeas well and toss with olive oil, Tabasco and seasonings. Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes, depending on how crispy you'd like them to be. Stir them once about halfway through. Cool a little before snacking, but they are best relatively fresh out of the oven.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Agua de jamaica (Hibiscus Iced Tea)

I can thank my friend Jessica for turning me on to this deep-red, delicious summer quencher, which is a super-simple infusion of dried hibiscus (jamaica) flowers in lightly sugared water, with a squeeze o' lime. There are a few Mexican grocers in my area, so coming across cheap bags of the blossoms isn't hard at all, but you can easily order them online if you can't find them locally. I liken the flavor to floral cranberry juice, so if you're an admirateur of a good tarty pucker like me, you'll want to have a cold jug of this in your fridge at all times. It makes an excellent base for cocktails, too. I've yet to find a good use for the reconstituted blossoms...I've saved them for dotting on top of the drink glasses, frozen them in water for decorative ice cubes, but that's about it. Something about the texture is throwing me off from using them in edible contexts, but I do hate to throw them all away. If you have a good use for them, let me know!

Agua de jamaica
Makes about 5 cups

*5 cups water
*1/2-2/3 cup sugar, depending on how sweet you want it to be
*1 heaping cup dried hibiscus (jamaica) blossoms
*1/2 of a small lime, juiced

Combine the water and sugar in a pan and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Add the blossoms, cover, remove from heat and let steep for about 20 minutes. Strain well, stir in the lime juice, and chill thoroughly in the fridge.

Blossoming interest

Monday, July 16, 2012

Zucchini Fritters

I visited a friend recently and came away with a massive zucchini from her garden. It's a girthy sucker,  enough vegetable to feed a family of ...10.  Making this batch of zucchini fritters used approximately 1/8th of the beast, which is now almost more burden than boon as I've found that it has a much lighter taste than your average-size zucchinis. This particular batch was tasty, as all fried items are inherently tasty, but definitely stick with the regular-sized squash in making fritters. No need to search out a behemoth - bigger isn't always better.

Zucchini Fritters
Makes 7-8 fritters
*2ish cups grated zucchini
*1 egg, beaten
*1/2 cup flour
*1 tablespoon grated Parm-Reg
*1/2 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
*1/2 teaspoon minced leaves of thyme
*1/2 teaspoon minced parsley
*1 scallion, very thinly sliced
Grate your zucchini and drain in a colander or on a tea towel with a sprinkle of kosher salt while prepping the rest of the ingredients. Gather the shreds in the towel (or in heavy duty paper towels) and squeeze as much moisture as you can out of 'em. Stir all the ingredients together until thoroughly mixed. Heat up a bit of olive oil in a skillet over medium-medium high heat, drop in dollops of batter, flattening them out lightly with a spatula, and fry about 4-5 minutes per side, or until nicely browned and crisp. Transfer to paper towels to sop up the oil, and serve them right away (or, you can reheat them in a toaster oven at 400 for a bit). I usually serve them with a daub of herbed Greek yogurt or with some tomato sauce.

The zucchini beast

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Grilled Peche Pork with Smoky Peach Salsa

One small silvery lining to the persistently dry and oppressive heat is that the local peaches this summer are fantastic. I bought a bunch of them at the West Chester Growers Market with the intention of making a peach lambic sorbet, but with the lambic sitting miles away in a Wegmans, yet to be purchased, and facing a fine stash of Festina Peche and some pork chops already in the fridge, my mind wandered to more savory applications. I still intend to make the sorbet down the line but I'm so glad I went the savory route this time.

Hate having to use flash...I promise it looked and WAS much more appetizing than it appears!

Grilled Peche Pork with Smoky Peach Salsa
Makes 2 servings 

*1 12 oz bottle of Dogfish Head Festina Peche
*Sprig of rosemary
*2 crushed cloves of garlic
*Sprinkling of salt and cracked black peppercorns
*Two bone-in, center cut pork chops
*2-3 fresh peaches, peeled, sliced in half and pitted
*1/2 small red onion, finely diced
*1 habenero or jalapeno, finely minced (wear gloves, y'hear?)
*1 large heirloom tomato or a couple Romas, seeded and diced
*2-3 large leaves basil, cut in chiffonade
*1 scant tablespoon EVOO
*Juice of half a lime
*1/2 teaspoon adobo sauce from a can of chipotles in adobo

After taking a healthy swig of the Festina, pour the rest of the bottle into a ziplock bag with the rosemary, garlic, and S&P. Marinate the chops within for at least 3-4 hours, turning the bag occasionally, before taking them out about 30 minutes before grill-time. Whisk the olive oil, the lime juice and the adobo sauce together. When your grill is coursing along at medium-high heat, brush the cut sides of the peaches with a bit of olive oil and place on the grill for a couple minutes. Remove, and then dice when cool. Combine the peaches, onion, tomato, pepper, and basil and then toss lightly with the vinaigrette and S&P to taste.

Pat the chops dry and grill them for about 6 minutes per side, depending on how thick your chops are and how hot the coals are. 

Serve with the salsa -or... the other household half requested a sauce instead of a red-onion-laced salsa, so I threw another peach on the grill and pureed it with some of his favorite BBQ sauce and a chipotle pepper in adobo, much to his relief. I dished out rosemary-roasted potatoes on the side, but these chops would also be nice with some sauteed fresh runner beans drizzled with balsamic, I think.

Note -  I strained and boiled down the leftover marinade, adding in squeezes of honey and a bit of balsamic vinegar, until it reduced to a thickish glaze to brush on the chops while grilling, but after tasting the BBQ sauce I made for the other household half, I think I'd brush that on next time instead. Feel free to try both!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lychee Sorbet

After absorbing the entirety of David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop to the point where I have the ins and outs of putting together a frozen treat recipe down cold, I felt like this was a good time to start experimenting with my own concoctions. The flavor of this particular iced treat is inspired by a drink at a restaurant I used to frequent - the "Drunken Geisha" cocktail. If you like the lightly floral taste of these opalescent little lychee fruits, you'll be quite pleased with this sorbet.  

Lychee Sorbet
Makes a little over a pint (~2 1/2 cups)

*1 20 oz can of lychees in syrup
*1 lime, juiced
*1/2 teaspoon grenadine
*1 teaspoon lychee vodka

Puree all the ingredients together until smooth. I don't mind a bit of texture in my sorbets but if you'd rather strain it to remove all the solids, go for it. Chill thoroughly and then churn in your ice cream maker for about 20 minutes, at which point you can scoop it into a pint container to ripen a bit longer in the freezer, or have soft-serve sorbet right away! If you do pop it in the freezer, make sure to take it out a good 5-10 minutes before scooping, because it does freeze hard.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Curried Lentil, Potato and Kale Hodgepodge

First off, I promise I'll never again post another Instagram-filtered shot of a finished recipe, but this ain't a particularly pretty bowl of food to start and could use the help... plus, I was too tickled by Mr. Frisky's blitzed-out look and just had to include it.

This recipe is a variation of one posted on Smitten Kitchen a couple years back, and although it does come out looking a bit like slop, it is -very- tasty and quite filling. And, seriously cheap. My version includes waxy white potatoes instead of sweet, and kale instead of chard, but you can certainly tinker with it to suit your own palate.

Curried Lentil, Potato and Kale Hodgepodge
Makes 4-6 servings

*Olive oil or ghee
*1 onion, finely chopped
*4-5 garlic cloves, minced
*1 heaping tablespoon of minced ginger
*1 teaspoon garam masala
*1 teaspoon curry powder
*1/2 teaspoon cayenne
*4 to 5 cups chicken stock as needed (use vegetable stock to make the dish vegetarian)
*2-3 potatoes, diced into smallish cubes
*1 1/2 cups brown lentils
*1 bay leaf
*2 handfuls of chopped kale, ribs removed
*1 teaspoon paprika
*1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
*1 healthy pinch amchoor powder
*Chopped scallions or cilantro for garnish

Pick over lentils for stones and such, rinse, then drain well. In a large pot, heat a glug of oil over medium heat and saute the onions for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for a couple minutes more before adding the garam masala, curry powder and cayenne. Cook another minute or so before adding in 4 cups of stock, potatoes, lentils and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil over high; cover partially, and reduce heat to a good simmer for 25 minutes. Stir in the kale, paprika, salt and pepper to taste, and continue simmering until all the components are thoroughly cooked, adding a touch more stock if necessary, for about 35-40 minutes more. Just before serving, stir in the vinegar and the amchoor powder. Garnish with chopped cilantro or scallions.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sea Bass in Chili Bean Sauce

I'm somewhat apologetic about posting a recipe featuring an elusive and sorta expensive ingredient, but if one loves to cook Sichuan cuisine, one must acquire authentic Sichuan dou ban jiang, an amazing paste made from fermented broad (fava) beans and chilis, produced in the Sichuan province. My stock was very thoughtfully ordered for me online by the other household half, and I really, really prize it. In this dish, it acts as the foundation for the rich, sour & spicy maroon sauce in which the fish bathes. I cannot recommend this recipe highly enough, it's one of the most delicious and satisfying fish-dishes I've ever made (or eaten, for that matter).

Sea Bass in Chili Bean Sauce
Serves 2

Recipe from Fuschia Dunlop's Land of Plenty (an indispensable cookbook for those interested in Sichuan cuisine).

*1 whole carp, trout or sea bass, cleaned, with head and tail attached (I used a sea bass that came in at about 1.2 lbs; Whole Foods cleaned and gutted it for me [whew!]).
*Peanut oil
*Kosher salt
*1-2 tablespoons sherry or Shaoxing wine
*4 tablespoons Sichuanese chili bean paste (dou ban jiang)
*1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
*1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
*1 1/3 cup chicken stock
*1 teaspoon sugar
*1 1/2 teaspoons light soy sauce
*1 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon of cold water
*1/2 teaspoon black Chinese vinegar
*Chopped scallions for garnish (optional)

With a sharp knife, make 4 shallow diagonal cuts into each side of the fish, and pierce its head a couple of times on each side as well (this releases more of the tasty juices). Rub the fish inside and out with a bit of salt and sherry, and leave to marinate for a spell.

Heat a couple big glugs of peanut oil (about 1/4-1/3 cup) over high heat until smoking. Dry the fish with paper towels and fry it briefly on each side, just long enough to crisp up the skin. Remove carefully (I supported it with 2 metal spatulas) and set aside. Rinse and wipe out the wok before returning it to a burner over medium heat. Add about 4 tablespoons of fresh oil. When it is hot, add the chili bean paste and stir-fry for 20-30 seconds. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for another 20 seconds or so, then pour in all the stock, turn up the heat, and bring the liquid to a boil. Add in the sugar and soy sauce.

Gently place the fish back into the wok and spoon some sauce over it. Turn the heat down, cover, and simmer for 8-10 minutes, turning once during the cooking time. When the fish is done, transfer it to a serving dish. Add the cornstarch mixture to the sauce and stir until it thickens. Stir in the vinegar, and then pour the sauce over the fish. Serve with rice, and watch out for bones!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Peanut Sesame Soba

Soba luxuriously coated in a nutty, savory sauce... truly slurp-worthy noodles. They're good either cold or warm, and during the heat wave that's bearing down on us currently, I really enjoy nibbling on a chilled portion of these right out of the fridge. I don't add too much greenery to my noodle dishes, but feel free to add ribbons of cabbage or sliced cucumbers to up the refreshing crunch factor.

Peanut Sesame Soba
Makes 2-3 servings

*2 bundles of soba
*3 tablespoons peanut butter
*3 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste
*1 tablespoon soy sauce
*A small nubbin of ginger, peeled and chopped
*2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
*1 teaspoon rice vinegar
*2 teaspoons hot chili sesame oil (or use regular sesame oil + a bit of chili oil)
*A squeeze of honey
*Hot water (about 1/4-1/3 cup)
*1 scallion, thinly sliced
*A small handful of cilantro, chopped
*Toasted sesame seeds and crushed peanuts
Put the soba on to boil for about 5ish minutes. Blend the peanut butter, sesame paste, soy, ginger, garlic, vinegar, sesame oil and honey together in a small food processor with a bit of hot water, and continue adding hot water to thin out the sauce to desired consistency.  Drain, rinse, and re-drain the soba, and then add dollops of the sauce and toss until the soba is dressed to your liking. Garnish with scallion, cilantro, sesame seeds and peanuts.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wrecked Rose Cocktail

An email from terrain popped into my inbox the other day, promising cocktail recipes within, so naturally I swiftly clicked over. The first one that caught my eye was "Wecked Rose", which I initially misread as "Wrecked Rose" - which was less a recipe and more an advertisement for their "Weck" glass jars and various types of overpriced syrups sold at the store. The wistful poetry of my misread stuck with me though, so I decided to concoct my own cocktail to fulfill that name, and am pretty happy with what I tinkered into existence. It's what I'll take on to the porch when I'm musing about the beautifully sad impermanence of my seasonal blossoms.

And yes - it tastes as girly as it looks.

Wrecked Rose
Makes one drink

*2 oz lychee vodka
*10 raspberries, fresh or frozen
*Half a lime, juiced
*1 oz rose water (see note)

Muddle raspberries in a shaker with vodka, rose water and lime juice. Strain into a glass with ice and garnish with a lime slice. You can substitute regular vodka if you don't feel like springing for some lychee business.

Note on 'rose water': I had rose syrup on hand, which I diluted in a solution of about 1 part syrup to 5-6 parts water.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Chilled Sichuan Cucumber Salad

This incredibly simple dish is inspired by one of my favorite appetizers at Han Dynasty -  cucumber batons and dried chilis, slippery with fragrant oil and flecked with coarsely cracked peppercorn, briefly heated and then served room temperature or slightly chilled. It lends to a crisp and refreshing mouthful, with just a touch of the tell-tale Sichuan "ma la" tingle. I took direction from Fuschia Dunlop's recipe for Spicy Cucumbers but lessened the oil and added a pinch of sugar to heighten the slight sweetness that I love so much about the dish when I have it at Han's. 

Sichuan Cold Cucumber Salad
Makes 2-3 appetizer/side servings

*2 cucumbers
*Peanut oil
*A handful of dried red chilis
*Healthy pinch of coarsely ground Sichuan peppercorns
*2 teaspoons sesame oil
*Big pinch of sugar

Cut the cucumbers into halves and then, taking care to cut around the seedy, pulpy center, cut the cucumber halves into batons roughly the size of French fries. Put them in a colander and sprinkle with salt to draw the moisture out, and drain for at least 30 minutes. Pat them dry with a paper towel.

Heat the wok over high and swirl a glug of peanut oil around the sides. Add the chilis and peppercorns and stir-fry for a few seconds before throwing in the cucumbers. Toss well for about 10 seconds or so, and then remove the wok from heat and add the sesame oil and sugar, mixing thoroughly. Best when served chilled.

Update: I've lately been mincing a clove of garlic to throw in with the chilis in the initial quick stir-fry. I think it a very nice addition to the salad.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Crunchy Chunky Summer Salad

You don't win friends with salad, but this might be an exception to the rule. Inspired by a article about summery salads, I raided my cupboard and devised a boldly flavored, attractively colorful Southwesternish hodgepodge of a salad, blanketed in a spicy, velvety chipotle dressing.  I really like the crisp, tarty taste of raw tomatillos, but if you find you're not really a fan, perhaps add a bit of red onion instead.

Crunchy Chunky Summer Salad:
Serves 3-4

*2 good-lookin' tomatoes, seeded and diced
*1 tomatillo, husked and diced small
*1 jalapeno, minced
*1 small bell pepper, any color, diced
*3-4 ears corn, husked, washed, shucked
*1 15oz can black beans, rinsed and drained well
*1 scallion, thinly sliced
*A handful of cilantro, finely chopped

Drain the tomatoes on a paper towel and sprinkle just a touch of kosher salt over them. Shuck the corn into a colander so that the kernels may drain. After everything else has been diced, drained, etc, toss  together in a large serving bowl or ladle it out into smaller bowls, and drizzle the dressing over the salad.

Chipotle Dressing

*1 ripe avocado, pitted
*Juice from 3 limes
*2 tablespoons olive oil
*2 chipotle peppers in adobo
*2 garlic cloves
*Healthy pinches of salt & pepper
*A bit of water to thin consistency

Blitz everything together in a mini food processor, thinning it with a little bit of water if necessary to make it pourable.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sunday Gravy

Here's another stellar recipe (one of my all-time favorites, in fact) from my pal Michael G., he who provided me with the delicious Olive Oil Bundt recipe that I posted a while back. He related the recipe for his traditional Sunday gravy in anecdotal form, and it's so perfect as is that I'm just going to quote him wholesale.

"Here's how my family makes it (4 generations) every week: Saute two pounds Italian sausages (sweet or hot or both, whatever you like, still in their casings) in a good amount of olive oil (about 1/2 cup) until brown all over. Remove the sausages and set them aside.

Chop two large yellow onions and cloves from one whole head garlic and saute them, adding more oil if needed. Saute them slowly on medium-low heat for 30 minutes or so until they become "sweet", translucent. Do not let them brown. Salt them as you saute them. Add a dash of crushed red pepper flakes, dry oregano and a few basil leaves (never use dried basil!!!). Then stir in two small cans tomato paste and two cans crushed tomatoes. Then fill up the empty cans of tomatoes (both cans) with water and add the water to the pot. Then add the sausages and a dash of sugar. Simmer for about 4 hours, with the lid slightly ajar. Stir every few minutes, making sure the tomatoes do not stick to the bottom and burn. You can add meatballs in the last 30 minutes of cooking. It's important to keep the simmer very low, just a few slow bubbles, and also to stir the sauce every few minutes. When I was little, whenever my grandmother was busy doing something like gardening, she would yell at me to stir the sauce about 3 times an hour."

Very generous of Michael to share this, especially since you couldn't wrest family recipes away from most Italian nonnas with a crowbar.

My variation on Michael's Sunday Gravy (Slight sacrilege. I know.)
Makes enough to feed a small army.

*2 lbs hot Italian sausage
*1/3 cup EVOO
*2 (small) yellow onions. If you like onions, go H.A.M. and get bigg'uns. I have to keep other household half's onion hate in mind.
*1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and chopped finely
*1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
*1 teaspoon dried oregano
*3 large basil leaves
*A couple sprigs of thyme
*12 oz can of tomato paste
*2 28oz cans crushed tomatoes
*Pinch of sugar
*Homemade meatballs (optional, but highly recommended)

Follow anecdotal recipe above, with a few amendments: After the veg has sauteed for 30 minutes or so, add the tomato paste and fry for a few minutes on its own before adding in the crushed tomatoes (and the fresh herbs). Also, I usually just fill one 28 oz can with water and add that in. If you are making meatballs, pour off some of the grease but leave a bit in the pan, add a touch of tomato paste, fry for a couple minutes, deglaze with a small glug of beef stock and add to the sauce.

And once more, for good measure - do not simmer for less than 4 hours. 4 1/2-5 hours is what I shoot for, normally. It's a watery tomato sauce 2 hours in - after it crosses the 4 hour mark, it edges into the sublime.

Also, might be a good idea to put down paper towels around the pot because even partially covered and at a low heat setting, this sauce will spit and splat all around your counter and stovetop when it's a couple hours in. Fair warning.