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 soup├žon 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.