Sunday, October 30, 2011

beautiful briny

When I was a kid, every holiday/special occasion called for egg rolls, and I never thought twice about not having them around. The day would start with packets upon packets of wrappers and a big bowl of ground pork (I'm not sure what else was in it - I think wood-ear mushrooms, maybe some glass noodles, too?). My aunt and great-aunts would start rolling, and I would occasionally be allowed to dip my finger into the egg wash and help seal them up. They'd make pallets worth and then move to the stove to deep-fry them all in (I think) a big wok. Piles and piles of golden perfection would come out of there, virtually nonstop.

I thought I'd give it a go - I got a craving for some hot crispy egg rolls dancing in a bowl of rice noodles with mint and sweet chile sauce... But not enough to make any more than 8. I managed to stuff about 12 rolls' worth, but couldn't stay in front of the fryer any longer. What a pain in the ass - I was getting splattered, and I was getting hungry. How the aunts made a whole day out of it, I will never know, but now deeply respect. Plus, I was in the middle of watching the embarrassment of a Cowboys game after an already rough USC loss, and I just couldn't take it anymore.

These egg rolls were pretty good, though. These were obviously not the ones I grew up with, but they were actually not that far off because my pork-oyster proportions were a bit off. I had a little more than 8 oz. of ground pork left in the freezer, and I bought an 8-oz. jar of oysters, but in retrospect should have gotten two since the drained weight was of course less. I think to call them Oyster Spring Rolls legitimately, I should have had much more briny flavor, like these Oyster Tortelli. Might consider saving a couple steps and try deep-frying the tortelli next time!

Oyster Spring Rolls
from Viet World Kitchen
Makes 12 to 14 large rolls

8 to 10 oz. drained fresh oysters
1 1/4 t. pepper, divided
1 T. cornstarch
1 t. fish sauce
1 T. plus 1 t. dry vermouth
6 oz. bean sprouts, washed and drained well
1/2 t. salt
1 t. sugar
2 t. sesame oil
2 T. cornstarch dissolved in 2 T. oyster liquor or water
1 T. canola oil
8 oz. ground pork
1 1/2 to 2 t. soy sauce
3/4 cup lightly packed finely chopped scallion, white and green parts
12 to 14 large Shanghai spring roll skins (also called lumpia wrappers)
1 egg, lightly beaten
canola oil, for deep-frying

1. Give the oysters a quick rinsing and drain well. Cut them into 3/4-inch pieces. Transfer to a bowl. Add the 1 t. white pepper, 1 T. cornstarch, fish sauce, and 1 T. rice wine. Stir gently to combine. Set aside to marinate for 5 to 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Using a mesh strainer, blanch the bean sprouts until they have just slightly softened, 30 to 45 seconds. Dump them into a colander and set aside to cool and drain.

3. Return the water to a boil, then blanch the oysters for 20 seconds. You can use the mesh strainer or not. Drain the oysters and transfer to a bowl; they will continue to release liquid after draining. Set the bean sprouts and oysters near the stove.

3. For the seasoning sauce, in a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 t. white pepper and 1 t. rice wine with the salt, sugar, sesame oil, and cornstarch slurry. Set aside near the stove.

4. Thoroughly dry the saucepan you used for the bean sprouts and oysters, and use it to heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the pork, stirring to break it into small pieces. When the pork is halfway cooked, about 1 minute, splash in the soy sauce. Keep cooking for another minute or so until the pork is cooked through. Add the scallion, and cook for about 30 seconds until they’ve lost their rawness. Then add the bean sprouts and oysters, give things a stir and cook for 30 to 45 seconds to heat through.

5. Give the seasoning sauce a stir then pour it into the skillet. Stir gently to combine and in about 30 seconds, the mixture should have thickened up. Transfer to a platter and spread it out. Set aside to cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. The mixture can be refrigerated overnight and return to room temperature before using. You should have 2 1/2 to 3 cups.

6. For each spring roll, place a skin, smooth side down, on your work surface. Place a generous 2-3 T. of filling slightly below the center of the skin. Fold and roll up the skin to create a cigar shape.

7. Before folding in the sides, brush some beaten egg on all of the exposed edges to ensure a good seal. Set the finished rolls, seam side down, on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Keep covered with a dishtowel to prevent drying.

8. Heat 1 to 1 1/4 inches of oil in a wok, saucepan, or deep skillet over medium-high heat to about 350ºF on a deep-fry thermometer. Slide in few spring rolls and fry for 2 to 4 minutes, turning as needed, until golden brown and very crisp. Remove from the oil and drain. Return the oil to temperature before frying more.

9. Serve hot or warm with sweet chile sauce.

very good

A new thing I'd like to start every weekend - a weekly round-up of Three Very Good Things, inspired by Clotilde from Chocolate & Zucchini. Sure, it's a little bit of a cop-out for me since I'm having such trouble finding time to properly blog about food, but I also love the idea of starting the week with a little positivity.

1. Friends who pose for your blog
Greg, posing mid-dip into my Herbed Ricotta Dip. Another case of will-there-be-enough-food syndrome at my birthday/Notre Dame gamewatch last weekend. Just something I threw together while we were waiting for jambalaya and smoked short ribs to be done - a tub of ricotta mixed with chives, mint, parsley and green onions until everything tasted right. And Very Good Thing #1A, those Flipsides Pretzel Crackers.

2. Lindy & Grundy
This is a their housemade bratwurst. Simmered in beer and onions for 20 minutes at home, then brought to our USC tailgate to be grilled to perfection. With champagne garlic mustard also purchased at L&G and a Clausen dill pickle spear.

3. Sunday Mornings
Sunday mornings are the goddamn best. Waking up to make a little breakfast and be ready to pop down on the couch by 10:00a and not move until 4:00p. And that's just to get up and shower and make sure everything's set for making dinner during halftime of the Sunday Night game. I'm not proud of it, but I used to spend the entire day at the now-defunct Hollywood Billiards and have all 3 of my meals there on Sundays. Now I don't need to with Andouille Hash in the repertoire.

Andouille Hash
Serves 2

1 T. olive oil
1 red onion, diced
1 link andouille, diced
2 potatoes, shredded
4 eggs
salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch skillet. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the andouille and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the potatoes, letting it sit for a minute at a time so it has time to brown, for a total of about 5 minutes.

3. Give the potatoes one last stir and then pat it into an even layer. Crack 4 eggs over the potato "pancake" and transfer to the oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the eggs are set to your liking. Serve immediately.

Friday, October 28, 2011

duck, duck, chicken

I had to work completely backwards for tonight's dinner. It's been frightfully cold (for tender California flowers like myself) in the evenings, so I knew I wanted to bake something and use some of that oven heat to warm up the house. And since it's getting really, terrifying close to Thanksgiving, I thought I'd work on my test recipe list and try out some Corn, Buttermilk + Chive Popovers.

They were fantastic. I think they're definitely going on the Thanksgiving menu. I basically overfilled 4 ramekins (because I was again, lazy, and didn't want to wash out an entire muffin pan), so I got more fluffy muffin than airy popover, but it was still delicious.

What to serve for the entree, then? I originally thought I wanted steak to go with the popovers, but I've got tailgating to do tomorrow, and figured I should maybe tone it down with the red meat. I was going to visit Lindy & Grundy for the tailgate sausage, so I planned on picking one of their daily specials for dinner.

Wings! Perfect. Sort of our own little pre-tailgate, but I would never dare to do hot wings when Hoagies & Wings does the job so well. I did come across this Chicken Wings with Mushrooms recipe, though, and it met my resident wing snob's approval, so there we were.

As I was starting to prep the popovers, I got a little lazy and didn't want to dirty up another bowl to melt the butter. So for the popovers, I just used olive oil. But then I started thinking about the various oils and fats I have in the kitchen, and suddenly recalled that Melissa Clark fried her chicken in duck fat. Well, damn it - I want to fry my wings in duck fat, too! So I did.

This house is going to smell good for a week. I mean, duck fat and garlic? Throw the white flag now - nothing better.

Chicken Wings with Mushrooms
adapted from Ferran Adria via Serious Eats
Serves 2 generously

3 lbs. chicken wings
salt and pepper
4 T. duck fat
10 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
10 garlic cloves, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme

1. Season the chicken wings with salt and black pepper. Melt the duck fat in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet set over medium heat. Add the chicken wings. Cook, flipping occasionally, until the wings are well browned, about 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low if the wings brown too quickly.

2. If you haven't already reduced the heat to medium-low, do so now, and add the chopped garlic, mushrooms and thyme. Cook until mushrooms are golden brown and tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately with...

Corn, Buttermilk and Chive Popovers
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. corn kernels
3 large eggs
1 T. olive oil
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. granulated sugar
1/2 t. salt
black pepper
1 T. snipped fresh chives

1. Place buttermilk and corn in a blender together and blend for just 3 seconds. Add the eggs and olive oil, and blend for one second more. Add the flour, sugar, salt, black pepper and chives and blend again until barely combined, some lumps are fine.

2. Set the batter aside to rest while you preheat your oven to 375 degrees, about 15 minutes. Brush your popover, muffin or ramekin cups with melted butter. Fill each cup slightly more than halfway with batter.

3. Bake popovers 30 to 35 minutes. Try not to open the oven door! Crack it just 1-inch to take a peak if absolutely necessary towards the end. Popovers are done when they’re tall and bronzed. Flip popovers out onto cooling rack and let cool for a few minutes before tearing in.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

get lighter

Another for the list of amazing prep time to flavor ratio. I was stuck at the office late, had groceries to get, and dinner was still on the table for an impromptu dinner party with our friend Greg over the Miami football game. Obviously, that game was a fail, but luckily, dinner made up for it.

I served it with hashed Brussels sprouts sauteed in sesame oil with a dash of sweet chile sauce and Sriracha and brown rice. Everything came together quickly. While the soy sauce mixture was coming to a boil, I hashed the sprouts, and while the fish was poaching, I sauteed the sprouts and nuked the frozen rice. Done, plated within 20 minutes.

The only thing I would change next time is the sides. While the Brussels were kicky and great, and brown rice is almost always my rice of choice, both overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the fish. Sure, there was plenty of good soy saltiness, but the mahi-mahi was still so light. I found my favorite bites to be ones of just fish because it's flavor disappeared when paired with either the rice or veggies. I'm thinking next time, it's a cleaner plate of white rice and steamed snow peas.

Mahi-Mahi Poached in Soy Sauce
adapted from Mark Bittman
Serves 3-4

1/2 c. soy sauce
1 1/2 c. water
1 lb. mahi-mahi
1 bunch green onions, green and white parts only

1. Bring the soy sauce and water to a boil in a 10-inch pan. Add the fish and green onions, and lower the heat so the liquid is barely simmering.

2. Poach for 10 minutes, turning once halfway through. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

back to basics

In a bit of rut. And super exhausted. Which all equals finding excuses to get take-out. Which means, bad blogger!

Here's something from a few weeks ago that I never wrote about. I don't know why - it was divine. Hard to believe something so vegetarian merits divine status, but it's true! The flatbreads were out of this world. Almost pancake-like, but with a very satisfying chew. Will probably need to make a big flatbread taco out of it sometime soon. My mouth's watering just thinking of it.

And the mushroom-barley stew? Roasting the mushrooms was definitely the way to go. They picked up lovely golden specks of deep, deep flavor. Combined with the al dente barley, it was just days of hearty, toothsome, good food.

Yogurt Flatbreads with Barley + Mushrooms
adapted from Yottam Ottolenghi's Plenty

For the flatbread
1 c. flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. Greek yogurt
3 T. chopped fresh rosemary
4 T. olive oil

For the ragout
1/2 c. pearled barley
1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced
6 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 sprigs fresh thyme

1. To make the flatbreads: Combine all the ingredients, apart from the oil, in a bowl and use your hands to mix them together to a dry dough; add more flour if needed. Knead the dough for a minute or so, until it is smooth and uniform. Wrap it in plastic wrap and chill it at least an hour.

2. To make the mushroom ragout: Rinse the barley with cold water, then place in a medium saucepan and cover with plenty of fresh water. Simmer for 30 to 35 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and set aside.

3. Toss the mushrooms and thyme with a bit of olive oil and roast in a 450-degree oven for 30-35 minutes, until well browned.

4. In the pasta pot, combine the mushrooms and barley with the butter. Add a little water if needed to make a thick stew. Salt and pepper to taste.

5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide into six pieces. Flatten them with your hand into basically round discs about 1/4-inch thick. Heat some olive oil in a nonstick pan and fry the flatbreads, one at a time, on a medium heat for about 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Add more butter as you need it, and keep the flatbreads warm as they are cooked.

6. To serve, divide warm flatbreads onto plates and top with warm ragout.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

after all the stops and starts

Busy, busy, busy! That's all I ever say anymore. But I have been eating, that's for sure. I even manage to photograph most of my meals. But after dinner, I'm usually exhausted and asleep on the couch in front of some HGTV.

And if that wasn't embarrassing enough, the me of the last 5 years would be absolutely mortified that here it is October 20, and I have not yet made one Thanksgiving test recipe. I'm ashamed of myself.

This was a happy accident all the way around - a last-minute dinner guest, a near-crisis averted, and a definite yes on the Thanksgiving menu: Pasta Al Forno with Pumpkin + Pancetta, or Pumpkin Mac + Cheese. The near-disaster was that following the instructions had me removing pumpkin soup out of the oven after 10 minutes. Luckily, it was nothing about a cup and a half of extra cheese and another 20 minutes in the oven didn't fix. I might even throw in that pasta uncooked and see what happens. What I ended up doing is below in the instructions.

And after all the drama, this was stellar. Rich, but bright from the sweetness of the pumpkin. Not quite as sweet as kugel, but if kugel had a charming, plump cousin, this would be her. Can't wait for Thanksgiving!

Pasta Al Forno with Pumpkin + Pancetta
adapted from Food52
Serves 6 to 8

one 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
Salt and pepper
1/4 lb. pancetta, diced
1 lb. orecchiete
2 c. heavy cream
8 oz. shredded fresh mozzarella
6 oz. fontina, coarsely grated
1/2 c. grated Pecorino Romano
1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola
2 T. ricotta

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta for exactly 5 minutes, drain and run cool water over it for about 10 seconds. Set aside in a colander.

2. In the meantime, crisp the pancetta in a medium saucepan over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels, discarding the fat.

3. Turn the oven to 500 degrees.

4. In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, cream, cheeses, and pancetta in a large bowl and stir gently to combine. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the pasta and fold together just until combined.

5. Spread the pasta evenly in a casserole or baking dish. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until the top is lightly browned, and the filling doesn't jiggle too much. Let cool for 5 minutes, then serve.

Monday, October 10, 2011

keep it spicy

Easily the winner in the Fast & Delicious category. I don't even remember the last time I managed to whip up dinner this quickly and with so little effort for such flavor pay-off.

The mayonnaise keeps the salmon perfectly rich and moist. I imagine it will be just as good with plain ol' mayo, or with a plain mayo + horseradish mixture, but Trader Joe's had wasabi mayo, so I bought it to skip a step. #lazy

Sides were simple - brown rice and a bag of stir-fry vegetables served raw as a salad. Dressing was a variation on this marinade (1 T. fish sauce, 2 T. sesame oil, 2 T. sweet chile sauce). Loved how the sweet heat of the dressing, the freshness and crunch of the salad, and the warm burn of the salmon all worked together.

Wasabi Salmon
adapted from The Unseasoned Wok
Serves 2

2 salmon fillets (3/4-1 lb.)
1/4 c. wasabi mayonnaise

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Pat the salmon dry and generously salt and pepper on both sides. Spread 2 T. of wasabi mayonnaise on each fillet, spreading to cover the top and sides.

3. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily.

Friday, October 7, 2011

it all comes together

It's been an extremely tense and stressful week. It resolved in the most satisfactory fashion possible at the end of the day today, but not with nearly enough time for me to do anything like think about what we were having for dinner tonight. What to do? Well, the entire way home, refresh What the Fuck Should I Make for Dinner?.

I know, I know. I shouldn't play on my phone while driving. And I shouldn't think excessive use of the f-word is funny. But I do, and I do. And every now and again, I find something fabulous to make, like this Flash-Fried Finger-Lickin' Chicken.

I wanted to find something decadent and celebratory, and I have a fantastic-looking mac and cheese recipe Pinned, but I was too drained to make anything that required quite so much effort. So for the main bits, I made some pasta Alfredo (the absolute easiest way to turn pasta, butter and cheese into a meal), and bought an arugula caprese salad to share.

And to put it completely over the top, just a little bit of fried chicken. But not just any fried chicken. Cooked chicken coated in buttermilk and seasoned flour, fried extremely quickly just for color and crunch. The seasonings were perfect - I think it's the celery salt that makes it extra memorable. Not worrying about actually cooking the chicken through is brilliant. Consider the possibilities - jazzing up leftovers, Chick-fil-A without the moral ambiguity (with those roasted chicken patties they have at TJ's).

Some things I would consider changing - instead of the double-dredge method, perhaps the wet and dry ingredients could be combined to form something like a tempura batter. Fewer bowls to dirty, less gross "batter-hands." And to blast the crunch factor out of the stratosphere, perhaps some panko after the "tempura" batter is on.

Flash-Fried Finger-Lickin' Chicken
adapted from Rocco Dispirito via Cookstr
Serves 4-6

1½ c. flour
1 T. sweet paprika
1 1/2 t. celery salt
1 T. black pepper
1 t. salt
1 1/2 t. cayenne pepper
2 c. buttermilk
vegetable oil
1 lb. Trader Joe's Just Chicken (or any other cooked chicken)

1. Pour about 1 inch of vegetable oil into a large pot with high sides, and bring it to 400 degrees over high heat. Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet or over several layers of paper towels (for draining the chicken).

2. In a shallow dish, combine the flour with the paprika, celery salt, black pepper, salt and cayenne. Use a whisk to thoroughly combine the ingredients.

3. Combine the chicken pieces with the buttermilk in a large bowl, coating them completely. Dredge the pieces in the seasoned flour. Then dip the pieces in the buttermilk and dredge them in the seasoned flour once more, to double-coat the chicken.

4. Fry the chicken, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil until deep golden brown, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Drain on a paper-towel lined plate and serve immediately.

And in case you missed it the last time I made this:

Pappardelle Alfredo
adapted fromSaveur
Serves 2

8 oz. pappardelle
1 stick butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 1/2 c. grated Parmesan
8 oz. steamed broccoli

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pappardelle and cook according to package instructions.

2. In a large bowl, combine the butter and Parmesan.

3. When the pasta is done, drain, reserving about 3/4 c. pasta water. Add the pasta to the bowl of butter and cheese and toss until thoroughly combined. Add the broccoli and toss again to combine. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

if the rain comes

Ah, fall. Thanks for coming to us. It's actually supposed to rain three days this week! "Day" 1 was last night - it was lovely to wake up to sprinkles on the lawn.

By the time I got home from work, there was a definite chill in the air - soup was in order. I was afraid going with this Tomato Egg Drop Soup was Asian overkill - third meal this week - but even with the addition of fish sauce, it wasn't specifically Asian to me. And pairing it with Duck Fat Grilled Cheese Sandwiches moved it even further away from that territory.

That's right. I said Duck Fat Grilled Cheese. And I nearly died on first bite. And to think I would never have experienced such transcendant flavor had I not simply run out of butter. It's not even a recipe - melt duck fat, rub some bread in it, top bread with grated baby Swiss, then grill as you would normally. Matty went in for seconds. I nearly joined him, but had already had way too much soup.

Oh yeah, the soup. That's what we were talking about here, wasn't it? It's really delicious, and the perfect way to transition from summer to fall - the tomatoes were still sweet and good, but turned creamy and comforting with a whirl in the blender (I didn't feel like struggling with random bits of tomato peel so I pureed everything) and the addition of 4 eggs (as opposed to 2 in the original recipe). I kind of wish the eggs were more ribbon-like, but they also fulfilled their purpose of thickening and enriching the broth. I think next time, I'll use two to thicken the broth, and the other two to make really thin omelettes (crepes if you will), and cut those into ribbons to swirl into the soup. Hm, I do have leftovers. Maybe I'll do it tomorrow - it's supposed to still be raining.

Tomato Egg Drop Soup
adapted from Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen via Serious Eats
Serves 4

2 T. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced into half moons
1 lb. ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 T. fish sauce
1/2 lb. ground pork
5 1/2 c. water
4 eggs, lightly beaten

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan set over medium heat. When shimmering, add the onion and cook until golden and soft, about four minutes. Add the tomatoes, stir well, then cover the saucepan and cook until the tomatoes have broken down, about five minutes. Stir occasionally, and turn down the heat to prevent the tomatoes from sticking.

2. Transfer the tomato-onion mixture to the jar of a blender, and puree until smooth. Return to the saucepan, and add the fish sauce and pork. Stir well with a wooden spoon to break the ground pork up into little pieces. Pour in the water, raise heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for 15 minutes. While soup is simmering skim off any scum that rises to the surface with a spoon.

3. Turn off the heat, and then pour the lightly beaten eggs into to saucepan in a wide circle. Then stir gently with a wooden spoon to break the egg up into chiffon-like pieces. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with cilantro.

Monday, October 3, 2011

there's no limit

I've gotten into a real Chinese fast food kick. The sauce for this Five-Spice Broccoli could be any dark brown gravy that Chinese food generally swims in, but then you get into the kick of the five-spice, and the sweet earthiness really makes it special.

I can't really wax poetic about broccoli and mushrooms over rice, but I'm definitely glad to have this sauce in my repertoire. It would be great with tofu, chicken, any of a variety of vegetables - the possibilities are limitless!

Five-Spice Broccoli
adapted from Le Sauce
Serves 2

12 oz. broccoli florets
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, halved
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1/4 c. water
1 t. corn starch
4 T. soy sauce
2 T. oyster sauce
2 t. Sriracha
2 t. sesame oil
1 t. five-spice powder

1. Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and allow it to heat, then add mushrooms. Cook undisturbed on their cut side for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add all of the broccoli, and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes, until the broccoli starts to turn a bright green. Add a little water, less than 1/4 cup, cover the broccoli with a lid and allow it to cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. In a small measuring cup, mix the water and corn starch. Add the soy sauce, oyster sauce, Sriracha, sesame oil and five-spice powder, and mix well to combine.

3. Push the vegetables to the sides of the pan and add the sauce to the middle of the pan. Allow it to cook and thicken slightly, stirring, for 15-20 seconds. Mix the vegetables into the sauce, and cook for another minute. Serve over fresh, hot rice.