Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ghetto Raclette

It started with a hangover. I'd gotten a bit too celebratory at our previous night's party and was groggily scanning my Google Reader when I stumbled upon this, which was pretty much looking like the thing that was going to save my life at that particular moment. Unfortunately that photo was taken in New York, 3,000 miles away, and nacho cheese-covered kimchi duk bok ki is not exactly a dish you can find at your neighborhood Korean joint. At this point, I was craving melted cheese like a fiend, and my husband, who craves cheese in all forms on a daily hourly basis was more than happy to empower me to follow my dreams of cheese, sweet cheese.

I floated a vague suggestion to make raclette, and before I knew it, my cheese-addicted husband had whisked me into the car and straight to Bed Bath and Beyond, where he attempted to fork over $120 for a raclette machine before I could come to my senses. Unfortunately, they didn't have one in stock. And it was 6 p.m. on a Sunday, which meant any place that would carry such a thing was now closed. But I don't let a little thing like lack of gadgetry stand in the way of my food cravings. We grabbed all the necessary ingredients and headed back home to rig up some ghetto raclette.

The $120 machine, as far as I can tell, consists of some metal cheese melting pans and a grill for accompanying vegetables. So I grabbed two tiny cast iron pans and my grill pan. It must be said that I could not find a single web result that told me how to make raclette without the machine, and yet, this was so very, very easy. In fact, it hardly even merits a recipe. Boil some potatoes. Grill your vegetables of choice (I used red pepper, asparagus, and fennel). Lay out some cold, cured meats. You absolutely must have cornichons. Their sharp, sour bite cuts some of the heart-stopping fattiness of the cheese-smothered potatoes.
Now for the ghetto raclette bit. Look for cheese labeled "raclette." Gruyere, Morbier, or Tallegio would work as substitutes, but raclette shouldn't be overly difficult to find. You'll want about half a pound of cheese per person. Slice the cheese into pieces about ½ an inch thick. Place one cast-iron pan per person over a medium flame on your stovetop. The pans should be fairly small, otherwise the cheese will spread out too much as it melts, resulting in a thin, gooey mess. I used five inch pans. Then place one piece of cheese in each pan and let it sit for about 3-4 minutes. Once the bottom has formed a nice crust and the top of the cheese is soft and melted, scrape underneath the cheese with a spatula and flip the whole thing onto the boiled potatoes on your plate. At this point, depending on how quickly you eat, you can place another piece of cheese on the pan (like my husband) or turn the flame off and take a break (like me).

Note: the pans looked completely trashed when we were finished, but after a few hours of soaking, and a fairly brief wash-up, they were as good as new.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Salted Fish and Chicken Fried Rice

Part of my birthright as a Chinese person is a certain fearlessness when it comes to trying unusual foods. Head-to-tail eating, stinky, fermented flavors, gelatinous, gooey textures, I say: bring it on. My ex-boyfriends, not so much. My sister and I once ordered this delicious, but somewhat pungent fried rice at a meal with our two boyfriends at the time. Both guys took one whiff and told us we were welcome to all of it. "It smells like feet," my date added, just in case his unmistakable "eww gross" face had gone unnoticed.

Luckily, I've moved on to a more stink-tolerant significant other (in fact, being French, and a cheese fiend, you could even say he's stink-seeking). The salted fish is actually far more subtle than it smells, adding depth and dimension to an otherwise plain dish. The effect is very similar to the salty dose of anchovy in a good Caesar dressing. And in fact, this dish also features Romaine lettuce and eggs, so you can almost think of it as a remixed Caesar salad. 

Salted Fish and Chicken Fried Rice
The key to any fried rice is to cook the rice 1-2 days in advance. This allows the rice to dry out a bit in the refrigerator, so it can fry properly. The fish is available, unrefrigerated, in most Chinese markets and will come in a plastic bag like the one pictured below. I have not personally tried this, but it's my hunch that a tin of anchovies would also work perfectly in place of the salted fish.
1½ cups jasmine rice, cooked a day or two in advance (this should yield a little over two cups of cooked rice)
1 tablespoon of minced ginger
2 eggs, beaten
1 piece of salted fish, roughly the size of a deck of cards
1 boneless, skinless chicken thigh, finely diced
1 heart of romaine lettuce, washed and shredded
2 green onions, sliced thinly
Salt to taste
Peanut or canola oil

1. Prepare the salted fish by cutting off a chunk that's about the size of a deck of cards. The remainder of the fish can be stored in a Ziplock bag (you may want to double bag it to prevent the smell from taking over your entire fridge). Soak this chunk in warm water for an hour or two. When it's finished soaking, pat it dry and dice it into small pieces.

2. Gather all your ingredients near the stovetop. In a wok or large pan, heat up a splash of oil and quickly scramble the two eggs. Remove to a plate when the eggs are just cooked through, but still shiny and loose.

3. Heat up another splash of oil and add the fish and ginger to the wok. Give these a quick stir, then add the chicken pieces. Cook these together for about four or five minutes, until the chicken is nearly cooked. Then add your rice to the pan, along with another splash of oil if necessary. Add a generous pinch of salt and move the rice around in the pan, breaking it up and making sure the grains get coated with the ginger and fish-infused oil. You want to actually fry the rice, getting it nice and toasted from the hot pan, so keep stirring to make sure every piece of rice comes into contact with the cooking surface.

4. After 3-4 minutes of frying the rice, slide the cooked eggs in and break them up. Then add the shredded lettuce and green onions, stir until just wilted (about 30 seconds), and remove from heat. Serve immediately. You can serve this with fermented bean curd for a double dose of stinkiness.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Triple Fennel Sausage Pasta

I love lemony pastas. Something about the bright zing of lemon just perks up a dish of pasta, much like the slight tartness of tomato does. My go-to pasta before discovering this one was an even simpler combo from Nigella Lawson—just barely toasted garlic, steamed asparagus, a handful of chopped parsley, a couple of cups of cooked orzo, and olive oil and lemon juice over all. This recipe by Jamie Oliver is somewhat similar, only swapping the asparagus for spicy sausage, which is sort of like switching from coffee to crack cocaine. Oliver recommends getting the best quality sausages you can find, which for me means the housemade spicy Italian sausage from Bi-Rite.

I bumped up the fennel from the original recipe by adding a fennel bulb to the base and then sprinkling on some fennel pollen at the end, making this a triple fennel pasta. The only other contribution I have to Mr. Oliver's fine recipe is the following tip: breaking up the sausage in the pan with two wooden spatulas works about 10x faster than using the back of a wooden spoon as he suggests. Just sort of use them like extensions of your hands and smash and tear the meat apart with the front edges, not the flats, of the spatulas.

Lastly, I use a splash of vermouth in place of the glass of white wine, not because I'm not a wino, but because I prefer reds. Vermouth keeps forever, so you can always have it on hand without worrying about finishing the bottle. The other option would be to pour the remainder of any opened white wine into an ice cube tray and save it for future cooking projects.

Triple Fennel Sausage Pasta (adapted from Jamie Oliver)
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 fennel bulb, diced
1 tablespoon fennel pollen
½ tablespoon crushed red pepper (or to taste)
Olive oil
3-4 best quality spicy Italian sausage
1 tablespoon dried oregano
About a shotglass of vermouth
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 lb of good quality fusilli
Handful of parmesan cheese, freshly grated (plus more for serving)
Handful of parsley, stemmed and roughly chopped
A small knob of butter (optional)

1. Smash up the fennel seeds and chile flakes in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and set aside.

2. Put a large pot of water on to boil and add a few generous pinches of salt. Then, heat a splash of olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan (I use my wok). It should be large enough to hold all of the pasta later, which likely means it's the biggest pan you own.

3. Add the fennel to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then start squeezing the sausages out of their skins into the pan. Use the double spatula trick described above to break the meat up. Wait for the meat to take on some color (a few minutes), then smash it up even further. You want the sausage to cook up into little, crispy, flavor-packed bits that will sneak into the spirals of the fusilli. Add the fennel seeds and chiles and cook over medium heat for 10-12 minutes, or until the meat is caramelized.

4. While you're waiting for the meat to get nice and crispy, check to see if your water is boiling. Once it is, add your pasta and cook according to package instructions (likely 8-10 minutes).

5. Stir in the oregano, then pour in the vermouth (or a glass of dry white wine). Allow the alcohol to cook off for a few minutes, then turn heat to low while you wait for your pasta to finish cooking. Once pasta is cooked al dente, drain it, reserving a bit of the cooking water. Add the cooked pasta to your pan of sausage. Then add parmesan, parsley, fennel pollen, lemon zest and juice, and a bit of butter, along with a few spoons of the pasta cooking water. Mix well, making sure you get all the yummy bits from the bottom of the pan.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spaghetti with Baby Artichokes and Caper-Mint Sauce

It's rare to find the person who doesn't like artichokes. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach, all have their detractors. But artichoke is an exceptionally likeable vegetable, albeit packaged in a prickly, difficult exterior. Artichokes tease you, offering only the tiniest morsel of pleasure per petal until you make it all the way down to the coveted heart. It's a reward that tastes all the better for being delayed.

Baby artichokes, on the other hand, put all the effort of getting to the edible bits squarely in the hands of the cook. Cleaning baby artichokes isn't all that hard once you get the hang of it, and as Nigella often points out, there's something slightly meditative about repetitive tasks in the kitchen.  Look for artichokes that are on the smaller side (they are less likely to contain a choke). I've also found that the rounded ones with tightly packed leaves have a better taste and texture than their pointier, looser-leaved brethren.  
Spaghetti with Baby Artichokes and Caper-Mint Sauce (adapted from Gourmet, June 2008)
The original recipe is for the artichokes alone, but that seemed pretty heavy to me. So I added some spaghetti the first time I made this and never looked back. That's right, I added pasta to make this dish lighter. It all makes sense in my head.

About a dozen baby artichokes (they should be roughly the size of lemons)
Large handful of dried spaghetti, preferably artisanal
½ a lemon
Olive oil
Salt to taste

1 small tin of anchovies in oil (or about 6 fillets), diced finely
A few sprigs of fresh mint (about 15 leaves), chopped
2½ tablespoon of capers, drained and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar

1. First, prep the artichokes. Prepare a bowl of acidulated water to prevent the artichokes from browning as you're working (this is just cold water with a squeeze of lemon). Then take an artichoke and remove all the tough outer leaves until you see the pale yellow leaves at the center (should only be 2 or 3 layers down).  Cut off the tips of the leaves, leaving the bottom ⅔ of the artichoke intact. Cut off the stem at the base. Halve the artichoke, remove any choke with a paring knife or small spoon, and place both halves in the acidulated water. Continue with the rest of your artichokes.

2. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. You will be blanching your artichokes briefly and then reusing the water for your pasta, so make sure your pot is big enough. Once the water is at a steady boil, add your (drained) artichokes and cook for about four minutes. You do not want to overcook them, as they'll be hitting the grill next. Remove from the water and pat dry.

3. Heat a large grill pan. Bring the pot of water back to the boil and add a generous amount of salt (about three healthy pinches) for cooking the pasta. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions (probably around 7-9 minutes).

4. Toss the artichokes with a tablespoon of olive oil, then lay them on the grill pan. Cook for about 3-4 minutes per side over high heat. Meanwhile, mix all of the sauce ingredients together.

5. Your artichokes should be cooked just a few moments before the pasta is ready. Toss the artichokes quickly in the sauce, letting them soak up all the flavors. Then drain your pasta, reserving a cup or so of the cooking liquid. Combine the pasta with the artichokes and sauce, loosening with a bit of pasta water if necessary. Dig in.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Giving My Oven Some Lovin

Ovens have always seemed a bit standoffish to me. There’s something about punching in a number, placing ingredients into a big black box, and taking them out later that leaves me cold. I like to play with my food, looking, tasting, and tweaking as I go. I love the rhythm of stovetop cooking. I can work all four burners and chop vegetables at the same time, no problem. But put it in the oven and I forget all about it. I’ve managed to burn toast in the oven. It’s not my weapon of choice.

Now that I'm trying to become kickass in the kitchen, I’ve started expanding my arsenal. First it was the food processor—the gateway drug of kitchen equipment. Next I became obsessed with using my freezer as a pantry for items like homemade curry paste and pot stickers. Now I’m finally unraveling the mysteries of my oven.

It turns out that the oven is one of the most effortless, forgiving ways to cook food. You can pop something in the oven, let it cook slowly at a relatively low temperature, and then work on some other dishes in the meantime. These two Indian-influenced recipes are perfect examples of using your oven to turn a basic stovetop meal into a full-fledged feast. Paired with some steamed rice, your favorite dal, and a simple raita, these two dishes add a lot of wow without a whole lot of effort.

Once you’ve had oven-roasted cauliflower, you will never want to eat it any other way. The oven brings out an unexpected smokiness in the cauliflower, caramelizing its natural sugars and adding wonderful depth and texture. The potatoes look a lot more impressive than they actually are, thanks to a clever trick from Sea Salt with Food. The method for both is really similar: toss the ingredients with spices and a slick of fat (olive oil in one case, melted butter in the other), and bake for about 35 minutes until they are meltingly tender on the inside and satisfyingly crisp on the outside.

Spicy Indian Fingerlings (adapted from Sea Salt with Food)
I went a bit spicier than the original, and adjusted the cooking time/temperature for my oven, but these were pretty much perfect as is.

About 10-12 fingerling potatoes, washed
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
Sea salt to taste (I used two healthy pinches)
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Place a fingerling in the depression of a wooden spoon. With a knife, slice the potato into very thin slices, starting at one end and continuing to the other (like a loaf of bread). The edges of the spoon will prevent your knife from cutting all the way through the potato, creating the signature hasselback shape.
2. Preheat your oven to 430 degrees.

3. Mix the remaining ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Toss the potatoes well and let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature.

4. Line a baking pan with tin foil, then arrange the potatoes, cut side up, in a single layer. Drizzle over the rest of the spiced oil, trying to get some into the nooks and crannies without breaking the potatoes. If you're cooking these together with the cauliflower, set the pan aside until both are ready to go in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through. Ovens vary greatly in temperature, and I’m fairly sure mine is cooler than most, so start checking every few minutes at the 25-minute mark.

Spiced, Caramelized Cauliflower (adapted from The Dinner Files)
In a completely uncharacteristic move, I left in some of the sugar in this recipe. A pinch of sugar helps the cauliflower to form the delectable charred surfaces that make this dish so incredibly addictive.

1 small head of cauliflower (or half of a large one)
2 tablespoons of butter, melted (I put mine in the microwave for 30 seconds)
½ teaspoon sugar
Sea salt to taste (a healthy pinch)
Fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Turn the cauliflower upside down and remove the leaves and core. Then, working with the natural shape of the vegetable, cut into smallish florets.

2. Preheat your oven to 430 degrees. Mix the remaining ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Toss the cauliflower well so that all the pieces are coated with the spiced butter. Mmm. Spiced butter. This stuff would be excellent drizzled over some fresh-popped popcorn, or pretty much anything really.

3. Line a baking sheet or pan with aluminum foil. Then arrange the cauliflower in a single layer, cut-side down. If you're making this along with the potatoes, put both into the hot oven and bake for 35 minutes, or until cooked through, with crispy, browned edges. Ovens vary greatly in temperature, so start checking every few minutes at the 25-minute mark.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Two Awesome Asian Slaws

Back in the day, I used to have a serious love of collecting junk: kitschy crap from the $1 store, tacky flea market finds, the odder and uglier, the better. Things like this were totally irresistible to me. Then I discovered the magic of digital photography, and my overstuffed house breathed a giant sigh of relief.

These days, I collect cole slaw recipes, which take up decidedly less room than karaoke cowboy monkeys. I've already blogged about hsa*ba's unusual Burmese cole slaw and the open sesame slaw from London's fabulous Leon restaurants. Here are two more keepers that I've since discovered, one featuring Indian spices and the other with a Thai twist.

* * *
I bought 5 Spices, 50 Dishes solely for its cole slaw recipe. I loved the idea of having something raw, crunchy and refreshing to provide a light note among the otherwise deep, complex, and layered flavors that make up an Indian meal. According to Madhur Jaffrey, in India vegetables are typically cooked for a long time, allowing the spices to fully permeate the dish. Unfortunately, the resulting vegetables taste overcooked to my Californian palate. Not only has this clean, vibrant Indian cole slaw found a permanent place on my table, but 5 Spices, 50 Recipes includes several other simple salads that are equally delicious and easy to make. Per my usual m.o., I left the sugar out of this recipe, but you're welcome to add ½ teaspoon of sugar if you wish to recreate the original.

Indian Cole Slaw (adapted from 5 Spices, 50 Recipes by Ruta Kahate)
Half a head of cabbage, shredded using the large holes on a box grater or with the shredding disc of your food processor
1 serrano chile, minced
Generous pinch of kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons of lemon juice (roughly one juicy lemon)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1. In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, chile, lemon juice, and salt.

2. Heat the oil in a small skillet and add the mustard seeds, covering the pan with a glass lid. When the seeds stop popping, remove from heat and toss into the bowl of cabbage.

3. Toss well and let the salad sit for about 15 minutes at room temperature to allow the flavors to meld.

* * *
The Thai cole slaw is actually just the wing bean salad revisited. You could also make a much simpler dressing of lime juice, sea salt, a dash of cayenne, and maybe a bit of chopped cilantro or mint, and toss the cabbage-mango mixture with that instead.

Thai Cole Slaw (dressing from True Thai by Victor Sodsook)
Half a head of cabbage, shredded using the large holes on a box grater or with the shredding disc of your food processor
1 slightly unripe mango, peeled and shredded with a grater or food processor
Salt to taste

Toss ingredients with the tamarind-lime dressing (recipe follows).

½ cup large dried shrimp
1 cup of peanut or canola oil
1/3 cup sliced garlic
1 cup sliced shallots
12-16 dried Japanese chilies (or other spicy red pepper)
3-4 tablespoons of tamarind paste (buy packaged seedless tamarind, soak in a bit of hot water for 10 minutes, then blend the mixture to a smooth paste. You can freeze any leftovers in an ice-cube tray.)
2 tablespoons of palm sugar (brown sugar is an acceptable substitute)
1 tablespoon of fish sauce

1. Soak the dried shrimp in a bowl of water. Rise briefly, then drain and set aside.

2. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and fry the garlic briefly (about a minute), until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon or Chinese spider to a plate lined with paper towels.

3. Fry the shallots until they start to brown (3 to 4 minutes). Remove and set aside with the garlic.

4. Repeat this process with the shrimp (1 minute) and chilies (30 seconds).

5. Place your fried ingredients in the bowl of a food processor along with the tamarind, sugar, and fish sauce and blend to a smooth paste.

6. Transfer the chili-tamarind paste to an air-tight container and refrigerate.

You will not need all of the chili-tamarind paste to make the dressing, but it keeps in the fridge for a month and makes a great base sauce for stir fries.

1 tablespoon chili-tamarind paste
½ cup lime juice (about 4 limes)
1 tablespoon palm sugar (or brown sugar)
1½ tablespoons fish sauce
3 serrano chilis, minced

Mix all ingredients in a bowl with a whisk or fork.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

One Potato, Two Potato

Before settling in San Francisco, I lived in L.A for over a dozen years on and off. So I know I'm being incredibly unchic when I profess my love for a good carb. One of my closest friends once watched me work my way through the better part of an entire bread basket at some undoubtedly trendy restaurant before remarking, "You must be the only girl in L.A. who eats carbs." To me, cutting out an entire food group would be like trying to paint without the color blue, or write a song with only six notes. I want to learn how to cook everything, and how to make it all fantastically tasty. Except dessert. I just can't make myself go there.

My love of carbs obviously begins with n and ends with oodles, but there's room in my heart for bread, pasta, rice, and yes, potatoes. Potatoes may seem kind of boring and bland at first glance, but with a bit of pixie dust (aka truffle salt or creme fraiche), they turn into something surprisingly luxe.

Truffle-Parsley Breakfast Potatoes
3-4 Yukon Gold potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
Generous pinch of truffle salt
1 tablespoon truffle oil
Fresh ground black pepper

1. Cut potatoes into rough dice, maybe one inch across.

2. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to boiling, then cook the diced potatoes until you can just pierce them with a fork (about 3-4 minutes). Drain and blot dry.

3. Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan large enough to hold the potatoes in a single layer. Place potatoes in the pan. Season with a generous pinch of truffle salt and some pepper.

4. Cook potatoes on medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes, turning occasionally, until they are a deep golden brown. Add the parsley and truffle oil and toss well for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and serve. Serve this with smoked sturgeon on bagels and you'll never go out for brunch again.

Smashed Fingerlings with Creme Fraiche and Chives (inspired by a dish at AOC)
Roughly a dozen fingerling potatoes
1½ tablespoons olive oil
½ cup creme fraiche
Small bunch of chives, chopped
Sea salt to taste
Fresh ground black pepper

1. Fingerlings vary in size, so if any in your batch are unusually large, cut them in half. You want the potatoes to cook fairly evenly.

2. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to boiling. Cook the potatoes until they break in half easily with a fork (about 12-15 minutes). Drain and blot dry.

3. Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan large enough to hold the potatoes in a single layer. Place potatoes in pan and roughly smash with a wooden spoon. You do not want to mash them to a pulp, simply break them up into jagged pieces that will soak up all the lovely creme fraiche. Season with a pinch of sea salt.

4. Cook potatoes on medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes, turning occasionally. Remove from heat. Toss with the creme fraiche and chives and serve immediately. You may add lemon zest or horseradish if you wish.