Friday, March 6, 2009

Chinese (American) Comfort Food

Here's a good comfort food recipe for classic "Fried Rice", a good way to use up yesterday's rice as today's side or main dish. I am using Jasmine but any long-grain variety will work. I know some of you out there still use "parboiled" but I encourage you to experiment with different varieties (just avoid high-starch rice like arborio, sushi, sticky, Spanish short-grains, etc.) This dish truly works better with at least day old rice as it has started to dry a bit, using fresh cooked rice will result in a sticky dish. Here's what you will need:

2 cups Rice, pre-cooked
1 tsp. Ginger, minced
1 tsp. Garlic, minced
1/2 Red Bell Pepper, diced
1 cup Mushrooms, thinly sliced (I like Shitake or Mitake but any variety will do)
1/2 cup Peas, Frozen
1 Scallion, thinly sliced
1/8 cup Peanut Oil
1/8 cup Sesame Oil
2 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
1 1/2 tsp. Fish Sauce (Optional)
Fresh Hot Chiles (Optional)
2 Eggs, beaten

Combine Sesame Oil, Soy Sauce and Fish Sauce in a small bowl. In a wide saucepan (preferably non-stick) or well-seasoned wok heat 1/2 the Peanut Oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add beaten egg and quickly stir fry until done, remove from pan. Add the remaining Peanut Oil, Ginger, Garlic and Hot Chile (if using) and stir fry for 1 minute. Add Red Bell Pepper and Mushrooms and continue cooking for an additional two minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly to separate grains, for an another couple of minutes. Add scallion and peas and stir to combine. Pour in sauce and cooked egg and continue cooking until everything is hot. Season with additional soy sauce.

*Remember the idea of "stir-frying" is to cook everything very quickly in a very hot pan to achieve a level of doneness that cooks everything but maintains the integrity of the ingredients. The Chinese call this "Wok Hay".

Moroccan Carrot Salad

I am getting really burned out on winter and uninspired by the same old offerings at the local market (hence my lack of recent postings!). This is especially true when it comes to the produce section. Because of our short "high country" growing season we have to rely on produce that has been trucked cross country or from another country at least half the year. This usually means things are harvested before they are ripe and ready and a LARGE amount of petroleum is necessary to get them here.

One thing that is pretty consistent in terms of quality are some California grown carrots that are in the organic section of the grocery. They are in bunches with the green tops still attached. Unlike most grocery store variety carrots that have long since been removed from their chlorophyll-ed appendage and are cracked and drying (i.e. dying) these guys are sweet and delicious. To get the full nutritional benefit I like to serve them raw with a simple dressing. I washed and peeled them, cut them into about 1.5 inch sections and ran them through the julienne blades of the mandoline. Feel free to use a knife and make whatever cut you fancy.

The dressing is pretty simple:

1 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tbsp. Fresh Lemon Juice
1 1/2 tsp. Honey (or Agave Nectar)
Zest of one Lemon
1/8 cup Chopped Cilantro
1/8 cup. Chopped Mint
1 tsp. Coriander
1/8 tsp. Cracked Black Pepper
Salt (Either to taste in the dressing or use a finishing salt, like Maldon, on top)

You could easily make an Asian version by substituting the Olive Oil with Sesame Oil, the Lemon Juice with Rice Wine Vinegar and adding additional ingredients like: Thai Basil, Fish Sauce, Black Sesame Seeds, 5 Spice Powder, etc.

Bluegrass Kitchen Tools

If you haven't used a Mandoline before they can be a very efficient tool in the kitchen. Consistent and uniform cutting of fruits and veggies are the main reasons to keep one around. Thin slicing and julienne cuts can certainly be done with a good knife but not nearly as quickly and precisely as with this tool. That said none of the mandolines that I've used have ever been particularly easy to clean. In addition you need to be extremely careful with the sharp blades and if you are short on storage space it could end up being a bit of a pain. So, there's my disclaimer...The good news is that in the past good mandolines have been pretty expensive at around $200 dollars for a quality model. When Cooks Illustrated did a mandoline review a couple of months ago I was excited to see the $35 "OXO Good Grips V-Blade" at the top of their list. I purchased one shortly thereafter and have enjoyed using it for various recipes like the one that follows...

Saturday, January 31, 2009

French Bistro Salad

Here is a recipe based on classic French Bistro fare. It has three parts; a Greens Salad, Grilled Steak and a French Vinaigrette. Use whatever you like in the salad, here is what I used:

Mesclun, Spring Mix and/or Romaine Lettuce
Cooked and Sliced Beets
Sliced Hard Boiled Egg
Spiced Pecans (recipe later)
Maytag Blue Cheese

For the Steak component I used the grilled Flat Iron from the previous post. You could also use Flank Steak, Skirt Steak or if you can find it Hangar Steak (Onglet) which is a classic French beef cut. The dressing I came up with is essentially a French Vinaigrette with quite a bit of thin sliced shallot. If shallot is not available use thin sliced sweet onion.

French Shallot Vinaigrette
1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
3/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 tsp. Thyme, dried
1/2 tsp. Cracked Black Pepper
1/2 tsp. Salt
3 Tbsp. Shallot, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. Honey
1 1/2 tsp. Dijon
1 clove Garlic, minced

Combine everything but the Oil in a small bowl. Allow the mixture to rest for about 15 minutes, this will essentially start pickling the shallots taming their "rawness". Add the Olive oil in a slow steady stream while whisking to emulsify the dressing. Other ingredients you could add to this vinaigrette include: 1 Tbsp. Cornichon, 1 Tbsp. Italian Parsley, 1 Tbsp. Fresh Tarragon, 1 tsp. Minced Capers or 2 Minced Anchovies.

To serve dish out a portion of the Greens, top with Grilled Steak and drizzle with dressing. Ooh La La!

Flat Iron Steak

One of my favorite (and increasingly available) cuts of beef is the Flat Iron Steak. It is cut from the shoulder (chuck) area of the beef and may also be labeled a "Top Blade Steak". Because of it's excellent marbeling it provides a great combination of flavor and tenderness. I like to substitute a Flat Iron for Skirt or Flank Steak in recipes like Carne Asada. To prepare it for the latter a little fresh squeezed lime juice, thin sliced onioin, salt and pepper make a quick marinade. It can also benefit from being marinated overnight, here is a recipe for a basic steak marinade that I will use for the recipe in the next post:

Basic Steak Marinade
1/2 cup Red Wine
2 Tbsp. Red Wine Vinegar
2 Tbsp. Worchestershire Sauce
4 Garlic Cloves, crushed
1 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
1/8 tsp. Crushed Red Pepper
1/4 tsp. Thyme
1/2 tsp. Rosemary
2 Bay Leaves, crushed
2 tsp. Cracked Black Pepper
1 1/2 tsp. Brown Sugar

Combine all ingredients and pour over steak. Marinate for 24 hrs. turning once.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Asian Chicken Noodle Soup w/ Bok Choy

Here is a recipe that utilizes the Asian-inspired Chicken Stock from the last post (although any chicken or veggie stock will do). It is loaded with healthful ingredients to boost the immune system as well as the Spirit. I took the chicken that was poached during the stock making process and rubbed it with Peanut Oil and Chinese 5-Spice powder. I then put it under the oven broiler until the skin was crisped and golden brown (turning to cook both sides). I let the chicken cool then picked and diced the meat.

8-10 cups Chicken or Vegetable Stock
2 cups Sliced Mushrooms (Shitake, Crimini, Button, Portobello, Wood Ear, Oyster, etc.)
2.5 cups Diced Chicken, cooked
3 cups Bok Chop (or other Asian Green or Cabbage), Julienne
1 cup Carrot, biased-cut
2 tsp. Fresh Ginger, minced
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 tsp. Thai Chile (or Serrano), minced
3 Tbsp. Fish Sauce
1.2 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp. Sesame or Chile Oil
1/2 tsp. Cracked Black Pepper
8 oz. Udon Noodles, cooked according to package directions (substitute any fresh or dried Asian Noodles)
Garnishes: Thin-sliced Scallion, Minced Fresh Chile, Julienne Cilantro, Julienne Kefir Lime leaf

In a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot bring the Chicken Stock to a boil. Add Ginger, Garlic, Carrot, Chile, Mushrooms, Soy Sauce, Sesame Oil, and Fish Sauce. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the Bok Choy and Chicken and continue cooking another 5 minutes. Finally add the cooked Udon and allow to cook an additional couple of minutes.

Portion the finished soup into individual bowls and garnish as you like. Season at the table with Soy Sauce, Sriracha and fresh Lime Juice. Enjoy!

Friday, January 23, 2009

"The Virtues of Frugality" Part 1

So we just got back from the grocery and as usual found some great deals! One of those being a "Red Bird" organic, free-range whole chicken marked down a couple of bucks for "quick sale". This is a Colorado company that seems to be somewhat ethical in their business philosophies although I think they could still certainly be considered a "factory farm". I definitely don't advocate for buying anything but the freshest poultry available...but, when making a Chicken Stock I think it is an economical option.

Making stock is incredibly rewarding in terms of utilizing would-be kitchen "scraps" to create a wonderful flavoring base. Many of those items that are sitting in the produce drawers of your fridge are fine fodder for a stock. I also like to freeze random cuts of inexpensive meats, giblets and trimmings for later stock-making. Onion peels, the root ends of celery, garlic skin, the list of possible ingredients goes on and on. Things to avoid include produce with a high water content, bitter, astringent and acidic items. Roasting ingredients (especially meats) before adding them to the stock pot will intensify and add depth to the flavor of the finished product.

I decided to take an Asian direction with this stock. In addition to the whole bird I am adding fresh ginger, galangal, lemongrass, shallot, carrot and garlic. The reason I am using the whole bird in lieu of a freshly butchered or roasted carcass is that I will be poaching the meat which will later be added back into a soup. Start with a good sized, heavy bottom pot. Add all of your ingredients and cover with COLD water. Put the pot on the stove over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Adjust the temperature to maintain this gently simmer. Two rules: Do not boil the stock and NEVER STIR it! Both of these actions will cause particles of your ingredients to break up and result in a stock that is not clear.

The length of time your stock cooks will determine the concentration of flavor of the finished product. Let's say you should at least cook it a couple of hours and often times I will put it on at night on a really low setting and take it off first thing in the morning. In the professional kitchen it is not uncommon to have huge pots of stock simmering away overnight for the next day's use.

Here is the stock after a couple of hours. At this point the chicken is sufficiently done and the richness of the stock is evident in it's color (and flavor). If using bones, trimmings or other meats that you don't plan on utilizing later you could certainly let it keep cooking. Now it is time to strain the stock. Use a mesh strainer to separate the liquid from the solids. If you want an even clearer stock line the strainer with a double thickness of cheese cloth. Just be careful to not disturb the solids too much as you strain.

I like to strain the liquid into a large mixing bowl that can be placed uncovered in the refrigerator to allow it to cool. The fats in the stock will rise to the top and solidify. When completely chilled they can be removed with a slotted spoon. At this point I transfer the stock to a plastic pitcher with a lid or into gallon freezer bags to freeze for later use.

Good Meat Stock Ingredients: Bones, Meat Trimmings, Carrot, Celery, Onion, Garlic, Leeks, Parsnips, Parsley Stems, Bay Leaves, Peppercorns, Fresh Herbs

A good Vegetable Sock can be made with the veggies listed above and will be especially rich if those veggies are roasted first. Vegetable stock can also benefit from the addition of other flavoring agents such as Soy based sauces, Nutritional Yeast and Tomato Paste.

The stock that I made will be used for an Asian Chicken Soup with Bok Choy, recipe to follow.....

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Let's do this thing!

Ok, so here we go. I have been asked many times by many people to give out or write down recipes. Of course I never have a problem with this but it can often be difficult to verbally relate such things as technique and the subtleties of flavor, aroma, doneness, etc. Hopefully by posting pics and giving some step by step instruction I can better express the nature of the dish.

Essentially my purpose in joining the blogosphere is to share with the world my passion for food and culture. I will be passing along recipes, techniques, ingredient information, sources for authentic foods, cultural tidbits and whatever else strikes my fancy. Essentially geeking out on food! I am a strong proponent for the local, seasonal, sustainable food system that we have strayed so far from in this country (much more on that to follow). Anyway hope you all enjoy and feel free to comment, especially with questions and potential postings.

I am posting a few pics from a dinner Kelly and I recently presented at Plank restaurant upon his return from LA. We utilized some great seasonal and artisan ingredients including some Piedmontese black truffles that Kelly purchased from some Argentinians out of the back of an SUV in a LA alleyway! Black market baby!! Buen Provecho...