Last month I taught a cooking class, it was Mexican cooking. Not your standard heavy Tex-Mex loaded with cheese, sauces and sour cream. Our theme was Mexi-light, Mexi-easy, Mexi-delicious. We started off with the basics, salsa and guacamole and then things got better.
Taking my cues from Baja and the Yucatan region we started off with a mock shrimp ceviche, this citrus salad, Baja style fish tacos, Arroz Verde con Piña, finished off with a tres leches and fresh berry trifle. Of course I came up with a cocktail fitting the menu.
As always my Winter Sals-tice (and I don’t mean that arrogantly) gets rave reviews. The students were surprised at how delicious a simple guacamole of avocado, salt and lime juice was. My opinion alert! I think our Mexican chain restaurants put way too much in their version, hiding the beautiful flavor of the avocado. I have to say that the surprise dish of the evening was this Arroz Verde con Piña. Continue reading “Arroz Verde con Piña (Green Rice with Pineapple)” »
I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do it with 11 hour school days, but if you love something enough you manage to find the time! I’m referring to Secret Recipe Club, The club where bloggers are secretly assigned another blog and cook one of their recipes and then it’s revealed on a scheduled day.
This month I was assign Josie’s Kitchen. Josie is is originally from the Dominican Republic but now lives in New York City with her blue teapot Paulie and her Irish boyfriend. Josie’s cooking has melded some of the two for some kind of fusion Latin Irish cuisine.
Irish cuisine is great comfort food but I love me some Latin food so I selected a traditional Dominican Republic dish. Josie’s says that Boca Chica is a beach right outside of the capital of Santo Domingo. Josie culled the recipe from a cook book called “Cocina Criolla Dominicana” (traditional Dominican cooking).
Sometimes I just know what I want, I crave it, think about it, plan it, prepare it and eventually devour it with delight. Other times, it’s all about whatever I have left in the fridge that absolutely needs to be used up. Other times, meal decisions are based on time, and way too many times they are based on the hunger factor. In other words, I’m hangry and I need to eat NOW!
In the package that I received from Bella Sun Luci were julienned sun dried tomatoes and red peppers. My sun dried tomato cooking usually leans towards Mediterranean cooking, but when I saw this package with the red peppers, I went South of the Border for inspiration.
Way back in the 70’s when I was a little girl, not much shorter than I am now, my parents used to take my sister and I out to dinner. Sometimes it was Shakey’s pizza, or maybe a burger joint but every now and then they would take us out for Chinese. Going out for Chinese was fine dining in my little girls eyes.
The Chinese restaurants that I remembered were exotic and wonderful. At the entrance, on either side of the door, you would commonly find giant sized golden dragons or maybe Buddha’s to greet you. An indication of the riches you were going to find inside. We would always be met by some little old Chinese lady, (I’m pretty confident she was Chinese, back in the 70’s Chinese people worked in Chinese restaurants, now it’s a ‘fusion’). Then we would be escorted to a beautiful high glossed cherry wood table. The table would invariable be outfitted with a built in lazy-Susan, can you believe that…built in. Spin, spin, oops there goes the soy sauce.
My eyes danced around the room, soaking in Chinese art of dragons, maidens and koi all gilded in gold. Lanterns with red tassels hung from the ceiling, everything seemed so rich and wonderful. I could have sat at the table all day fantasizing about what its like to live in China.
Each place setting had a paper place mat, you know the one with the Chinese zodiac. I’d search out my birth year hoping that I wouldn’t be anything gross like a rat or a snake! In case you’re interested I turned out to be a snake, sounds very uncomplimentary. It’s not all bad though:
Characteristics: philosophical, organized, intelligent, intuitive, elegant, attentive, decisive…and this cracked me up: Women under the sign of the snake do well in housework but are irritable (Source).
My parents would drool and slurp over the menu. Ultimately we would get number something, the family meal for four. Pretty standard, egg rolls, egg drop soup, sweet and sour pork, fried rice, and some kind of stir fry vegetable all served family style. In addition to our family meal my parents always ordered the Chinese barbeque pork (Char Siu). It would arrive thinly sliced on a plate with a trio of condiments in a small saucer: Chinese hot mustard, ketchup and sesame seeds. As you can tell, I grew up with very fond memories of Chinese food and of Char Siu.
Many years have gone by and it seems that my childhood Chinese dining style experience is more difficult to come by. Rather its been replaced with buffets and take-outs. I had to resort to learning to make it at home, one of the things I made at home was Char Siu, but I used a packet mix (this is straight from my pantry).
You can only imagine my excitement when I found out what the Daring Cooks challenge this month was,. Our Daring Cooks’ December 2011 hostess is Sara from Belly Rumbles! Sara chose awesome Char Sui Bao as our challenge, where we made the buns, Char Sui, and filling from scratch – delicious!
It was a balmy38°F, here so I actually went out and grilled…it snowed the very next day. I was lucky to sneak in one last grill time.
Knowing how much my family loves Char Siu, I doubled the recipe, I was sure that we would get a little piggy with it, plus I wanted to freeze some. In the spirit of my childhood days, I also made Pork Fried Rice, with the Char Siu. Plus we had some sweet and sour chicken (not pictured), it was a frozen P.F. Chang package, it was surprisingly good.
I did not grow up eating Char Siu Bao, truthfully, I hadn’t really experienced them until 7 or 8 years ago when McGyver took me out for Dim Sum for the first time. It was love at first taste, the steamed buns were these wonderful soft pillows of dough stuffed with a barbeque pork mixture. While we lived in the Saint Louis area I got to enjoy these babies on a regular basis.
Now that we have located to the Northern tundra which happens to be the 22nd coldest city in the United States (true fact just found out today), there isn’t a Dim Sum place any where nearby. There may not be one in all of Montana for all I know. This challenge was a perfect opportunity for me to learn to make my own.
The Char Siu part was a breeze to prepare and cook but I have to confess that I had some trouble with the dough for the Char Siu Bao. My first batch was way to dry and tough. I let it rise anyways and gave it a go, but it just wasn’t working like it should. I redid the dough, the second time using only 2 1/2 cups of flour versus the 3 cups the recipe called for..ahhh perfection! No worries though, I fried the other dough and put some powdered sugar on it and viola, dessert.
Chinese Pick-up Sticks
Wednesday is also the day that I post a black and white food related photo. This week, to go along with my post, I did a still of Chinese chopsticks. The way they are arranged reminded me of the children’s game called ‘Pick-up Sticks’. Because I can’t resist a great pun, I titled the photo “Chinese Pick’-up Sticks”. I know, I’m killin’ you! If you are interested in seeing more culinary black and white photos or participating, head over to my hostess Susan’s site, The Well Seasoned Cook.
Note: The recipes below are the ones that were provided us, the few changes I made are in red.
1 pork fillet/tenderloin (roughly 1-1.5 pounds)
4 large cloves of garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon (3 gm) ginger, grated
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 ½ tablespoons maltose (you can substitute honey)
1 ½ tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce 1 tablespoon light soy sauce 2 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon shaoxing cooking wine
½ teaspoon (2 gm) ground white pepper
pinch of salt
½ teaspoon (2 gm) five spice powder
½ teaspoon sesame oil ½ teaspoonpillar boxfew drops ofDuff red food coloring
(1 tablespoon=15 ml, 1 teaspoon=5 ml)
Trim the pork loin to remove fat and tendon and slice lengthways so you have two long pieces, then cut in half. By cutting the pork in to smaller pieces to marinate you will end up with more flavor some char sui. If you want to leave the pork in one piece you can do this as well. Place in container that you will be marinating them in (I used a zipper lock bag).
Combine all the other ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine. I placed my maltose in the microwave for a few seconds to make it easier to work with. Maltose is quite a solid hard sticky substance.
Cover pork well with ⅔all of the marinade mixture. Marinate for a minimum of 4 hours, I find it is best left to marinate overnight. Place the reserved ⅓ portion of the marinade covered in the fridge. You will use this as a baste when cooking the pork (I used the marinade left in the bag).
For all methods, let pork rest before slicing it.
Cooking Method 1 – Oven
Pre-heat oven to moderate 180˚C/350°F/gas mark 4. Cover a baking tray with foil or baking paper. Place on top of this a rack on which to cook the pork. Place pork on the rack and place in oven. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, basting and turning. Turn the heat up to moderately hot 200˚C/400°F/gas mark 6 for the final 20 minutes as this will aid the charring. Cook until cooked through.
Cooking Method 2 – Seared in pan & then into the oven
Pre-heat oven to moderate 180˚C/350°F/gas mark 4. Cover a baking tray with foil or baking paper. Place on top of this a rack on which to cook the pork. Place pork in a hot frying pan or wok. Sear it quickly so it is well browned. Remove from pan/wok and place pork on the rack and place in oven. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, basting and turning until cooked through.
Cooking Method 3 – BBQ
Place marinated pork loin on the grill of your BBQ, Cook on a medium heat, approximately 15 minutes, until cooked through. Be careful to watch that you don’t burn the pork. (The last 5 minutes I turned my grill on high, marinated and turned the pork repeatedly until I got a nice char.)
1 cup milk, scalded
¼ cup (60 gm/2 oz) sugar
1 tablespoon oil
¼ teaspoon (2 gm) salt
2½ teaspoons (8 gm/1 satchel) of dried yeast
3 cups (420 gm/15 oz) plain flour (I used 2 1/2 cups) (1 cup=240 ml, 1 tablespoon=15 ml, 1 teaspoon=5 ml)
Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or pan. Sauté the shallots for one or two minutes until soft. Add diced char sui to the wok/pan and stir. Add oyster sauce, dark soy sauce and sesame oil to the pork mixture, stir fry for one minute. Mix cornflour and stock together and then add to the pork mixture. Stir well and keep cooking until the mixture thickens, 1 or 2 minutes. Remove mixture from wok/pan and place in a bowl to cool. Set aside until ready to use.
Scald milk and then stir in sugar, oil and salt, leave to cool until it is lukewarm. Once it is the right temperature add yeast, leave until yeast is activated and it becomes frothy, about 10 – 15 minutes. Sift flour in to a large bowl. Add milk/yeast mixture to the flour. Bring the flour mixture together with your hands. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for approximately 10 minutes. The dough should be smooth and slightly elastic.
Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Leave to rise until it is double in size. This will take from 1 – 2 hours depending on weather conditions. Punch down dough and divide in to 20 equal portions. Roll each dough portion in to a 7 – 8cm (2¾ – 3 ¼ inches) round. Place 1 tablespoon of filling in the centre of the round, gather the edges together at the top and place on a 8cm (3 inch) square of baking paper. Repeat until all dough has been used. Cover and let rise for 20 minutes.
Place buns in bamboo steamer, leaving space between the buns. Heat water in a wok until it is simmering and place steamers one on top of each other in the wok. Place lid on top bamboo steamer and steam for approximately 12 minutes.
We love Chinese food, lets face it, Chinese take-out is fun! Unfortunately the only Chinese offered in Great Falls is marginally good and most of it is deep fried and greasy. I still enjoy it though, however, the next day I have a fierce thirst. I need to drink a gallon of water to try and rehydrate myself form all the sodium that is hidden in there also. The Baby boy loves the Sweet and Sour Pork but McGyver and me, we love General Tso’s Chicken, the most famous Hunanese dish…or is it?
General Tso’s chicken is named for a 19th Century general, Tso Tsung-t’ang (now usually transliterated as Zuo Zongtang), he supposedly enjoyed eating the dish. Would you believe it if I told you that the dish is not generally known in Hunan? I read in an old NY Times Magazine article by Fuschia Dunlop that the notable Chef Peng Chang-Kuei first made the dish in the 1950’s. Peng opened a restaurant in NYC in 1973, during that time he adapted his original General Tso’s chicken to meet the American palate (note: he is not the only one to lay claim to the dish).
The Hunanese’s tastes tends towards the more sour, heavy, hot and salty. So it’s no surprise when Peng opened a restaurant in Changsha and served the American version of General Tso’s Chicken, it was not well received. Patron’s complained that it was “too sweet”. Ironically, the dish is now being adopted as a traditional Hunan dish by many influential Hunan Chefs. Dunlop’s article goes into much more detail and is well worth the read, you can find it here.
The recipe comes from one of my favorite ‘healthy’ cookbooks. Believe it or not, this recipe is so good as is that I have never changed a thing about it. Truthfully, I enjoy the non-fried version better and don’t wake up the next day parched.
1 pound skinless boneless chicken, cut into 1”chunks
5 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon Asian (dark) sesame oil
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 green onions, chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or more to taste)
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
Combine the chicken, 2 tablespoons of the sherry, 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch, and the oyster sauce in a medium bowl; set aside to marinate for 5 minutes.
Combine the remaining 3 tablespoons sherry, the water, soy sauce, honey, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and the remaining 2 teaspoons cornstarch in a small bowl; set aside.
Heat a non-stick wok or a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles. Swirl in the canola oil, then add the chicken mixture. Stir-fry until lightly browned, 2 – 3 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, scallions, and crushed red pepper, stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the celery and bell pepper, stir fry until crisp-tender, 2 – 3 minutes. Stir in the sherry mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture boils and thickens, and the chicken is just cooked through, 1 – 2 minutes. Serve over rice.
I love it when the aroma of a dish evokes a mood or a sense of place. It also amazes me how a few simple ingredients can make a dish powerful. Rice is virtually a blank palate ready for an artist to turn the humble grains into something memorable.
For this blank palate I choose to use a much under utilized spice in my pantry. Tarragon is one of the four herbs in the French fines herbes and it is the showcased herb in the classic Béarnaise sauce. If you haven’t had the pleasure of tasting tarragon, the best way to describe the flavor is a slight anise or licorice taste. Not too over powering, trust me, I am not a fan of black licorice, but tarragon is really delicious in my book.
Basmati a.k.a. “queen of fragrance or the perfumed one” is wonderfully fragrant on it’s own. With the addition of tarragon, orange zest and the juice of an orange to the rice, it sent me swooning. The citrus aroma drifting up from the rice was refreshing and light, the tarragon smelled warm and comforting. Who would believe that a humble grain of rice could be so inspiring?
Water, enough to make 1 1/2 cups when added to juice
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Rinse the rice three times by covering the rice with water and then draining. In a medium sized pot add the rice. Add enough water to the orange juice to make 1/2 cups, pour over the rice and let sit 30 minutes. Add the butter, tarragon and salt. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 20 minutes.
My final post in a 3 part series. Soupa Avegolemono is traditionally made with eggs, chicken broth, rice or a small pasta like orzo with out the addition of chicken. Although not traditional in the purist sense, many Greek restaurants serve Soupa Avgolemono with chicken in it. In my version, I’ve omitted the eggs because I felt with the addition of chopped chicken that it wouldn’t be necessary. Soupa Avgolemono is a snap to make, especially if you have leftovers from Crispy Roasted Lemon Pepper Chicken and Rice Pilaf with Vegetables from my previous posts. If you haven’t made them already, you need to, just so you can make this soup with the leftovers.
Soupa Avgolemono is a light soup with a pleasant tartness from the lemons. It’s a great starter because it doesn’t fill you up, it would also make a great lunch. Adding chopped chicken gave the soup more substance, it ended up being a great light dinner accompanied with some fresh baked thyme rolls. The soup can be ready to serve in less than 15 minutes if you have stock on hand. I made homemade stock, using the carcass of the Crispy Roasted Lemon Pepper Chicken, which also layered in more lemon flavor.
Soupa Avgolemono (Greek Lemon Chicken Soup)
2 quarts chicken stock (homemade or purchased)
2 cups chopped chicken
2 cups cooked rice or orzo
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of 1 or 2 lemons
Minced fresh parsley for garnish (if desired)
In a large pot, bring stock to a boil over medium high heat. Add chicken, rice, salt and pepper. continue to heat until chicken is warmed through, about 5 minutes. Just prior to serving squeeze the juice of one lemon into the soup. Taste for tartness, if it is not tart, add the juice of the second lemon.
Part 2 of my 3 part post: I tweeted and facebooked asking for suggestions to go with my Crispy Roasted Lemon Chicken, I got some great suggestions. My mom suggested rice pilaf, the suggestion reminded me that I have not made rice pilaf an eons, so I was excited to make it again. I also knew that I would be working the late shift the rest of the week and that my boys would be feeding themselves. I try to cook a couple of big meals so that they will have leftovers.
When boys in my house feed themselves (although both know how and like to cook), when I’m gone it seems like all their skills disappear and they convert to caveman ways. Meat, meat, meat and maybe a potato or two (in the form of chips no doubt). I leave bags of salad and pre-cooked vegetables for them, but somehow they don’t get eaten. “We forgot” is shouted out with their best innocent voice and the batting of the eyelashes. I don’t believe that for one minute *sigh*, what’s a poor mother/wife to do?
Just like any mom does, sneak it in to something else. Adding some celery, carrots and spinach boosted the nutritional value of the rice, added flavor and texture and really made it look so appetizing that even a caveman wouldn’t resist.
Start by heating the oil, chop the onion, celery and carrots. Sauté until the onion becomes translucent.
Add the crumbled bouillon cubes.
Next add the rice and water. alternatively you could have added chicken broth in place of the bouillon/water. I bought an econo size of bouillon cubes about 20 years ago and I’m still trying to use them up. Ok, not 20 years ago, more like 5? Seriously, I’ll never do that again! Bring the rice to a boil then turn to down the heat to low and cover.
Cook for 15 minutes. Throw the spinach right on top and pop that lid back on. Cook for 5 more minutes. After 5 minutes, stir the spinach into the rice.
Finish with butter if desired and serve with lemon wedges.
Rice Pilaf with Vegetables
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrots
1 cup long grain rice
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 3/4 cups water
3 oz. baby spinach
salt and pepper to taste
If desired: butter and lemon wedges
Over medium heat ,in a medium sized saucepan heat olive oil. Add the onion, carrots and celery. Cook until the onion becomes translucent. Crumble the bouillon cubes and add to the pan, add rice and water. Bring to a boil. Once the pilaf begins to boil, turn the heat down to low and cover.
Cook rice for 15 minutes. Add spinach to the rice mixture, just on top, no need to stir. Cover spinach and rice and cook for 5 more minutes. The spinach will steam cook while the rice finishes cooking. After the 5 minutes, stir the rice and spinach until the spinach has finished wilting and is incorporated into the rice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Be careful with the salt if you used bouillon cubes.
Finish by stirring in 1 or 2 tbsp. of butter, serve with a lemon wedge.
This is it, the last of the Prime Rib. No surprise, when I get down to the last little bit of anything my mind wanders towards soup. I love a “garbage” soup where you take all the odds and ends leftover and through them into a pot and turn them into something delicious. Prime rib hardly seemed like an ingredient to throw into some garbage soup, so I pondered what would I make. My mind was set on soup and I had some wild rice so I thought that would pair nicely. The rest of my inspiration came from my favorite place, the grocery store.
I was just moseying on down in the fresh veg section, thinking about picking up some garlic (which I now can not find any where in my kitchen) and a couple of other odd ball things when I passed by baskets full of mushrooms. That got the ol’ hamster wheel running. Mushroom soup! Yes, perfect. I pondered my mushroom choices, button, baby bellas, oyster and shiitake. Then my eyes dropped down and there were some dried morel mushrooms. I’ve never, ever, in my life prepared or cooked a morel mushroom. After looking at the price, I remembered why. It is the season for indulgence, and I’ve been dying my own hair for at least a year now (saved about $120) so why not?
I put the morels in my basket, then opted for oyster versus shiitake and baby bellas (pre-sliced). I quickly picked up the rest of my stuff and hurried home. I couldn’t wait to make dinner. Only I was scared. The soup sounded perfect in my little pea brain but would it execute properly? I was worried that the morels would get lost in the mix of ingredients, I was worried that this was going to be too over the top. Would too many rich and wonderful ingredients combine into a flop?