Saturday, December 13, 2008

Another secret from uncle 4 - stir fried squid with Taiwanese cabbage

At dinner last night, I wrangled another recipe from our family's most illustrious chef, Uncle 4*.

*Side note: If Auntie 1 had kept up on her computer classes and remember how to get to our family blog, she may disagree with me on who is the most illustrious chef in the family. But yesterday she said she's forgotten about how to get into her email again, so let us leave Uncle 4 as our family's top chef for now.

The recipe is for Uncle 4's squid and Taiwanese cabbage stir fry. I remember this dish from a couple of years ago when Aaron visited Taiwan for the first time and proclaimed this dish to be his favorite of the trip. It's really no surprise after you've tasted it!

As we sat around the dinner table, a few of us fought to be the hand model in the picture of the dish. I will post the picture soon so you can see the winner who was photographed with the stirfry!

This stirfry is a little spicy, very savory, and tastes full of fresh seafood flavor. I'm not sure what to use to reproduce the great umami from the fresh squid but I'll definitely try when I get home.

Uncle 4's Stir Fried Squid with Taiwanese Cabbage
(all parenthetical comments directly quoted from the dinner table)
Serves 4-6

2 cups small squid (with skin), rinsed very briefly (or else you will wash the flavor right off!), and cut into medium size pieces
3-4 cups Taiwanese cabbage, washed, cut into about 1 inch pieces
white pepper
garlic, minced
scallion, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 small red chili pepper, in 1/3 inch dice
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons black vinegar
cooking oil

A well-seasoned wok. (Auntie 1 claims that the wok is "seldom washed" to retain the flavor. The wok at my grandma's house has seen a lot of delicious dishes in its day. I'll probably use my cast iron pan at home to approximate the flavor.)

In a plate, season the squid with salt, white pepper, and MSG (which I don't have at home. I'll have to ask for a substitute). Sprinkle the squid with about 5-6 Tablespoons of cornstarch, massage it into the squid until the squid is coated with the starch.

Heat "plenty" of oil in your wok over medium high heat. Add scallion, garlic, and chili pepper. Fry until fragrant.

Add the squid and stir fry until barely opaque. Remove and set aside.

With the left over oil in the wok, stir fry the Taiwanese cabbage until cooked through. Add more garlic and hot chili at this point if desired.

When the cabbage is soft, return the squid to the wok and stir fry to combine. The starch in the squid and the juices from the cabbage should create a slightly thickened sauce. If you'd like more sauce, add a little more water and thicken with corn starch.

When the stir fry has the consistency you like, add about 1 teaspoon of sugar and 2 tablespoons of black vinegar (you don't want to taste the vinegar in the dish but just to balance out the flavors).

Serve immediately.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Family Kitchen Roadtrip - Matterhorn and Alembic Bar in San Francisco

For a little trip outside of our family kitchens, here is a look at our recent tour of San Francisco, where we ate, drank, played with kitties, and repeated the process over three days!

We kicked off the weekend with a fondue dinner at Matterhorn, a Swiss restaurant near my house. The smoked cheese fondue was pretty good, but the star of the night was the steak fondue in oil - with six different types of dipping sauces, no less. The appetizer dishes that came with the fondue were really refreshing - especially the baby artichoke salad with lemon zest. We lingered over the fondue pots and drank some really good, reasonably priced wine.

The next day we went to one of my favorite places to hang out, Alembic Bar in Haight Ashbury. They have wonderful handcrafted old fashioned drinks and a very eclectic menu. We ordered just about every offal that they had on the menu that night, much to the horror of the vegan diner who was sitting next to us on what seemed like her first date.

As we ordered a raw calamari salad to start and followed it by baked bone marrow, roasted madallions of beef tongue, oysters, and house-made corn nuts (memories of 7th grade beckons), we overhear the vegan diner saying to her date, "Bone marrow? Who would think of such a disgusting thing to put on the menu?"

Ah. Well, Amy says you can't trust a vegetarian. I don't even want to know what she would say about vegans.

While the vegan and her date dined on olives and nuts, Amy's oysters arrived fresh on the half shell.

Then the waiter delivered the magnificant baked bone marrow with toasted bread - I didn't catch the look on the vegan diner's face as I was busy spreading marrow on the bread anyway. The marrow is flavored with capers, parsley, and roasted garlic. You spread it over toasted artisan bread. The texture is soft, buttery, fresh, and rich.

I suppose this must have looked pretty scary to a vegan - after all it is a big bone cut lengthwise, probably requiring a band saw. Whatever. It was delicious!

A "Special-ality" - Chris's Meat Loaf

I have gleaned yet another secret recipe from Chris's ever-surprising repertoire! This time, he brought a secret bag of ingredients to make meat loaf. But being a former investigative journalist (kidding!), I spiked his drink with truth serum (not really!) and got this recipe out of him (seriously!).

Now this is comfort food at its finest - and just the thing to christen my cast iron skillet.

The meatloaf is a mixture of three different kinds of ground meat: beef, pork, and lamb. Chris says his mother usually use all beef at home. Mix in one chopped onion, an egg, garlic salt, crumbled bouillon, and a handful of fresh bread crumbs (we use the bag we got in North Beach when Joey took me on a tour).

Usually the recipe calls for some ketchup but I didn't have any so Chris improved with some shrimp cocktail sauce.

After mixing in all the goodies, you can form the meat loaf in a cast iron skillet in whatever shape you want. For example, the shape of Taiwan:

Or, more appropriate to its name, you can form it into a ...

... meatloaf.

Slather some more cocktail sauce or ketchup on top and sprinkle some regular or brown sugar over the ketchup/cocktail sauce. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, then bake, uncovered, until the top is nice and brown (about 15 more minutes).

While the meatloaf baked, Chris whipped up some mashed potatoes - using a hand held mixer to make sure that the taters are nice and airy.

The result? A delicious, comforting, savory meat loaf dinner!

Mojo and Keelo circled around the kitche and salivated/tried to get onto the kitchen table as the meatloaf baked in the oven.

But wait, Mojo Jojo is looking so weird in that picture! The flash never does him justice. Here is a picture of Mojo looking more like himself:

There, that's better.

Chris's Meat Loaf
1/3 lb ground beef
1/3 lb ground pork
1/3 lb ground lamb
1 egg
1 onion, finely chopped
1 pork bouillon cube, crumbled
about 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
pinch each of oregano and thyme
1/4 cup ketchup, plus more to glaze
pinch of sugar

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix all the ingredients together, add more breadcrumbs if necessary. Mixture should be soft. Don't overmix.

Shape the loaf in a cast iron pan, or if you don't have one, use just a regular baking pan. Glaze with more ketchup and pinch of sugar.

Cover, bake for 40 minutes or until the meat loaf is cooked through. Uncover and bake for about 15 more minutes until the top is golden brown.

Swat kittens away before you open the oven door.

Slice and serve with mashed potatoes!

Chris says the leftovers would be perfect for a meatloaf sandwich, but I ate it with rice, of course!

Peking Style Fried Tofu

1 carton of extra firm tofu
1/2 C flour
1 egg (beaten)
1 T chopped green onion
1 T chopped ginger root
1 T rice wine

Group A:
2 t salt
1 t MSG (or hondashi)
1/2 T sesame oil
1/2 C chicken broth

Cut tofu into 1-1/2 x 1 x 1/2 pieces. Coat each piece lightly with flour, then dip into egg.

Heat up 2 T oil in pan. Arrange tofu piece by piece evenly in the pan and fry over medium heat for 1 minute. When tofu is a golden color, turn over, add 2 T of oil and fry until golden. Add rice wine, scallion, ginger, and group A. Pierce tofu with a fork to allow liquid to soak through. Cook over low flame until liquid is absorbed by the tofu.

Shrimp Balls in Mushroom Soup

6 oz. raw, shelled shrimp
1 oz. pork fat or pork shoulder (ground)

Group A:
1/2 t rice wine
1/2 t salt
1/2 t MSG (or hondashi)
1/4 t black pepper
1/2 t sesame oil
1 egg white
1 T cornstarch

1 C straw mushrooms (can sub with any mushroom mixture. We used sliced portobellos and short straw mushrooms and they were delicious! Can also try oyster mushrooms.)

Group B:
1/2 T rice wine
6 C chicken or pork broth
2 t MSG (or hondashi)

6 1-inch sections of green onions

Throw pork, shrimp, and group A into the food processor. Cook straw mushrooms in boiling water for 1 minute. Remove and drain.

Shape shrimp paste into balls and place in group B. Heat mixture over medium heat and cook for 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and turan heat to high. When liquid boils, add green onions.

Pig's Feet in Soy Sauce Over Rice

Serves 3-4

2-2/3 lb pig's feet
1-1/2 T soy sauce
6 1" sections of green onions
4 cloves of garlic, peeled

Group A:
3 C water
3/4 C soy sauce
1 T cooking wine (rice wine or sherry will do)
1/2 T rock sugar or white sugar
1 star anise (or 1.4 t five spice powder)

4 C cooked rice

Chop pig's feet into 5-6 pieces. Blanch in boiling water. Remove, drain, and spoon the soy sauce over the outer service of the pig's feet. Set aside.

Heat 4 T of oil in a preheated wok. Fry the green onion and garlic until fragrant. Put in the pig's feet and fry until the surface is golden brown. Add group A and cook over medium heat for 40 minutes. Cook until 1-1/2 cups of liquid remain (about 1-2 hours more) on medium-low heat.

Szechuan Gherkin Slices (cucumber salad)

Szechuan Gherkin Slices (cucumber salad)

1 1/3 lbs gherkin cucumbers
1 T salt
10 slices of ginger root, shredded
1 hot red pepper, shredded
1/2 cup of sesame oil
5 dried hot red peppers, cut into 1-inch sections
1 t Szechuan peppercorns
Group A:
2 T vinegar
2 T sugar

1. Cut off tips of cucumbers and cut each into 4 to 6 sections; mix with salt and let it sit for 20 minutes. Rinse lightly in cold water and drain. Place in a bowl and sprinkle shredded ginger and hot red pepper on top.

2. In a small pan, heat up 1/2 C of sesame oil. Stir fry Szechuan peppercorns over medium heat until fragrant. Add dried pepper sections and stir fry for 30 seconds. Remove. Pour mixture over shredded ginger and hot red pepper. Add group A and mix with cucumbers. Refrigerate 6 hours. Before eating, cut each cucumber into 2-inch sections.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Friends Dinner

Liang, Jing, and Justus came to my house last night and we made a delicious meal! Jing had two awesome cookbooks from which we picked out recipes. I'll post them soon. For now, here are some pictures!

Liang getting the pig hooves ready for hacking!

They were really hard to chop! Good job Liang!

Mushroom (straw and sliced portobello) and shrimp/pork meatball soup in chicken stock and pork boullion.

Jing and Justus made this delicious picked cucumber salad with szechuan pepper oil and vinegar. YOM!!

Pan fried tofu! Jing put something in it that was so good! I will find out when I post the recipes. :P

Best part of the meal: stewed pig's feet! We couldn't believe that they had it at Krogers!

Dinnertime! I was so excited I think I ate too fast!

Forgot to take pictures of the dessert, but we made red bean soup with tapioca! Mmmmm!

Thanks everyone for cooking and coming over!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Cooking with Jojo

The Food Network chef Mario Batali is famous for his authentic Italian food - he is the chef who inspired my favorite writer, Bill Buford, to take a few years off to become Batali's kitchen slave (as documented in the book, Heat). Despite his un-Italian appearance (red hair in a pony tail, always ruddy cheeks, unfashionable shorts no matter the weather), a lot of food writers have good things to say about him.

To test out one of his recipes, I invite our very own Joey - officially Joey "Jojo" Francesca Lorenzo Favaloro - to be my taste tester. You might know that her family is Sicilian from Palermo and of course most of you remember Joey's dad's fantastic white clam sauce.

The recipe I chose to make was Batali's Penne with Calamari and Malvasia (a red wine made from grapes grown in Italy). True to San Francisco's multicultured vibe, Joey's dad had suggested that we get the calamari at a Chinese seadfood market in the Richmond (where I used to live). With the calamari safely procured and chilling in the fridge, we set off to the rest of our morning.

We started off in sunny and warm North Beach, San Francisco's Italian district, to try to buy some focaccia bread but by the time we got there, they were out because of "the opening day of football." Ugh. Sports.

Undeterred, we went on to gather the rest of our ingredients: , we picked up fresh breadcrumbs from the French Italian Baking Company in North Beach where her father had been a baker for many years. The backroom of the bakery was really spacious with an oven the size of my kitchen at home, according to Joey. She said she and Mandy used to run around in the back all the time, picking up some dough from the machine to play. For dessert, we chose a semi-frozen rum cake from Victoria Pastry Company, who made the wedding cake for Joey’s parents more than two decades ago.

Once we were home, we enlisted Chris to help us open and drink the bottles of wine that we had gotten in North Beach before we started prepping our ingredients. There wasn’t much to it – slice the calamari and red onions thinly, chop up the Italian flat leave parsley, and we were ready to go.

The recipe instructs us to make the sauce first – what seemed like too much parsley was actually just right. The calamari cooks lightly in the simple tomato sauce spiked with red pepper flakes, wine, parsley and onions. Don’t skimp on the toppings of toasted breadcrumbs (I toasted them on the stove over low heat until light brown), plenty of pecorino cheese (we used parmesan but it was just as good), olive oil, and more parsley.

I asked Joey what her dad would say about this dish. “He would love it just as it is,” she said. It was a little spicy for all of us so I would probably reduce the amount of red pepper flakes and onions or increase the amount of tomato. I think this dish would be terrific with even more variety of seafood but that is totally up to you - maybe some shrimp, clams, and white fish?

Here is the recipe with our modifications:

Penne with Calamari and Malvasia


4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

Freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch fresh finely chopped Italian parsley, plus more for garnish

1/2 cup malvasia wine (or any full body red wine)

1 can peeled whole plum tomatoes, about 2 cups

1 pound clean calamari, tentacles chopped fine, sliced into large pieces

1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

1 pound dried penne pasta

1/2 cup toasted fresh breadcrumbs

Grated pecorino, for garnish

Place 6 quarts water to boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. In a 12 to 14-inch saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat until smoking. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the parsley, 1/2 cup wine, tomatoes and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. Add the calamari and the pepper flakes and season, to taste. Stir through to mix the ingredients and remove from heat and let cool.

toast the breadcrumbs in a small pan over low heat until lightly brown. Be sure to stir so it doesn't burn.

When the pot of water reaches a rolling bowl, add the pasta and cook according to the package directions until just al dente. Drain well and pour the hot, cooked pasta into the saucepan with the calamari. Return the pan to the heat and toss until well coated and the calamari is completely opaque. Pour into a heated serving dish and sprinkle with toasted breadcrumbs, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and garnish with parsley and grated pecorino cheese. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Chinese-Style Fried Chicken

I treated myself to some Chinese-style fried chicken yesterday and the day before - it was totally delightful and not very hard to make. I do a shallow pan fry so it's not a huge mess in the kitchen (ugh hate deep fat frying!). I made a batch the day before yesterday, and brought the leftovers with me to eat at a park while tanning. I highly recommend it!

Chinese Fried Chicken

4 pieces of chicken thighs or whole drumsticks, deboned
1 egg yolk
1/2 to 2/3 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon white pepper

5 tablespoons corn starch

vegetable oil for frying

Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Marinate the chicken in egg yolk, salt, and pepper for about half an hour.

Dredge the chicken in corn starch, shake off the excess and set aside.

Heat enough oil to cover a flat frying pan (about .5 cm depth) over medium heat. Slide in the chicken pieces without over crowding the pan. I put a mesh splatter screen over the pan to prevent...splattering.

Fry about 8 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the chicken. They should be cooked through in about 15 minutes.

While the chicken cooks, prepare the dipping sauce of your choice. I like to drizzle a mixture of soy sauce, chopped ginger, chopped scallion, thinly sliced jalapeno peppers, with a dash of sugar and lemon juice.

When the chicken is done, set it on paper towels or a cooling rack for a few minutes.

Note: some recipes recommend a second frying to make it really crispy. Well, when I'm making it just for myself, I really can't be bothered. But you should try it and let me know how it goes!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Lori's Sushi Party

Lori put together a delicious sushi dinner for me last week and I just can't wait to reproduce it on my own!

She made edamame, seaweed salad, and set out ingredients for various rolls. She set out sushi mats lined with Saran Wrap for us to roll our own rolls -- it was a lot of fun. We had nigori sake made in Berkeley to drink, and ginger sorbet for dessert! Fancy pants, Lori!

The menu:
steamed Edamame
seaweed salad (with sesame seeds, sesame oil, and...scallions?)
sushi rice (flavored with rice vinegar, salt, and sugar)

for the rolls:
thinly sliced shitake mushroom
thinly sliced lime
thinly sliced japaleno peppers
sliced mango - not too ripe!
sushi-grade tuna
fresh crab meat, picked over by the nice people at Feletti's
wasabi mayo
chopped Macadamia nuts
soy sauce and wasabi

We created a couple of rolls: a veggie roll with shitake, avocado, cucumber, and mango. A spicy tuna roll with tuna, avocado, cucumber, wasabi mayonnaise, and lime. My favorite was a crab roll with crab meat, avocago, mango, cucumber, and macadamia nuts on top.

I will try to reproduce this party at home some time in the next month so I can set out some pictures. Thanks, Lori!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Nandita's (Oatmeal) Chocolate Chip Cookies

Thanks to Nandita for this delicious recipe!

(Oatmeal) Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/2 cups flour (substitute 2 cups flour with 1 cup oats for oatmeal choc chip cookies)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt [I didn't add any salt (because I forgot, hahaha) and it turned out just fine!]
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar (or skip altogether bc the chocolate chips are already really sweet)

1 cup butter (2 sticks) at room temperature (I put a bit less)
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 (i did 2 cups and it was A LOT. try 1.5 cups maybe) cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300F. Mix flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Cream together the brown sugar and butter. Add the eggs and vanilla extract, blend until smooth. Add the flour mixture to the sugar/butter mixture. Add chocolate chips. Scoop the dough into 2 inch mounds an inch apart onto a cookie sheet. Bake for 22-25 minutes. Remove promptly and let cool on a rack.

Fettucini Alfredo

Aaron's coworker's wife has perfected her recipe for fettucini Alfredo. Give it a try!

Fettuccini Alfredo
8 oz Fettuccini
½ cup Butter
½ cup Heavy Whipping Cream
¾ cup grated Parmesan (freshly grated makes a big difference!)
½ tsp white ground pepper

Cook Pasta according to directions. Melt butter and whipping cream in a sauce pan. Stir constantly until hot. Remove from heat and add cheese and pepper. Stir in pasta. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Avo Spinich Panini

Those of you who know me will know I wasn't blessed with the cooking genes my delightful cousin's have. ;) But! I did spot this on yumsugar and thought it looked too good (also healthy!) not to share!


2 thick slices of sourdough bread
1 teaspoon aioli or mayonnaise
1 slice of pepperjack cheese
1 cup fresh spinach
1/4 cup diced tomato
1/4 of an avocado, cut into slices

  1. Spread aioli or mayonnaise on one slice of sourdough. Top with pepperjack cheese.
  2. Arrange the spinach leaves evenly over the cheese. Top with diced tomato. (Tip: Don't be afraid to put a lot of spinich! It will wilt in the heat and get pressed down as the bread flattens.)
  3. Cover the spinach and tomato with sliced avocado and second slice of sourdough.
  4. In a panini press or grill pan, cook the panini until the bread is lightly browned and crisp. Slice in half and serve.
Makes 1 sandwich.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Summer time is here!

I just wanted to share a cute picture of these baby tomatoes that my coworker brought in last week for us to enjoy! They were ripe, juicy, and super sweet.

Thanks, Ace!

Auntie's Mushroom Stirfry Revisited

Whenever I'm a little homesick for Taiwanese food I always go to the recipes I got from my family in my last last visit - they've never done me wrong! I realize that the directions for my aunt's mushroom stirfry recipe was a little vague so here is a new and improved version.

If you are not in an area with a good farmer's market and a cheap mushroom guy, this dish isn't cheap -- the maitake mushrooms at Whole Foods was pretty expensive, add to that the "Chef's Sampler Pack" of assorted mushrooms ($6.99) ... I can't think about how much this dish costs right now!

In any case, the original recipe for the mushroom stirfry was missing a few steps. Here's what I did:

Mushroom Stirfry with pork

1 clove of garlic, chopped
1/2 hot chili pepper, minced (optional)
1/2 cup to 2/3 cup pork (I used a shoulder steak), thinly sliced
3 tablespoons soy sauce
generous sprinkle of white pepper
1 tomato - diced
half a red bell pepper, chopped into 1/2 inch diamonds
half a green bell pepper, chopped into 1/2 inch diamonds
2 to 3 cups of your favorite mushroom -- use a mixture of shitake, maitake, oyster, and brown, all in big irregular slices
1/2 pork flavor boullion cube
3/4 cup hot water
cooking oil

Marinate the pork with soysauce and white pepper for about 15 minutes. Over medium-high heat, stir fry garlic and hot pepper until fragrant. Add pork and tomato, stir fry until cooked. Add the mushroom, stir to combined. Let the mushroom brown a little - don't move them around too much. Add pork boullion cube with the hot water. Cook for5-10 minutes until juices are absorbed. Then add the red and green bell peppers. Cook for about 3 minutes. Serve immediately over rice.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Family Kitchen Field Trip: Meat Pie a la Chris

Hello family, lace up your sneakers and get ready for a treat: we are taking a field trip to my friend Chris's kitchen for a recipe from his family! I've heard about this humbly named dish from Chris for some time now, but I couldn't quite picture what a "meat pie" looks like. So in my mind I had conjured a few possibilities: a Hot-Pockets type of pastry (hand-held for maximum eating efficiency)? Something like a Sheperd's Pie (the only other meat-filled pie I know)? A meat cobbler dotted with streusel (I hoped not)?

The real meat pie a la Chris is a lot more delightful and delicious and less meaty than I imagined. It's bubbly, cheesy, and fun to make and eat.

In fact, it looks like this (hot sauce on the side because I'm a wimp):

Meat Pie a la Chris

2 ready-made 9 inch frozen pie crusts (we got these from Whole Foods but any good brand will do)
2 cups ground beef
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 onion, diced, about 1/3 inch thick
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 can black beans, drained
1 can corn, drained
1 can tomato, diced
1 cup black olives, chopped roughly
2 stalks scallions, chopped
1 1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup whole milk yogurt or sour cream
hot sauce of your choice

Preheat oven to 400F.
Unwrap the frozen pie crusts and place them on a baking sheet.

In a large saute pan over medium heat, crumble ground beef and cook until cooked-through. Add chopped onion and minced garlic, stir and cook until onion slices are translucent. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the balsamic vinegar and reduce until the vinegar is almost gone.

Note: Now, here is where the recipe gets a little hazy. I had been distracted by Chris's new kittens, who were perched on a leather couch, heads perked up, intently watching the cooking process.

So, while I was distracted by the kittens, there could have been some other seasonings added to the beef but I am not exactly sure what. Judging from the contents of the cupboard, my guess is that it could be garlic powder, a dash of gravy mix, or boullion cube. I think it could be the gravy mix but I am not entirely sure. I will just say for now that it is salt, pepper, and gravy mix with 85 percent certainty.

"The beauty of meat pie is that it's different every time. it changes with moods, seasons, lovers." - Chris of the meat pies

Well, hmmph. Back to the recipe.

Add the drained canned corn, black beans, 2/3 cup of the olives, and diced tomatoes with juice. Season well with salt and pepper (and plenty of it!). Cover and simmer for 15 minutes so the flavors can blend.

Suggested activities while the meat pie filling simmers: 1) play with kittens (if available), 2) play some music from your lap top (a little Daft Punk?) or 3) shred the cheese and take the yogurt/sour cream out of the fridge. I recommend all of the above.

After 15 minutes, simmer the mixture uncovered for 5 more minutes for the liquids to evaporate. The filling should not be soupy.

Divide the filling into the pie crusts evenly. Sprinkle each pie generously with cheese.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 20-25 minutes until the cheese is deep golden brown and mixture is bubbling. Rotate the pies in the middle of baking if your baking sheet is just a tad too big to fit into the oven, as it was the case on our field trip.

Remove pies from oven and let it rest for a few minutes until it stops bubbling.

To serve: top each slice with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, dash of hot sauce, and dot it generously with scallions (it really adds to the flavor) and some more olives.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

How to fake the rice part of Hainanese Chicken Rice

Hainanese chicken rice has to be one of my absolute favorite dishes in the world. Prepared properly, the chicken is tender and fragrant, with a refreshing layer of translucent chicken skin (to some this might sound gross but it is totally delightful). But my favorite part of Hainanese chicken rice is actually the rice -- made with chicken stock and chicken fat from cooking the chicken.

Since I just don't have the time or motivation to cook a whole chicken, I set out to fake just the rice part of the dish last night. And it turned out pretty good! This rice would make a good accompaniment to grilled pork, sautee greens, or ... chicken, of course.

Hainanese Rice Pilaf

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon ginger, finely minced

2 cups of short grain Japanese rice
3 cups organic chicken stock (I use Pacific Brand from Whole Foods)
1/2 of a pork boullion cube

In a medium stock pot over medium heat, melt butter with vegetable oil. Add the garlic and ginger, stir until fragrant but not burnt. Add the rice to the mixture and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until some of the rice is a little brown and toasted.

Add 3 cups of warm chicken stock to the pot and the half of pork boullion cube. Cover tightly and turn the heat down to a bare simmer. Cook undisturbed (don't peek!) for 25 minutes.

Fluff it up with a fork and serve.

Mom's pork chops - two ways to serve

My mom's pork chops are one of my favorite dishes. We ate it a lot as kids -- she'd marinate the chops in soy sauce, garlic, and sugar. Right before searing it in the pan she'd ask me to sprinkle some cornstarch on the chops while she turned them over. They always come out crispy on the outside and very moist and tender on the inside.

My interest in these pork chops was renewed when I saw an article on how to make the perfect pork chops in the new Cook's Illustrated magazine. The test kitchen at Cook's Illustrated had made these scientific conclusions:

1. Center cut chops or rib chops are best. Always buy bone in, about 3/4 inch thickness.
2. Start with a cold pan - these chops are not thick enough to withstand high heat searing and retain their juices. A cold -- or lukewarm -- pan cooks the chops instead of drying it out, while still creating a crust.
3. Cover the chops partway through cooking.

So I called mom to verify this information. She gave me a few more tips: don't trim the fat off the chops, and pound them a bit before marinating.

I made two attempts at this pork chop recipe -- it wasn't exactly like my mom's but in a pinch, it will do. I served it first Chinese style with stir fry cabbage with garlic, and stir fry baby bokchoy with ginger and baby shitake mushrooms.

My second attempt was a little more ambitious -- I serve the chops on a bed of spring mix with sliced green apples and tomato. On top of the chops were some sauteed mushroom caps in garlic and butter. The pan juices made a nice dressing but I whisked some semi homemade ranch for this salad (hidden valley ranch dry mix).

Mom's Pork Chops

Serves 2

2 large bone-in center cut or rib cut pork chops, about 3/4 inch thick
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1-2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Pound the chops with a meat mallet a couple of times until tender (or until it relieves your daily stress, whichever comes first). On a plate, sprinkle the soy sauce, sugar, and garlic evenly on both sides of the chops. Marinate for about 20-30 minutes.

In a pan over medium heat, pour enough olive oil to lightly coat the pan. Drain the chops of the marinade and lightly coat with cornstarch. Cook the chops for about 5-6 minutes on each side. Cover midway through. The chops should be lightly sizzling as you cook.

To serve:
2 cups sliced mushrooms - i used baby shitake and baby portabellos. The more variety, the better. (clean the mushrooms with a damp cloth before you slice. Do not wash.)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons butter
1-2 tablespoons olive oil

2 handfuls of salad spring mix
1/2 green apple, thinly sliced
1 tomato, sliced

1/2 cup ranch dressing (You can use bottled but I like the semi home made kind -- hidden valley ranch dry mix, whisked with whole milk and mayonnaise).

In a pan over medium heat, add butter, olive oil, and garlic and stir fry until fragrant. Remove the garlic if you don't want a strong garlic taste (that's me). Add mushroom slices and evenly coat them with the oil. Don't move the mushroom slices around too much in the pan, make sure they are cooked and a little brown. Set aside.

On two plates, divide evenly the salad mix. Fan out the apple slices and tomato slices as you like.

Put the porkchops over the greens and pour the pan juices - if not too greasy - over the chops. Top with mushroom mixture. Drizzle ranch dressing over tomato slices and serve dressing on the side.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Asian Chopped Salad - A Crowd Favorite

Confession: I have made the same salad three times this week for different guests and it's been a clear favorite every time! This Asian chopped salad recipe is from Pioneer Woman's "My Most Favorite Salad Ever," which she adapted from The Naked Chef's recipe. It is light, flavorful, and I think super healthy. The sesame oil and ginger dressing is light-tasting and goes well with the Asian vegetables. I omitted the garlic in the dressing and used maple-coated cashews from Whole Foods in the salad.


Asian Chopped Salad

Serves four as an entree salad

1 to 2 bunches of soba noodles, cooked, cooled.

Salad vegetables:
1/2 head of finely sliced napa cabbage
1/2 cup finely sliced purple cabbage
half red bell pepper, thinly sliced
half yellow or orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
half English hot house cucumber, sliced, quartered
1 cup mung bean sprouts, cleaned
1 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup cashews, maple coated or roasted
2 tablespoons sliced scallions

3 tablespoons finely minced ginger
8 tablespoons light olive oil
6 tablespoons soy sauce
A little less than 1/3 cup brown sugar
juice of 1 lime
1/2 hot serrano pepper, finely diced (remove seeds if you don't want it too spicy)

Combine vegetables, set aside. In a bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. The dressing makes quite a bit and can be kept for three days in the fridge.

Toss the vegetables with the dressing. Add the soba noodles if you want to make it a big salad. Or serve it this way, which I prefer:

Toss the salad vegetables with the dressing. Put some soba noodles on each plate. Spoon some salad over the soba noodles, drizzle with more dressing if necessary.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hot Off the Frying Pan - Jalapeno Poppers

The other day I was presented with six big jalapeño peppers. They were so fresh and perfect that the only right thing to do was to make jalapeño poppers. Surprisingly, this is one of the few on-the-fly recipes that I've made successfully! Sorry no pictures right now because we ate them quickly but here is the recipe:

Jalapeño Poppers

Six jalapeno peppers
1/2 cup shredded jack cheese or any mild cheese
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
1/3 teaspoon garlic powder
fresh ground pepper
1 egg, beaten

all purpose flour
ice water

Cut the peppers half lengthwise, clean out the seeds completely - I recommend doing this wearing plastic gloves. Otherwise it could really irritate your skin. If you don't want ANY spice at all, you can cut off the inside membrane of the peppers as well.

In a small bowl, mix together the cheese, cilantro, parsley, garlic powder, and ground pepper until well combined. Pour in HALF of the beaten egg. Mash everything together.

In a shallow bowl, mix together a couple of tablespoons of all purpose flour with maybe 1/3 cup of ice water and the rest of the beaten egg. I don't have an exact recipe for this but just adjust the flour and ice water ratios until the mixture has the consistency of thick pancake batter.

In a sautee pan, heat about 1/4 inch of light olive oil over medium heat. Carefully dip the peppers into the batter and slide into the pan. Cover and fry for about five minutes or until one side is golden brown. Flip the peppers, uncover, and fry the otherside until lightly golden.

Serve immediately.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Broccolini with pine nuts -- and a super easy salad

So what else did Lori and I make when we deemed ourselves gourmet divas for a night? These side dishes are really easy but I will post them so I'll remember to make them again! I think Dijon mustard and honey would work well as an addition to the avocado and grapefruit salad next time...

Avocado and Grapefruit salad

1 ripe avocado
1 large grape fruit
2 to 3 tablespoons of very fruity olive oil
salt and pepper

Cut and segment the grapefruit. With the leftover grapefuit, squeeze about 1-2 tablespoons of juice in a small bowl, set aside.

Scoop out the avocado and cut into large chunks and mix lightly with the grapefruit segments.

In the small bowl with the grapefruit juice, whisk in the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Drizzle dressing over grapefruit and avocado. Serve immediately.

Broccolini with pine nuts

1 bunch broccolini, washed and trimmed of tough parts
1/2 cup of diced pancetta (we used pancetta in this dish because we were also making pasta carbonara for dinner. But this dish would work if you just use one to two tablespoons of olive oil mixed with a tablespoon of butter).
2 tablespoons of pine nuts

Cook the pancetta over medium heat until crisp. Add the washed broccolini, cook until the broccolini is to your liking (I like it just crisp and wilted). Add some freshly ground pepper and the pine nuts. If you're not using the pancetta I would sprinkle this with some lemon juice.

Pasta Carbonara with Lori

Armed with an extremely small budget and a package of diced pancetta in the freezer, my friend Lori and I whipped up a dinner that made us really impressed with ourselves! Granted this was after a couple of glasses of our wonderful local Testarossa chardonnay, but I think it was a great menu, thanks to the awesome choices of produce that Lori brought from the farmer's market.

Our menu:
Pasta carbonara
Sauteed broccolini with pine nuts
Grape fruit and avocado salad (click here for recipes for the side dishes)

Pasta carbonara's sauce is made from a mixture of eggs and Parmesan cheese that cooks in the heat of the just-cooked pasta, so the eggs are not thoroughly cooked. Therefore it's important to use very fresh eggs in this dish and move quickly at the end so that the pasta is still hot enough to cook the eggs. I've seen many recipes that call for cream for this dish but it really isn't necessary.

This is not a low-fat dish but Lori had definitely deserved it after biking up several 45 degree hills to my house! And me, well, eh, anyway, here's the recipe.

Pasta Carbonara

three servings of angel hair pasta or thin spaghetti
two to three eggs - must be very fresh
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or Parmesan Reggiano)
1 1/2 cup diced pancetta (Italian bacon - as opposed to American bacon, which is smoked.)
fresh ground black pepper

In a small pan, cook the pancetta over medium heat until pancetta is crisp and has released all its fat. Drain some of the fat, saving about one to two tablespoons (or more if you really love bacon fat but I am half-heartedly trying to watch what I eat. Really half-heartedly.)

Bring enough water to boil to cook the pasta. Throw in the pasta and cook until al dente, about 7-10 minutes (you be the judge).

While the pasta is cooking, mix the eggs with the Parmesan cheese in a bowl.

As soon as the pasta is done, drain the pasta (save about a cup of pasta water in a bowl. Return the drained pasta to the still-hot pot, pour the egg-cheese mixture over the pasta immediately. Stir to combine. The egg-cheese mixture will thicken. Add a little of the pasta water you reserved if it looks too thick to you.

Add the pancetta to the pasta, mix well.

Serve immediately with freshly ground black pepper.