Wednesday, March 30, 2011

when spring comes

LA is summoning Spring right now. It was warm enough in my normally freezing office that I didn't have to wear a peacoat all day. I briefly considered taking advantage of our wi-fi and sprawling out in the parking lot with my laptop to catch some sun.

There's one thing I will miss, though, and that's the big, heavy, comforting winter meal. I think it's time to say good-bye to braises and roasts and hello to salads. But to ease the transition, I made this Cauliflower, White Bean + Feta Salad for dinner tonight, and served it over pearl couscous. It was essentially a big bowl of comfort food - warm roasted cauliflower, hefty white beans and tender pasta, but given a spring to its step with the lemony, vinegary dressing and salty bite of feta. Delicious warm, but I imagine just as good cold. I'll find out at dinner tomorrow night.

Cauliflower, White Bean + Feta Salad
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 6

For the dressing
1/3 c. + 3 T. olive oil
1 t. minced fresh rosemary
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. ground black pepper

For the salad
1 medium head of cauliflower, trimmed, cut into small florets
1 15-oz. can white beans, drained
3 heads of Belgian endive, trimmed, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise
1 T. chopped fresh chives
2 t. chopped fresh parsley
4 oz. crumbled feta cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss cauliflower florets with 3 T. olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast until edges are dark and caramelized, about 20 to 25 minutes, stirring once or twice.

2. While cauliflower is roasting, combine remaining 1/3 cup olive oil and rosemary in small saucepan. Stir over medium heat just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Cool.

3. Whisk lemon juice, vinegar, lemon peel, salt, and pepper in small bowl. Combine roasted, still warm cauliflower, beans, endive, chives, parsley, walnuts and rosemary oil in medium bowl; toss. Mix in cheese. Add lemon juice mixture and toss to coat. Season salad with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I have no luck with whole chickens. I can't roast them, nothing. They never cook in the time they're supposed to. Whenever I can, I substitue chicken pieces - added bonus to this is that I can avoid breast meat. But with this basically foolproof recipe for Sake-Steamed Chicken, I might be brave enough to try going for a whole chicken. This recipe was so foolproof that even after it finished cooking and ended up sitting in the steamer with the heat turned off for two hours due to a scheduling issue, it was still delicious. Meltingly tender and juicy, one of the rare times when crispy skin wasn't missed.

I served this with a side of brown rice (which took less kindly to waiting that long) and some bok choy I steamed on top of the chicken towards the end of the cooking time. I thought the dressing was way too heavy on the soy sauce so the recipe below has me adding a bit more orange juice and sugar to lighten it up a bit. Next time, I'd try it with fish sauce since I find that to be a mellower flavor than soy sauce.

And then, as I was cleaning up around the kitchen, I dipped a spoon into the steaming liquid to see if it was worth saving. I couldn't stop "tasting," and seriously considered pouring myself a bowl to sip on. One of the loveliest broths I've had. Light chicken flavor in a sweet, subtle broth. Can't wait to get some noodles into that.

Sake-Steamed Chicken
adapted from A Good Appetite
Serves 2

2 lbs. drumsticks
2 c. sake
2 c. water
2 T. soy sauce
4 T. orange juice
2 t. rice vinegar
1 T. lemon juice
1 1/2 t. sake
1 T. mirin
2 t. sugar
2 T. chopped ginger root
1 large garlic clove, minced
3 thinly sliced scallions
1 T. sesame seeds

1. Place a steamer basket in the bottom of a large stockpot. Pour in sake and water and bring to a boil.

2. Generously salt the chicken on all sides and set in the steamer basket. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Steam the chicken until the juices run clear when pierced with a knife, about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool for about 20 minutes.

3. To prepare the sauce, in a small bowl whisk together the soy sauce, orange juice, rice vinegar, lemon juice, sake, ginger and garlic.

4. Remove the chicken from the pot and place on a large cutting board; carve and set pieces on a platter. Spoon some of the sauce over the meat and sprinkle with scallions and sesame seeds. Serve extra sauce on the side for dipping.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

need you now

So you know how yesterday I was blasting how boring a sausage and bean casserole sounded? Well, today, soaked to the core and completely over the drab, dreary rain, nothing else sounded better. I had cans and cans of white beans on the counter since I hadn't used them on the casserole, so I decided to make a quick and hearty White Bean Chili.

I based most of the technique around my very favorite quick chili, one from Smitten Kitchen that only requires 30 minutes on the stove. This was definitely a perk as it took me an entire hour and a half to drive the 6 miles between the office and home. I was ready to Tweet something snarky about traffic when I heard there was apparently some police shooting on Hollywood Blvd that had caused all that traffic. I guess my evening could have been worse.

Anyway, I took out the sausage ready to remove the casing and start the browning process, and then realized that they were already cooked. Gah. That's what happens when you don't pay attention and just blow in and out of the grocery store. I ended up quartering them lengthwise and dicing them into quarter-inch cubes. As soon as everything warmed up/came to a simmer, I stirred in the next ingredient, so my semi-homemade ass had dinner on the table about 15 minutes after the stovetop turned on. Not bad. In fact, the chicken sausage reminded me a little bit of gio lua, the Vietnamese "ham" I grew up on, and that really started me thinking on the idea of an Asian-flavored chili.

I think this would still be better with fresh sausage, but the cooked sausage was tasty enough, and if it meant taking half the time to get dinner to the table, I can't complain too much.

White Bean Chili
adapted from The Pioneer Woman and Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 lbs. spicy jalapeno chicken sausage, removed from casing
1 whole onion, diced
one 4-oz. green chiles, chopped
three 15-oz. cans white beans, drained
1 c. vegetable broth
1 T. ground cumin
1/2 t. paprika
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup milk
2 T. cornmeal

1. Place a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, stirring well, and cook until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, chiles and jalapeno and cook 1 minute more.

2. Gradually add the broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the Dutch oven. Stir in the cumin, cayenne, and paprika. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and let simmer for 10 minutes.

3. Mix the milk with masa and pour into the chili. Add the beans, salt and pepper, stirring well. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes more. Adjust flavor with your spices of choice.

Monday, March 21, 2011

completely pleased

You. GUYS. I really did it tonight. Dinner was absolutely spectacular. I give you BBQ Pork Sausage and Radicchio Pizza with Smoked Mozzarella.

I know, I know. Ngoc, did you really have to list every damn thing that went on the pizza? I hate those ridiculously long dish names, too, but I had to give props to each stellar ingredient. And also, photos from every angle.

I mean, I really outdid myself.

It could have been super boring. I was planning to make a sausage-and-bean casserole for dinner tonight. With a radicchio and radish salad. Did you snore a little reading that? Because I did. Kind of nodded off on the drive home as well just thinking about it.

So I challenged myself. I had already taken the sausage out of the freezer, so I had to use it. Should probably not keep that radicchio waiting too much longer either. I suddenly remembered that I had read somewhere recently about a radicchio pizza - I could make a radicchio pizza. That's interesting.

So off I sped to Trader Joe's, excitement in my lead foot. Cut through the Gelson's parking lot in a nifty maneuver to avoid traffic, parked, grabbed a ball of pre-made dough and a ball of smoked mozzarella, and $5 later, was on my way out the door. The fact that the completely uncharming checkout guy was completely incredulous about the idea of smoked mozzarella on pizza only made my self-satisfaction greater. I'll show you, guy.

Home. Sauteed the radicchio in olive oil and garlic. Cleaned out the pan and sauteed the sausage. Tasted the sausage. Nearly buckled at the knees. McCall's Meat and Fish, you do not eff around. The rest, as they say, is history.

Side-note: move over, kale chips. Radicchio chips are next. I pulled off a piece that had caramelized to the pan, and my knees nearly buckled again. Whereas I find kale chips to be a bit insipid, with the chips melting immediately onto the tongue without giving any time for enjoyment, radicchio chips retain their sharp flavor and texture.

Anyway. Here's another photo. Did I mention I was pleased with myself?

BBQ Pork Sausage and Radicchio Pizza with Smoked Mozzarella
Serves 2

16 oz. prepared pizza dough
half a head of radicchio, halved again and sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
1/2 lb. BBQ pork sausage, casing removed
4 oz. smoked mozzarella, sliced into thin rounds

1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Set a 12-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven to warm.

2. Heat 1 T. olive oil in a 10-inch skillet. When hot, add garlic and saute until slightly golden. Add radicchio and saute until just wilted, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the radicchio and clean out the pan.

3. Return the pan to heat, and brown the sausages, breaking them up with a wooden spoon, 7-8 minutes. No need for oil, the sausages will render enough.

4. While the sausages are browning, place the pizza dough on a sheet of parchment paper and pat or roll out to a 12-inch circle.

5. Using oven mitts (you'd be surprised how easy it is to forget), pull out the cast-iron pan and flip it upside-down (I'm serious). Lightly oil the bottom of the pan, and invert the pizza dough onto the bottom. Remove parchment paper.

6. Top crust with sausage and radicchio and bake for 5 minutes. Rotate pan halfway and bake for another 5 minutes. Add the mozzarella slices and bake for a final 5 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

the common cold

Guys. You really have to read this post. It is exactly how I felt yesterday. Minus the hangover (this girl only had one martini Friday night). And of course no real estate tour (at the tender age of 28, I have given up all hope of ever owning property in Los Angeles - totally doesn't help that I watch House Hunters, and those idiots bitch about not having a closet in the second bedroom of their $110k condo).

Anyway. What I did wake up to bright and early on Saturday morning was the most hideous sinus pressure and nonstop coughing. Damn you, internal clock - I'm sick! I had grand delusions of making restorative soup for dinner, but all the ginger tea in the world and an entire day of lying on the couch watch NCAA basketball did nothing to make me feel better, so I only managed to drag myself up to make the drive over to Sapp Coffee Shop for a bowl of boat noodles.

This morning, after 14 hours of sleep, I finally managed to feel like I could do things like read recipes and go to the grocery store. The torrential downpour (and more basketball) was the only thing in the way of dinner, this gingery Caldo de Gallina, or Peruvian chicken noodle soup. I was attracted to all the spices, thinking they'd be a good way to expel what's left of this nasty cold. Next time I'd go ahead with the whole serrano - my whole jalapeno wasn't particularly fiery, and even a spice wimp like myself could have used more heat.

And just for fun, I made grilled cheese sandwiches to on the side - Matty's Aunt Sandy's homemade hot pepper jelly with a big smear of Brie, stuck between slices from a sourdough baguette, pressed to oblivion in butter. Is it feed a cold? Because that's certainly what I did.

Caldo de Gallina
adapted from 365 Kitchen

1 T. butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, scrubbed but unpeeled, and chopped into 1 1/2-inch lengths
1 leek, washed and sliced into thin rounds
2 lbs. boneless chicken thighs, cut into big chunks
salt and pepper
4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered
1 jalapeno, minced
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
8 oz. macaroni

4 hard-boiled eggs
2 limes, sliced into wedges
2 scallions, chopped
4 radishes, sliced into thin rounds

1. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium flame. Add the onions, carrots, leek, chicken, salt and pepper to the pot and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onions have become translucent and the chicken has begun to cook through, about 5-6 minutes. Add water to cover the chicken and vegetables (about 8 c.) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes, partially covered.

2. Uncover the pot and add the potatoes, jalapeno and ginger. If necessary to keep everything submerged, add 1 c. or more of water. Partially cover again and simmer for another 20 minutes, or until potatoes have softened. Raise heat, and when the stock has come to a slow boil, stir in macaroni. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until macaroni is tender. Ladle into wide bowls and top with sliced egg, wedges of lime, scallions, and slivers of radish.

Monday, March 14, 2011


It's Pi Day! And of course, you know the math nerd in me couldn't not celebrate. But worth celebrating even above and beyond Pi Day is My First Lakers Game at the Staples Center Day! Yes, it's true. Massive Laker fan that I am, I have not been to a game since the Lakers were playing at The Forum. They played (and lost to) the Seattle Supersonics, a team that doesn't even exist anymore.

As a thank you to our friend Jason for inviting us to the game, I made him a Raw Cashew Cheesecake. Sure, it's technically not pie, but it's got a crust and filling. And when you bake it in an 8x8 pan, divide it into 16 squares and halve each of those pieces on the diagonal, the end pieces look like little pie slices. Close enough.

I have several friends who are into raw cuisine, but I've never really been much about it, mostly because of the time and equipment investment generally involved. Other than the soaking time on the nuts, this actually comes together fairly quickly with nothing more than a food processor.

The crust was unsurprisingly Lara Bar-like with its base of macadamia nuts and dates. The filling does put the food processor through its paces - I'd say it was a good 10 minutes before it was smooth enough for me to call "cheesecake." This is best straight out of the freezer, or at the very least, extremely cold. It doesn't keep its shape well at room temperature.

The taste? Well, if you think you're replicating cheesecake, this isn't quite it. The filling is creamy but extremely light - more like a lime mousse than cheesecake. The crust would probably hold up well against a regular no-bake cheesecake filling, but I found that the flavor was overpowering against this light filling. It's a good thing that the crust is outrageously delicious, but if I were to make this again, I'd either halve the crust or double the filling to make a better flavor ratio.

Raw Cashew Cheesecake
adapted from Vegetarian Times

2 c. macadamia nuts
1 1/2 c. cashews
1/2 c. pitted Medjool dates
1/4 c. dried coconut
6 T. coconut oil, melted
4 T. lime juice
6 T. raw agave nectar
1/2 sun-dried vanilla bean

1. Place macadamia nuts in large bowl, and cover with cold water. Place cashews in separate bowl, and cover with cold water. Soak nuts 4 hours, then rinse, drain, and set aside.

2. Pulse macadamia nuts and dates in food processor to a sticky crumb-like consistency. Sprinkle dried coconut on bottom of 8-inch pie pan. Press macadamia nut mixture onto coconut to make crust.

3. Place cashews, coconut oil, lime juice, agave nectar, and 6 Tbs. water in bowl of food processor. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into food processor bowl, and purée until smooth, about 10 minutes. Pour mixture onto crust, and freeze 1 to 2 hours, or until firm. Remove from freezer, slice while frozen, and transfer to serving platter. Serve frozen or very cold.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

sweet side

On Monday, my friend Brandi Emma Tweeted:

do they make chocolate steak? i would like both of those things at the same time, please.

It reminded me of a steak that I had bookmarked over 2 years ago. And since we had to pass on an invite tonight for dinner at a steakhouse, I thought what better time than today to make Steak with Chocolate Balsamic Reduction.

I was originally going to just pick up the filet mignon called for in the recipe, but while I was out, McCall's posted this unbelievable photo of a 65-day dry-aged nat cab rib-eye, and I had to have it. Turns out, it was a little out of budget, but I did pick up the piece of regular rib-eye they also had - a 2 1/2-lb., single bone, mini-roast.

I had planned just to sear the filet mignon, and wasn't exactly sure what to do with a rib-eye of that magnitude. With thanks to Google, it wasn't long before I was drooling at David Chang's method of searing/roasting/butter-basting. And while it was extremely difficult to pass up using the pan juices as a gravy, the whole point of tonight was the chocolate balsamic reduction.

It's extremely simple - easily whisked together while the steak is resting. I figured, and was correct, that it was too sweet for drizzling, so I kept it on the side, for just infrequent dipping. I mean, it's ridiculous. This isn't a case where the ounce of chocolate adds complexity, like it would in chili or a mole. No, the ounce of chocolate full on turns this into a chocolate sauce, and the balsamic and maple just add surprising, but pleasant, raisin-y undertones. If dipping steak into chocolate sounds like something you want to do (read: you're PMS'ing), then this recipe is for you. Otherwise, stick to the pan juices - the buttery, garlicky, thyme-y, delicious pan juices. But P.S. - the chocolate is excellent on ice cream.

Pan-Roasted Ribeye with Chocolate Balsamic Reduction
steak adapted from Momofuku via Pig Pig's Corner
sauce adapted from Nadia G's Bitchin Kitchen Cookbook via The Toronto Star
Serves 2

one 2- to 2 1/2-lb. bone-in rib-eye steak
salt and pepper
4 T. Kerrygold butter
5 sprigs of thyme
5 garlic cloves, crushed
1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
1/3 c. maple syrup
1 oz. chocolate

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Heat a 12-inch cast-iron pan over high heat until smoking. While the pan is heating, season the steak liberally with salt and pepper. Be ready to hit the exhaust fan because things are about to get smoky.

3. When the pan is good and hot, put the steak in the pan and brown for 2 minutes, undisturbed. Flip it. Sear the other side for another 2 minutes. Stand the steak up with the wide fatty side opposite the bone against the pan for 30 seconds, then turn it back down so the side that was seared first is against the pan.

4. Put steak in the oven and leave it untouched for 8 minutes.

5. Return the pan to the stovetop over low heat. Add butter, thyme and garlic to the pan. As soon as the butter melts, start basting: Use one hand to tilt the pan up at 45-degree angle so the butter pools at the bottom; with the other hand, use a spoon to scoop up butter from the pool in the pan and spoon it over the steak. Repeat this motion constantly for 2 minutes. For medium-rare, baste it for another min or two. When done to your liking, remove the steak to a plate and tent loosely with foil. Let the steak rest for at least 10 minutes.

6. In a small saucepan, combine the balsamic vinegar and maple syrup. Bring to a boil and reduce by about 50%, or until syrupy. Add chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth.

7. Cut the steak off the bone (if your steak has one), then slice it against the grain (cutting in the direction that was perpendicular to the bone) into 1/2-inch thick slabs.

8. Put on plates and pour any juices from where it rested and the cutting board into the pan drippings. Serve with pan drippings and chocolate balsamic reduction.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

lots and lots of cheese

So here we are, already mid-way through March. I've made resolutions, I've broken resolutions (or haven't started them), and thought I had "reset" myself with a one-day juice cleanse. I've been back to the gym regularly for about 2 weeks now, but can't help but shake my head when I see the changes in the bodies of the familiar faces who must have been going regularly during my "hiatus" of the last 4-ish months. To think what I could be looking like now.

But you know that controversial saying, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels"? TONS of things taste as good as skinny feels. I've been trying to be better about what I eat (less meat and dairy), but a) I need the fat to cushion my stress, and b) this Mushroom Mac + Cheese is out of control. At least it's meatless?

I made a few modifications from the original recipe, all of which I loved:

- Shell pasta: They were perfect for holding the luscious sauce, and bonus when a piece of mushroom got trapped - it became the perfect bite.

- Bread: I left the original ingredient in the recipe below, but I found a delightful sage-hazelnut bread while wandering the aisles at Gelson's, and used that instead. The crispy bread was delicious, but let's be real - bread on top of macaroni is not entirely necessary.

- Mushrooms: The recipe calls for 4 cups of chopped mushrooms, but I had already bought everything listed below, so I used them all. Came out to more like 6 cups. And you don't really need fancy mushrooms. After the sauteing in butter and braising in white wine, even button mushrooms come out flavorful.

- Cheese: Instead of 10 oz. of gruyere, I used 16 oz. of smoked gruyere. Yes, extremely decadent. If any of you think you'll miss a meaty flavor, this is the way to keep it in. And don't worry, not the entire pound went into the sauce. Some of it went directly into our mouths.

- Lemon: Sous chef Matty D got through zesting one out of the two lemons called for in the recipe, and thought it was already way too much, so he stopped. I think two would have been incredibly overwhelming. Matty thought we should leave out the zest altogether the next time. It is kind of an eyebrow-raising flavor in the mac, but it still lent a lightness that was appreciated. Maybe zest of half a lemon is the way to go?

And then you stir, and briefly consider skipping the oven step but do it anyway because you dirtied up your fair of dishes and need the time to wash them, and you let it cool, and even though your DVR'ed Laker game turned out to be an embarrassing shit-show, you get through it with a little help from your friends, pasta and cheese. I told you I needed the fat to cushion my stress.

Mushroom Mac + Cheese
adapted from Diners' Journal
Serves 4

1 lb. large shells
4 T. butter
4 slices day-old country bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 T. minced fresh thyme leaves
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, quartered
8 oz. white mushrooms, quartered
4 large shiitake mushrooms, cut as big as the other mushroom pieces
1 c. white wine
2 c. half and half
1 lb. smoked gruyere
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley leaves
salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes.

2. In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, melt 4 T. butter. Remove from heat and set aside. In a small bowl, combine bread, thyme and half the melted butter. Mix and set aside.

3. Add onion and garlic to the remaining butter. Sauté until onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, adding olive oil if pan looks dry, and sauté until tender, about 12 minutes.

4. When the mushrooms are tender, add wine and stir until it has evaporated. Add half and half, and bring to a boil. Add the cheese, zest and parsley, and stir until cheese is melted. Add the pasta, mix well and salt and pepper to taste.

5. Top with bread mixture. Bake, uncovered, until the bread turns golden brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Monday, March 7, 2011

no trouble to me

When I did my juice cleanse last week, I did a lot of research on brothy soups. I needed something for the actual cleanse day as well as the ramp-down and ramp-up days. Obviously, this Oxtail Soup wasn't entirely appropriate for the vegetarian week (well, pescetarian this time), but it became appropriate tonight with 30-mph winds whipping around outside. Even without the heft that comes standard with most oxtail dishes, this was delightfully comforting.

I couldn't find dried orange peel, so in the morning, while I was keeping portions of my breakfast warm on a low oven, I stuck a piece of zest on a baking sheet and kept that warm as well. I didn't particularly taste any kind of orange flavor, so I'm not sure I'd go through the trouble again. I also don't really know what the peanuts imparted to the broth, but the resulting peanuts (having been boiled for 2 hours) were not my favorite texture - I'd skip those in the future as well. And definitely stick to something hearty like mustard greens for your vegetable - I used yu choy, and found those to be just a little too fragile for this soup.

Don't take all that to mean that the soup is more fuss than it's worth. I mean, the point is the luscious oxtail in the delicate, pho-like broth. You've got those two things, and you're good. For company, I'd strip the meat off the bone, but for family, just stick your fingers in the bowl of soup and grab and chew. It's good for you.

Hawaiian Oxtail Soup
adapted from Simply Recipes
Serves 4

2 lbs. oxtails
1 strip dried orange peel (zest, not the pith)
2 star anise
1 2-in. piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
Salt to taste
1/2 c. dry roasted, lightly salted peanuts
1/8 t. chili pepper flakes (or more to taste)
2 c. mustard greens
fresh cilantro, chopped
green onions, white and green parts, sliced on diagonal

1. Fill a 5-qt. pot halfway full of water and bring to a boil. Add the oxtails. Parboil for 30 minutes. Drain the pot. Rinse the oxtails in water. Trim the oxtails of any excess fat.

2. Return the oxtails to the pot. Cover with water by an inch. Add the orange peel, star anise, ginger and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Cover and let simmer for one hour. Add the peanuts and simmer for 2-3 more hours, until the oxtail meat is tender and falling off the bone. Add water as necessary so that the oxtail remains mostly covered.

3. Strain the broth. Discard the ginger and star anise. Return the broth and oxtail to the pot. At this point, you can either skim the fat off the soup and proceed to the next step, or let the soup cool, and chill it overnight in the refrigerator. The next day the fat will have solidified and will be easy to pull up from the top of the soup. The flavors will also have had more of a chance to blend and be absorbed by the oxtails if you let the soup sit overnight.

4. Bring soup to a simmer. Add the chili pepper flakes and mustard greens. Cook for 5 more minutes, or until the mustard greens are tender.

5. Serve with garnishes of chopped fresh cilantro and green onions.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

time for tea

I should have a cooling rack permanently mounted in my car. Every time I bring a baked good to my parents' house, the day always gets away from me, and I have to figure out a system to transport the piping hot, straight-out-of-the-oven Pyrex or cake pan in my back seat without sending it careening onto the floor. Today's culprits were a car accident on the 2 Freeway, and me walking slowly, gape-mouthed down the aisles of a new-found wonder, A Grocery Warehouse while picking up ingredients, and the poor Pyrex pan was full of Matcha Mochi Cake balanced on a cooling rack and wedged on the floor of the backseat between the seat and my winter coat.

But, it was Dad's birthday, and the one thing we still have in common after all these years is an insatiable sweet tooth. I wasn't going to show up to dinner empty-handed, or heaven forbid, with a store-bought dessert.

This cake was completely worth the balancing act. Mom loved the crust and suggested a thinner layer so she could get more of it - I think the cupcake version will be for her. Dad and I split a second slice. It was just sweet enough and had a lovely floral aroma without being overbearing. I knew the green tea flavor would go over well - we end every meal with a big mug of the stuff. Mochi ice cream is huge in our family. Dad and I can knock back boxes at a time. In fact, I thought about getting some ice cream to go with it, but am glad I didn't - after the massive seafood feast Mom made for dinner, a little (okay, big) square of this cake was just the perfect ending.

Matcha Mochi Cake
from New Asian Cuisine
Makes one 9x13 pan

3 c. mochiki (aka sweet rice flour)
2 1/2 c. sugar
2 t. baking powder
4 t. matcha powder
1/4 t. salt
1 14-oz can coconut milk
1 12-oz can evaporated milk
5 large eggs
1 stick of butter, melted and slightly cooled

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, matcha powder and salt.

3. In a separate bowl, beat eggs, then add coconut milk, evaporated milk and melted butter.

4. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until smooth and uniform in texture.

5. Pour batter into greased 9x13 pan. Bake for 90 minutes, until top is golden brown and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.

6. Allow cake to cool for about 30 minutes on a rack, and then carefully flip it out and cut into 24 squares, or the size of your choice. Can store mochi cake for three days, covered.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

liquid diet

Juice cleanse day! Ah, I remember when "liquid diet" used to mean something else entirely.

I woke up not hungry - that's a good sign. I went and worked out. Stopped at Earth Bar on my way into the office for "The Trio" - carrot, apple and ginger. Allison had told me I should cut the juice with water 50/50, and I was kind of afraid it would taste terribly boring that way, but this juice was so incredibly concentrated that I have no idea how anyone could possibly drink it straight.

By lunchtime, I hadn't even gotten anywhere near finishing "The Trio," but an order was being placed at Real Food Daily, so I figured I should get my lunchtime juice in. I was going to get the "Mutt Juice," but Allison told me to back up off the sugar (it has beets in it), so I got the "Sweet Green" - cucumber, celery, parsley, spinach, apple.

It tasted like lawn. I was so upset. I admit I diluted it with way more than half water. But I finished it and consoled myself with the sweet and spicy "Trio" on the car ride home.

Home. Now home was difficult. Home is where my kitchen is. Where there are things like eggs and cheese and pasta and other things that would take little to no effort to make into a fabulous dinner. Dinner that didn't taste like the yard. Dinner that I could chew. Honestly, that was the most difficult part of this cleanse. I didn't find myself to be that hungry - the near constant juice intake tricked my stomach into thinking it was full - but around 2p, I really wanted to chew on something.

The internal bickering between my will and my tastebuds was silenced when my competitive nature came out - I had already come this far. What was I going to do? Binge on leftovers and make the entire day for naught? Um, no. How much worse could it be?

As it turns out, not bad at all. The night ended on a very positive note - sipping hot, homemade Vegetable Stock while watching American Masters on PBS. The fact that the last "juice" of the night was warm and savory really helped make it feel more dinner-y. Our friend Jason was hanging out when I made this stock last night, and was surprised that tomatoes were going in. While most basic stock doesn't call for tomatoes, I'm used to it in Vietnamese broths, so I shrugged at his surprise, and carried on. I really liked the freshness and sweetness they imparted.

More broth adventures next month!

Vegetable Stock
adapted from Stonesoup
Makes about 8 c. stock

4 onions, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
8 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
4 cloves garlic, smashed
5 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 T. black peppercorns
10 c. water

1. Heat a few tablespoons olive oil over a medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrot. Cook, covered stirring occasionally until vegetables are soft and starting to brown a little.

2. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook gently for about an hour or until the stock tastes rich and full. Strain stock and discard vegetable solids.