Thursday, November 19, 2009

Porcini Pappardelle

It started with a bag of dried porcini. I was shopping at Andronico’s and it just hopped into my basket. Pancetta seemed like the next, logical step. And a quick Google search of the two ingredients led me here. Dinner was decided.

This is the kind of dish that is mostly shopping and assembly — something simple enough to toss together after a long day at work, but special enough to serve to company. Maybe it’s the Californian in me, but when I get really good ingredients, I just try and stay out of their way. I’m sure David Chang would accuse me of putting a fig on a plate.

I made one small substitution. The fresh pappardelle at A. G. Ferrari looked too good to pass up. I can never resist a wide noodle. Actually, I can’t resist most noodles, period. I think the pappardelle worked well here; it really soaked up the luscious mushroom liquid in a way that fettucine wouldn’t have. Each noodle was infused with woody, earthy porcini and coated in a shiny slick of barely-cooked egg. All that, plus bacon too? Seriously, what are you waiting for?

Porcini Pappardelle (adapted from the New York Times via Smitten Kitchen)
Serves 2

1 oz of dried porcini
1½ tablespoons olive oil
1½ oz of diced pancetta
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
½ pound fresh pappardelle
2 eggs at room temperature, beaten
Handful of parsley, chopped (Note: I used curly because that's what my corner market stocks, Italian, aka flat-leaf parsley is preferable)
Grated parmesan and crushed red pepper for serving
Salt to taste

1. Soak porcini in about a cup of warm water for half an hour. Drain through a fine strainer, making sure to reserve the soaking liquid. Dry the porcini well and cut any large pieces in half.

2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and brown the pancetta for about 2-3 minutes. Add the sliced garlic and cook for a minute longer. Add porcini and cook until heated through.

3. Cook pasta according to package instructions (about 2-3 minutes for fresh pasta). When pasta is cooked, transfer to the skillet and mix well with the other ingredients. Add reserved mushroom liquid while stirring the pasta, making sure it is well incorporated. The pappardelle will drink the liquid in, turning a subtle shade of brown. Add the chopped parsley and mix well.

4. Turn off the heat. Then, quickly, so the egg doesn't scramble, toss the beaten eggs into the pasta and mix well. I noticed that it was helpful to toss in such a way that the eggs did not make direct contact with the hot pan. To be extra safe, you could probably remove the pasta from the pan and toss everything in a large serving bowl. Serve immediately, with grated parmesan on top.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tart and Tangy Burmese Cole Slaw

As promised, here is the fantastically tasty Burmese cabbage salad recipe that I served with the Hainanese chicken. I found the recipe on this beautiful site, hsa*ba, which features dozens of Burmese recipes that I can’t wait to try out. Warning: do not view on an empty stomach!

This salad is so, so simple, and yet the combo of flavors is completely exotic and surprising. The twinned tartness of tamarind and limes in the dressing is offset by fish sauce (my favorite) and shallot and garlic-infused oil. The resulting slaw manages to be both bright and smoky at the same time. I could eat it every day.

Burmese Cole Slaw  (adapted from hsa*ba)
Serves 4-6 as a starter

1 head of savoy cabbage
2 tablespoons of tamarind liquid (I soak seedless tamarind pulp in warm water for 10 minutes. Then, because I’m too lazy to push it through a strainer as all my cookbooks recommend, I throw the whole thing into a blender. Seems to work).
2 limes
2 shallots (one for pickling and one for frying)
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Tablespoon of shrimp floss (Mine was labeled "shrimp powder," but I'm pretty sure it's the same thing)
2 tablespoons of roasted, unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped or crushed
Fish sauce to taste
Small handful of mint
Small handful of cilantro

1. Shred the cabbage finely.

2. Wash, dry, and chop the mint and cilantro (I cheated and used my food processor).

3. Slice one shallot lengthwise and soak in the juice of half a lime.

4. Slice the other shallot into paper-thin rings. Slice both cloves of garlic, also paper thin.

5. Heat the olive oil in a small(ish), heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add the shallots and stir for 2 or 3 minutes, until slightly brown, then add sliced garlic. Fry shallots and garlic until they turn crisp (about another minute and a half).

6. Remove shallots and garlic and set aside.

7. In a small bowl, combine shallot/garlic-infused oil, two tablespoons of tamarind liquid, juice from the remaining one and a half limes, and fish sauce to taste (I used a little over a tablespoon).

8. In a large bowl, place the shredded cabbage, chopped mint and cilantro, pickled shallots, crispy shallots and garlic, shrimp floss, and crushed peanuts.

9. Toss well with dressing just before serving.

Variations: A chopped Serrano pepper would add some welcome heat to the dressing. Some halved cherry tomatoes might be nice in this salad as well.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hainanese Chicken Rice (Plus the Lazy Person's Version)

I’ve been meaning to make Hainanese chicken rice ever since I saw the foodie-licious Singapore episode of No Reservations. Then a group of us went to Fatty Crab in the West Village, where my husband pretty much inhaled his portion of chicken rice. As soon as we got back from NYC, I got to work constructing the ultimate chicken rice recipe.

To be honest, Steamy Kitchen really did most of the legwork for me. Her beautifully-photographed recipe was the backbone of my little chicken endeavor. I also tapped Epicurious for a few tips. On the side, I served a Burmese cabbage salad so amazing, it deserves its own entry.

But wait, did you know that there’s a super lazy, easy way to get chicken-flavored rice and moist, tender chicken meat? My mom taught me this little trick years ago, and other than instant ramen, it’s pretty much what I lived on in college (with steamed veggies on the side). Take your chicken pieces (dark meat works best, and you should leave the skin on) and put them in a Ziploc bag. Salt chicken generously with coarse salt (about 1 tablespoon per piece of chicken). Seal the bag and leave the chicken overnight in the fridge. Do not leave it longer than 24 hours; your chicken will become much too salty! Then just add two cups of white rice and three cups of water to your rice cooker. Rinse all the salt off the chicken pieces and lay them on top of the rice. Press cook. When your rice cooker has finished doing its thing, your chicken will be perfectly seasoned and tender and the rice will be savory and slightly sticky with all the salty juices from the chicken skin. For the deluxe version, read on.

Hainanese Chicken Rice (adapted from Steamy Kitchen)

Buy the prettiest, nicest chicken you can find: organic, free-range, and practically clucking. Trim the excess fat near the cavity opening and reserve for cooking the rice. Rub the chicken all over with coarse salt to get the grubbies off. Rinse well under cold water and pat dry. Then salt generously inside and out. Stuff the chicken with four slices of ginger and a bunch of well-cleaned green onions (I chop the root ends off for extra cleanliness, that’s up to you).

Place the chicken in a large Dutch oven or stockpot and cover with water. Gourmet suggests cooking the bird breast-side down, which I’ll try next time. And there will definitely be a next time. Cover the pot with a lid and bring water to a boil, then immediately lower the temperature and simmer for about 45 minutes (depending on the size of your chicken). You will probably need to skim the scum off the top of the broth a few times. I highly recommend getting a cheapy scum skimmer from Chinatown, but a spoon will also work.

After the chicken has been cooking for 45 minutes, prepare an ice bath for it. Use the biggest bowl or container you have, fill it about halfway with cold water and about half a bag of ice. Then lift your chicken from the pot, allowing the broth to drain back into the pot, and plunge it into the ice bath. This stops the chicken from cooking and ensures that the meat will be silky and tender. I love how all of the recipes I referenced admonish you not to discard the broth at this point. Are you crazy? You may as well tell me not to throw away gold bars. Season the broth with salt to taste. Set cooled chicken aside on a platter.

RICE (adapted from Epicurious)
Reserved chicken fat (plus vegetable oil)
3 cups of reserved broth from poaching the chicken
2 cups of jasmine rice, rinsed well
3 shallots, sliced
2 cloves of garlic minced
Salt to taste

1. Cook chicken fat in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat until fat is rendered. Discard solid pieces. You should have nearly two tablespoons of fat, but if not, add a bit of vegetable oil.

2. Cook sliced shallots in the chicken fat/vegetable oil mixture for a few minutes, until just starting to color. Add garlic and cook for about two more minutes.

3. Add rice and toast briefly (about a minute) before adding three cups of the reserved chicken broth.

4. Cover pot with a lid. Bring to a boil, then immediately turn heat to medium-low and cook for another 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow rice to rest for 10 minutes before fluffing with a fork.
    CHILI SAUCE (adapted from Epicurious)
    6 Thai birds eye chilis (preferably red for the color) or cayenne peppers
    1 shallot, peeled
    2 cloves of garlic
    2 tablespoons of ginger (about a thumb and a half)
    Juice from two limes
    2 tablespoons of sriracha (chili sauce)
    Pinch of salt

    Place ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

    2 teaspoons of soy sauce mixed with one teaspoon of sesame oil
    2 slivered green onions
    Quick-pickled cucumbers (slice cucumbers thinly, mix with one part coarse salt to three parts sugar. Let sit for 10 minutes then drain and splash with rice vinegar).


    Carve chicken. Make a little bed of rice on your plate. Place chicken on top. Drizzle chicken with a bit of the soy-sesame mixture and scatter green onions over. Lay out chili sauce and quick pickles in communal dishes for guests to serve themselves. Traditionally this is also served with a bowl of the broth as an accompaniment, but that seemed fiddly, so I decided to be greedy and keep all of the remaining broth for…

    The Best Leftovers Ever

    The next day, I had a big pot of leftover broth and a sizable portion of poached chicken meat. And when life hands me soup, I make soup noodles. Super duper easy: 1. Heat chicken meat in the broth. 2. Cook noodles/veggies in boiling water. 3. Feed face. I left out the step where you add copious amounts of chili oil because that’s just implied.

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    Momofuku's Ginger Scallion Noodles

    Here’s a fun little fact. Google may have fixed this, but the first time I looked up the listing for Momofuku using Goog411, they called it Momo F*ck You. That is just one of the hundred and one things that delight me about the Momofuku empire. Others include: the cute peach logo, the late-night hours, the Hitachino beer, oh, and I’ve heard they make noodles too.

    I just read my way through the Momofuku cookbook in two days flat. I don’t mean flipped through and stuck little post-its next to the recipes that intrigued me. I mean, cover to cover, every single word, including the instructions for at-home sous vide and the recipes for desserts. And I never make dessert. This book is, without a doubt, my new favorite cookbook. I want to make every single thing in it. And if there's a funnier, more entertaining cookbook in print, then I certainly have not come across it. A sample: "I enjoy appropriating the out-of-date and borderline-racist term Oriental whenever I get the chance. But I was one of the few Orientals working in the kitchen at the Noodle Bar, and the rest of the round-eye crew wasn't happy with the name. So we kept it under wraps. Since we're here alone together, let's call it what it is: Oriental sauce." I was on the floor. So we've got noodles and jokes. That's a pretty good start. But what really makes this book a page-turner are the fascinating origin stories that David Chang includes for each recipe. He shares the thought process and the iterations that went into every single one of these mouth-watering creations. It was like getting to peek over a great chef's shoulder while he works. So cool.

    About 30 pages into reading the book, I decided I couldn't wait a second longer to cook from it. The ginger scallion noodles were calling my name. This is a simple recipe that is filled with great ideas, and I can already see how I’m going to be making many variations of it in the months to come. Now, when David Chang makes this dish, I’m sure that angels sing, and the kitchen gods dance, and miracles happen. But strangely, my results were a little on the bland side. Still, I loved the overall combination of charred, slightly smoky cauliflower, salty bamboo and sweet, crispy cucumber. I’d just probably tweak the sauce a bit next time. I might add a tablespoon of oyster sauce and some homemade chili oil. Or, I could see mixing the sauce with a few tablespoons of warm duck broth and some fried shallots.

    Ginger Scallion Noodles  (adapted from Momofuku by David Chang)
    Essentially you are going to be making three toppings and a sauce for these noodles. Each of the toppings is super easy to make: menma, quick pickles, and pan-roasted cauliflower. Make everything in the following order:

    1. MENMA: Drain a can of bamboo shoots and place contents in a small pot. Add splashes of sesame oil and soy sauce, two chopped birds eye chilies and a pinch of salt. Cover with a lid and heat for about 20-30 minutes over a low flame. This did not come out dark and saturated with soy the way it does at the ramen shops I’ve visited. Perhaps I was too timid with my splashes. Next time, I might try pickling the bamboo.

    2. SAUCE (I halved the original recipe to make two servings): Chop one bunch of scallions. Mince ¼ cup of ginger finely. Add scallions and ginger to a medium-large mixing bowl with 1 teaspoon of light soy sauce, ½ teaspoon of sherry vinegar, and ½ teaspoon of sea salt. You can also add a couple of tablespoons of canola oil, though I’d probably skip this ingredient next time. As I mentioned, I would add either duck broth or oyster sauce at this point for more flavor. The term sauce is misleading. You’ll end up with more of a green onion paste at this point. Let sit for 15 minutes, or keep for up to two days in the fridge.

    3. QUICK PICKLES: This was a nifty trick, and one I’ll be using often. Just thinly slice up a cucumber (my favorites are Persian and Japanese) and toss with one part coarse salt to three parts sugar. Let sit for 5-10 minutes and taste. If they're too salty/sweet, rinse them off and re-season. I did these again the next night and added a splash of rice vinegar at the end. Yum!

    4. PAN-ROASTED CAULIFLOWER: Cut the cauliflower into florets. You know how to cut a cauliflower, right? (Hint: turn it upside down). Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet and cook the cauliflower in the oil for about 7-8 minutes, until browned on all sides. Season with a dash of salt.

    5. ASSEMBLY: Cook noodles according to package instructions. Toss with the scallion sauce. Mound cauliflower, bamboo shoots, and cucumber pickles on top. Serve with sriracha or chili oil. I could picture furikake working here too.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    Duck Noodle Soup for Dummies

    Back in the day, when I was a recent college grad who didn't know any better, I had this ridiculous instant ramen habit. Like the alcoholic who raids the medicine cabinet for cough syrup (or, in one memorable episode of Family Ties, the pantry for vanilla), I got my noodle fix whenever and however I could, no matter how cheap and dirty. It turns out I could have been making delicious duck noodles with a bit more time and about the same amount of effort. How could something this tasty be this easy to make? It defies all logic.

    Now before we continue, I should point out that I cheated to make this soup. In fact, first I cheated to make some duck red curry, and that led to this cheater's broth. I bought a roasted duck from a Chinese deli, had the guy who sold it to me hack it into pieces, then heated up the meat (sans bones) in my curry. Every single scrap that didn't go into the curry went into a pot to make the broth. Of course, making the duck curry is optional; you can always eat the duck meat with the soup, or in any other dish of your choosing. For some reason, the scum that usually forms when I'm making chicken or pork broth did not appear, making this broth truly effort-free.

    Cheater's Duck Broth
    Bones from one roasted duck
    Water to cover (approximately 7-8 cups; you can always add more later)
    3 green onions (washed)
    3 slices of ginger
    Salt to taste

    1. Place the bones, head, and all into a large pot and add the green onions and ginger. Add water until bones are just covered.

    2. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to medium-low, cover with a lid, and simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour. Go read a book. Do laundry. Solve a crossword.

    3. Salt to taste. You can add water if the broth is too rich. Strain through a mesh sieve and discard the bones, skin, etc. (At this point, your broth can be frozen for up to 3 months.)

    When you are ready to eat your noodles, just boil a pot of water, add a handful of green veggies, about a minute later (depending on the veggie), add a serving of dried rice vermicelli. Cook for another minute. Drain. Place in bowl and top with hot broth. If you used up all your duck and would like some protein to go with your soup, some smoked tofu would be tasty here, or rehydrated shiitakes (just soak dried shiitake mushrooms in very warm water for about 15 minutes).

    I used baby bok choy as my veggie, and can offer the following tip. To prepare baby bok choy for soup (or stir fries) just pick off and discard any damaged leaves, trim the bottom slightly, then slice in half or in quarters, depending on how big your bok choy is. Now you can rinse the insides of the veggies. A lot of dirt can collect near the stem, so pay particular attention to that area when washing.

    Bonus Recipe: Duck Congee
    Not in the mood for noodle soup? That question doesn't really make sense to me, but okay, here's another option. Once the duck broth is made, throw in about 1½ cups of short grain rice and simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes, or until rice is very soft. You may need to add more water. The consistency should be like watery oatmeal. Serve with sliced green onions and (optional) a sliced thousand year old egg.

    Foodbuzz Blogger Festival Wrapup

    I got to attend the FoodBuzz Food Blogger Festival this last weekend and it was a lot of fun! I'll keep it brief, since this probably isn't very interesting to people who weren't there, but a weekend full of free drink, food, and cooking schwag, not to mention 249 other people dedicated to seeking out yumminess? I'm not sure how you could go wrong.

    My favorite part was the Street Food Fair at the Ferry Plaza. The organizers gathered some of SF's tastiest treats in one place, and all the food/booze was free. (Did I mention Hog Island had an oyster bar there? It was like something out of a dream.) It was also great to meet so many talented and inspiring food bloggers, many of whom I've been following online. The weekend wrapped up with a tasty meal (highlights were the beef cheeks and matsuke risotto) provided by Chef Dennis Lee of Namu and served in the Greenleaf Produce warehouse. It was officially the first meal I've had in Bayview.

    Thanks to the folks at FoodBuzz for putting together such a fabulous event!

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    Battle Beets Contest: Golden Beet and Chevre Salad with Crispy Beluga Lentils

    I love beets. One of my favorite questions to ask people is: What are your trigger ingredients? Which magic words make you perk up when you read them on a menu, and greatly increase your odds of ordering that dish? For me, the hero ingredient, the one that spawned this question in the first place, is beets. (Other contenders would be truffles, uni, heirloom tomatoes, and baby artichokes). So when I noticed that one of my favorite bloggers, Bouchon for 2, was inviting people to sing the praises of beets, I couldn't resist joining in.

    I usually cook golden beets. Partly because I think they're prettier and a little sweeter, and partly because they don't stain everything in sight blood-red. I wanted to pair the beets with some beluga lentils that I had lying around, and the rest sort of came out of that. I was originally going to have creme fraiche be the dairy component, but my cheese-loving husband requested chevre. He's not a cook, but he's a damn fine eater.

    Salad (serves 4 as a starter)
    2 golden beets
    Small wedge of chevre (about 3 ounces)
    1 ripe avocado, diced
    Arugula (one large bunch, washed, or a bag of pre-washed leaves)
    2 tablespoons chopped chives

    1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

    2. Wash beets very well, then place each beet on its own square of aluminum foil.

    3. Drizzle beet with a bit of olive oil, then rub the oil over the entire surface of the beet. Wrap tightly in the foil. Repeat with the rest of your beets.

    4. Place foil-wrapped beets on an oven-safe pan or sheet and roast beets for about 45-50 minutes, until you can pierce to the center easily with a fork.

    5. Many people complain that peeling hot beets with their bare hands is painful. I've found that if I use a fork (or tongs) to hold the beet in place, I can sort of scrape the skin off pretty easily with a butter knife. (P.S. this technique also works with potatoes).

    6. Once beets are peeled, set aside to cool. You can store cooked beets overnight in the fridge (in fact, according to the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Judy Rogers feels this improves their flavor). Or, if you're a bad planner like I am, slice into wedges just before assembling your salad.

    Grapefruit Cumin Vinaigrette
    I could not figure out why my orange and grapefruit vinaigrettes were not that tasty, and then I read Fields of Greens, which includes a splash of champagne vinegar in its recipe for citrus vinaigrette. I've made so many lemon and lime dressings, that it honestly never even occurred to me to add a second acid to my dressing. But now, of course, it makes perfect sense.

    ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
    Juice from half a pink grapefruit (about two tablespoons)
    ½ tablespoon champagne vinegar (this one is the bomb)
    1 tablespoon best quality olive oil
    Pinch of sea salt

    1. In a small, dry frying pan, toast the cumin seeds for a minute or two over high heat. I like to use a glass lid when I toast spices as the seeds tend to jump out of the pan when they get hot.

    2. Grind toasted cumin seeds in a spice grinder.

    3. Mix all dressing ingredients together in a small bowl with a whisk or fork

    Crispy Beluga Lentils

    Cobras and Matadors in West Hollywood has this incredible lentil dish. It's the only place I've ever eaten crispy lentils...until now. If you're like me and wish your whole batch of popcorn could be made up of those tiny little barely popped kernels you find at the bottom of the batch, then you need to try this technique for cooking lentils. I searched everywhere for the C&M recipe, but it was only when I decided to enter this contest that I came up the genius idea to search "crispy lentils" (duh). The source for this technique is The Toronto Star.

    Of course, I only realized my lentils needed to be soaked ALL DAY at around, oh, 5:30 p.m. Luckily, this is the kind of ridiculous thing I do all the time, so I know a little secret. You can actually soak the lentils in really really warm (almost boiling, really) water for about 20 minutes and all will be fine. If you really insist on doing it the long way, be my guest.

    Take your soaked lentils, drain, and dry them well. Then take about a tablespoon of olive oil and heat it up in a heavy-bottomed pan. When the oil is hot, toss your lentils in and stir for around 2-3 minutes (The Star says 5-8, but it didn't take anywhere near that long). Then salt to taste. Oh, the proportions aren't super important here. I knew I wanted to use my lentils as a garnish, so I only soaked/made ½ a cup. If I wanted to do this as a side dish, I'd fry some chopped pancetta, then toss maybe 1½ cups of pre-soaked lentils in with the pancetta, then sprinkle chopped parsley all over the top. Or maybe cook some sage in the pan instead of adding parsley at the end. Or use puy lentils. So many choices, really.

    1. Divide the vinaigrette in half.

    2. Place diced avocado in a large bowl along with three big handfuls of pre-washed arugula. Toss with half the dressing. Place a mound on the plate. Sprinkle crispy lentils over the top for crunch.

    3. Slice beet into wedges. Arrange on plate. Crumble chevre on top. Drizzle a bit of the reserved dressing over. Sprinkle chopped chives on top.

    Made it this far? What are your trigger ingredients? I want to know!

    Two Super Spicy Salsas (and One Super Easy Guacamole)

    It's funny how your ideas of what's doable vs. difficult are shaped by what you were exposed to growing up. My mom would make a hundred zhongzi every year: a two-day process that involved soaking, chopping, and cooking a million different ingredients, then laboriously wrapping intricate bamboo leaf packets and steaming them for two hours. But we ate mac and cheese from the box, and salsa came in a jar. So I always thought making salsa was some super-complicated thing. And I don't think I'm alone. I threw a taco night a couple of months ago and laid out all the fixings, and the salsa easily got the most attention. "You made these yourself?" everyone asked in awed tones. Yes, and they took about twenty minutes total to make.That's twenty minutes for all three, not apiece.

    As usual, my recipes are make-you-sweat-spicy. Still, I've fed these to over a dozen people from all different backgrounds and everyone has been able to handle the heat. Serve any or all of these with tacos, quesadillas, or just plain tortilla chips. I also like them with scrambled eggs.

    Fiery Salsa Verde
    This was inspired by the addictive salsa verde at Taqueria Cancun. I was too shy to ask for their secret, so I just kept tweaking until I landed on this. My husband and I consume it by the gallon.

    4 serranos and 3 birds eye chilis chopped roughly, including seeds (Note: this makes a super hot salsa. Beginners may want to use only 2 serranos, no birds eyes)
    Half a medium-sized avocado (or 1 small avocado)
    Cup of loosely-packed cilantro (leaves only)
    Juice of two limes
    Pinch of salt
    ¼ teaspoon of cumin

    Blend all ingredients in a mini food processor or blender.

    Smoky Hot Chipotle Salsa
    This one is from Rick Bayless, whose Frontera chipotle salsa is the only bottled salsa I've found worth eating. Of course, freshly made is even better. At first, I couldn't believe this combo of ingredients would turn into the deep, smoky red I was hoping for, but it came together beautifully in the blender. I found this version on Not Without Salt.

    3 garlic cloves, peeled
    4 medium tomatillos, husked, washed, and cut in half
    1 (7 oz.) can of chipotles in adobo sauce (Caution: very hot!)
    Pinch of salt (optional)

    1. Place a medium-sized, heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat. It's best to use non-stick, as the tomatillos will ooze sticky juice when you grill them.

    2. Put the garlic and tomatillos (cut side down) on the pan for 3 to 4 minutes, until browned. Turn and brown the other sides for 3 or 4 minutes.

    3. Place ingredients in a mini food processor or blender. Add 1 can of chipotles in adobo sauce (or less, to taste). Blend.

    4. Add salt if necessary (I think it isn't). Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

    Super Simple Guacamole
    I used to make a more elaborate guacamole with cilantro and tomatoes and chilis, but it turns out this is all you really need. Simpler and tastier, you know I like the sound of that! Can you believe I left chilis out of a recipe? And my husband and I still scarf it down like avocado crack? That's when you know you have a winner.

    2 best-quality, ripe, medium avocados (or 1 large, or 3 small)
    ½ red onion, diced very finely
    Juice from 1 lime
    Pinch of sea salt

    Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl with a fork until chunky/smooth (if that makes sense). It may not look like much, but if your avocados are good, this will disappear before you know it. Dice the red onion as finely as you can. You can even soak it in the lime juice to remove some of the bite. But as long as you get the pieces pretty teensy, you should be fine just throwing it in as is.

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    Vietnamese Pork Salad Bowl

    This was, in a word, amazing — a recipe I would definitely come back to time and again. Light, refreshing, but feed your face tasty. The base salad takes less than ten minutes to throw together, and would certainly be nice with any protein you have lying around the house: a rotisserie chicken, smoked tofu, even lunch meat in a pinch. If you have a little extra time though, I highly recommend both the grilled pork and the shrimp rolls. The shrimp rolls probably don't qualify as healthy, but the rest of the salad certainly does!

    I worked roughly from this recipe from Une-Deux Senses for the salad and pork, and a recipe from the supercalipornalicious book, The Food of Thailand for the shrimp. As usual, I adapted things to be less sweet and more spicy. The recipe below serves two amply.

    Salad (Adapted from Une-Deux Senses)
    1 head butter lettuce, washed and broken into bite-sized pieces
    1 english or 2 persian cucumbers, seeded and cut into matchsticks
    1 carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
    Handful cilantro leaves
    Handful fresh mint leaves

    DRESSING (Nuoc Mam)
    1 tablespoon brown sugar
    Juice of 2 limes
    ½ cup fish sauce
    1 clove of garlic, minced or crushed
    2 teaspoons sambal oelek (chili paste)
    1 serrano pepper, finely sliced (including seeds)
    ½ carrot, julienned (optional)

    RICE NOODLES (Prepare these just before assembling the entire salad.)
    One block of rice noodles is sufficient for two people. Prepare according to package instructions. I boil my vermicelli for about 1½ to 2 minutes, then drain and rinse it in cold water.

    Pork (Adapted from Une-Deux Senses)
    ½ pound thinly sliced pork butt (available at Korean or Japanese markets, or you can freeze a piece of pork butt for about 45 minutes and slice it yourself)
    4 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
    3 tablespoons fish sauce
    1 tablespoon brown sugar
    Ground black pepper

    1. Combine marinade ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Add pork slices, making sure each slice is well-coated and marinate for about an hour.

    2. Grill pork for 3 to 4 minutes in a heavy-bottomed pan until cooked through. Cover with a lid, so the pork stays warm.

    Shrimp Rolls (Adapted from The Food of Thailand)
    6 large raw shrimp or prawns, peeled and deveined, tails intact
    1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
    1 garlic clove, minced or crushed
    1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, minced
    1 serrano, finely sliced
    1 tablespoon soy sauce
    1 teaspoon sesame oil
    3 frozen spring roll sheets, defrosted and cut in half on the diagonal
    Canola oil, for deep frying (Note: I felt it was wasteful to submerge the prawns entirely in oil, so I used half the oil required to deep fry and flipped the prawns halfway through).

    1. In a small bowl, combine garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, serrano and shrimp. Marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for about one hour.

    2. Mix flour and ½ cup of water in a small pot and cook over medium heat until a thick paste is formed. Remove from heat.

    3. Take triangle-shaped half-sheet of spring roll wrapper and place the shrimp in the center (see picture).

    4. Wrap shrimp in the sheet and tuck the end of the triangle over, sealing the edges with the flour paste. Repeat with the rest of the shrimp and wrappers.

    5. Heat oil (about ¼ inch deep, in a heavy-bottomed pan) over medium high heat. After about two minutes, drop a small piece of spring roll sheet into it. If it sizzles and turns golden brown, the oil is ready. Place three spring-roll-wrapped shrimp in the pan and let them sit for just under 2 minutes (until golden brown). Flip and cook for about a minute and a half on the other side. Repeat with the other three shrimp.

    6. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. These would also be great with nuoc cham or a chili dipping sauce as finger food at a party.

    1. Form a bed of vegetables (butter lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, mint & cilantro) in the bottom of a large bowl.

    2. Add a ball of cooked rice noodles on top.

    3. Drizzle nuoc cham over the noodles/salad.

    4. Mound grilled pork over the noodles. Place three shrimp rolls around the edge of the bowl. Drizzle a bit more nuoc cham over the top. Then, as Nigella says: Apply face to bowl.

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    Homemade Kimchi

    You can't serve Korean food without a little assortment of goodies to go with it. Banchan is an assortment of tiny appetizers, often vegetable-based, and it's the kind of thing I live for. Little spicy pickles and tons of things to try? Yes, please! Of course, the most famous banchan of all is kimchi: spicy, fermented, garlic-laced cabbage (or radish, or cucumber) that's totally addictive. Back when I was in college, I told my roommates, "If you see me eating this, you know I don't have a date later that night."

    Kimchi is a perfect example of the kind of food that's totally intimidating to make unless you've seen someone else do it. Something about pickling and fermenting things seems like a science experiment that could end in death if you don't know what you're doing. That's why we're lucky to have people like Maangchi on the interwebs. She makes these things seem totally within reach.

    The process works more or less like this. You salt some veggies to get the water out of them. You cover them in a delicious paste of chili, garlic, and oysters (if you're brave) or shrimp paste (if you're me) and you leave it out for about 48 hours to get all funky and delicious. For good measure, I sing a little song to my kimchi when I toss it: "Kimchi, get nice and stinky for me." I think it helps.

    I don't think anyone can explain how to do this better than Maangchi, but for those of you afraid to use raw, defrosted oysters, I can offer this substitution: shrimp paste. Available at most Asian markets, it adds the funk, without the fear factor.

    Watch Maangchi make kimchi. Yum!

    Kimchi and kaktugi from Maangchi on Vimeo.

    Here's what I did:

    1. Use 1 tablespoon of coarse salt (kosher or sea salt) to salt the leaves of a quartered Napa cabbage (I used Savoy, because I had most of a head leftover from the brown rice bowl). Get most of the salt down towards the stem.

    2. Peel and dice one daikon (Japanese or Korean), place in a bowl, and add one tablespoon of salt. Toss.

    3. Let your cabbage and daikon sit for about two hours. Flip the cabbage. Toss the daikon. Allow both to rest for another two hours.

    4. When four hours (total) are up, make your chili paste.

    ½ cup of sweet rice flour
    3 cups water
    2 tablespoons granulated sugar
    4 cups hot pepper flakes
    1 cup fish sauce
    1½ heads of garlic, peeled, minced (or crushed)
    1 bunch green onions, washed and sliced
    1 cup shredded daikon (optional) Note: I left this out of the first version I made by accident, and actually liked the final flavor better.
    1 tablespoon of fermented shrimp paste (available at most Asian markets)

    5. Cook the sweet rice flour and water in a small pot until it makes a smooth paste. When bubbles start to form, stir in the sugar and turn the heat off. 

    6. In a large bowl, combine flour paste, pepper flakes, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, green onions, shredded daikon. Stir.

    7. Add shrimp paste. Stir.

    8. Rinse cabbages and daikon very well. (I only rinsed once the first time I made this, and the result was much too salty). You will want at least three changes of water. You can taste the vegetable to make sure it isn't too salty before proceeding to the next step.

    9. Rub chili paste over each leaf of cabbage. Place cabbage quarters in an airtight container and seal. Leave at room temperature for up to 2 days, testing every 12 hours to see if kimchi is sufficiently fermented. Kimchi will continue to ferment in your refrigerator; it keeps indefinitely. Toss daikon with leftover chili paste and seal in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Again, you can test to see when it's achieved the right level of sourness for your taste.

    Incidentally, my husband and I both think Kimchi would be kind of a cute name for a girl. Do you think this qualifies as child abuse?

    My New Toy

    I am not a kitchen gadget girl. For one thing, I hate clutter. I am constantly purging our closets and giving away junk to the local thrift shop (and to the disconcertment of my packrat of a husband). For another, I learned how to cook from my mom, who's Chinese. You want to watch someone make something by hand? Watch a Chinese person. These are people who are not afraid of a little kitchen work. My mom would turn out a four or five course meal every night of the week with little more than a cleaver, chopping board, wok, and a pot or two. For years, I didn't own so much as a vegetable peeler; I used a paring knife. Lemon squeezer? Pierce the lemon half with a fork, squeeze with your fist, then move the fork back and forth. Rolling pin? I'd use an empty wine bottle. Luckily, there are always plenty of those around my house.

    Still, little by little, gadgetry has started to sneak into my kitchen. I don't know if it's laziness or the fact that my cooking has gotten both more frequent and ambitious, but I now own all of the above (peeler, squeezer, rolling pin) and much more besides. And so, it is with a mixture of shame and delight that I introduce you new sous chef. Tada!

    What's your favorite MacGyver trick in the kitchen? Or the gadget you can't live without?

    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    Pork and Mushroom Soon Dubu

    I love Asian food. Love. I love the variety of eating family style, the spiciness, the prolific use of vegetables. The NOODLES. Yet strangely, though all of these things are featured heavily in Korean food, I'm not really familiar with Korean food. I think I had my first bi bim bap when I was 24. My first soon dubu? I was maybe 29. To this day, I've probably only eaten Korean food about a dozen times.

    Meanwhile, my two sisters who are living in L.A. have become Korean food nuts. So whenever I go visit them, they take me to all their favorite spots in K-Town. A few visits ago, they introduced me to Beverly Soon Tofu and it was love at first bite. I considered turning the 350-mile drive down into a weekly event, but then I decided it might be more practical to learn how to make the dish myself. Spicy tofu stew, could anything be more soul-satisfying when the weather turns chilly? Plus the name is just fun to say: soooon dooboo!

    My search for the ultimate soon dubu recipe led me to Maangchi. And I have to tell you, not only are this woman's recipes spot on, but her videos are better than anything I've seen on Food Network. She cracks me up. Just watch the video where she explains that if her house caught on fire, she'd grab her dumplings and run (because they were so labor intensive to make) all in a pink wig over a soundtrack of Ghost Town by The Specials. I'd like to see Rachael Ray think of something even one tenth as awesome.

    Hobakjuk from Maangchi on Vimeo.

    Soon dubu is surprisingly easy to make and very rewarding. I tweaked the ingredients to my taste, so if you prefer the real deal, here's the original recipe for Maangchi's soondubu jiggae

    Pork and Mushroom Korean Tofu Stew (Recipe adapted from

    12 dried anchovies, gutted
    Piece of kelp (kombu)
    5 cloves of garlic, peeled
    ½ onion, peel removed, cut horizontally
    4 dried shiitake mushrooms

    1 tablespoon cooking oil (olive or canola)
    ½ onion, sliced into thin rings
    ½ pound thinly sliced pork butt or belly (available at Korean or Japanese markets, or you can freeze a piece of pork butt for about 45 minutes and slice it yourself)
    1 package of beech mushrooms (or enoki) washed*
    1 bunch of spinach, washed well
    6 tablespoons of Korean red pepper flakes (use only 1 tablespoon for mild, 3 for medium)
    1 tablespoon of cayenne (for advanced spice eaters only!!)
    2 tablespoons of fish sauce
    3 tubes of Korean soft tofu (see picture). If you cannot find the tubes, you can substitute a package of silken tofu. 

    2 serranos, thinly sliced
    2 green onions, thinly sliced
    2 eggs (optional)

    1. Make a broth by adding all the broth ingredients to 10 cups of water in a medium-sized pot. You may want to put the anchovies into a small mesh infuser.

    2. Cover and bring to a boil.

    3. Once broth boils, lower to a simmer and cook for another 20 minutes.

    4. Turn off heat. Remove and discard onions, garlic, anchovies, and kelp.

    5. Dice shiitakes and set aside.

    6. Add cooking oil to a stovetop-safe casserole or dutch oven, ideally about 2 quarts in size. I used a cast iron nabe pot that was fairly reasonable (under $30) and is very easy to clean. Turn heat to high.

    7. Add sliced onions and pork and cook for about 3 minutes, until pork is no longer pink.

    8. Add red pepper flakes and cayenne (if using). Stir.

    9. Add about 2 cups of the anchovy broth. Bring to a boil. Turn heat to medium, so that broth is still bubbling but doesn't overflow onto the stove.

    10. Add beech (or enoki) mushrooms and washed spinach to the broth. Cook for a few minutes.

    11. Add soft tofu to the pot. Break it up slightly with a wooden spoon, but leave it mostly in big chunks. Add fish sauce.

    12. Cook for another 5 or 6 minutes, until tofu is completely heated through. You may want to turn the heat back to high, but keep an eye on the stew to make sure it doesn't boil over.

    13. To finish, sprinkle fresh chilis and green onions on top, cook for another minute. You can crack two eggs on top and stir them into the stew for a richer consistency. We prefer it without. Serve with steamed Calrose rice.

    * Yep, I wash my mushrooms. The cootie-phobe in me would like to thank Alton Brown for debunking that little myth. Mushroom bit starts at the 8:24 mark.