Tuesday, September 16, 2008


My interesting take on gyoza (Japanese dumplings), which I could eat all day until I'm fat.. or... fatter, I suppose. Anyway, I changed some of the traditional ingredients. I still use the requisite ground pork, but I switched the bok choy for red cabbage and added some traditional Thai flavors as well. The result is a deliciously different dumpling - and since mine often come out of the pan in one sticky lump that has to be plucked apart, and I make rather ugly pleats in them, I dubbed them 'lumplings' instead. The cabbage is prepared sweet and the pork savory; the two are then combined, wrapped, and pan fried to create a delicious harmony of Eastern flavors.

Usually dumplings are filled with raw filling, and then either steamed or fried long enough to cook the meat through. I find that using cooked filling instead of raw, while slightly messier when filling, reduces cooking time greatly and allows the first batches to stay hot while the last are cooking, enabling everyone to eat at once and letting me sit down through the meal.

The odd ingredients:
Dumpling wrappers are available in all Asian supermarkets and in many grocery stores, usually frozen; you can also make your own, but I find the process unnecessarily laborious and prefer the convenience of inexpensive frozen wrappers. Galangal is a root popular in Thai cooking, and is similar to ginger; ginger can be substituted if none is available, but the flavor and aroma are noticeably different. I use a jarred variety of galangal that keeps well in the fridge for a long time, since I use it infrequently. Shrimp paste is a hideous smelling pinkish-grey Thai paste made of shrimp and salt, and is available in jars in Asian supermarkets.

1 rounded tsp shrimp paste
1T sesame oil
2 cups diced red cabbage
1/2 cup water
1T packed brown sugar
2 cloves garlic
1 scant tsp galangal
1T mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine)
1T komezu (rice vinegar)
1/2 pound ground pork
1T shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), plus additional for dipping
1 package round dumpling wrappers

Wrap the lump of shrimp paste well in aluminum foil and cook in a heated skillet over medium heat for about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Add the sesame oil to the skillet and heat until just smoking; add cabbage and stir-fry for 5 minutes. Add water, sugar, garlic, galangal, and mirin to the skillet, stirring well to combine, and simmer cabbage until the liquid has evaporated. Transfer cabbage to a mixing bowl and add the pork, shoyu, and cooked (unwrapped) shrimp paste to the skillet. Fry over medium heat until well-cooked. Add pork mixture to the cabbage, mix thoroughly, and allow to cool to room temperature.

Get some water boiling, or have very hot tap water available. Now, get ready to fill the dumplings. Set out your dumpling wrappers, the filling, and a small bowl half full of lukewarm water. To make the dumplings, dip a finger in the water and wet the edge of one wrapper. Spoon a scant tablespoon of filling into the center, and fold roughly in half, making little pleats along the top edge. When you have 20 or so made, heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat and arrange as many dumplings as will fit, flat (unpleated) side down. Fry them until the bottoms are browned and crispy. Add boiling or very hot water to come about 1/3 of the way up the dumplings; cover immediately and steam about 3 minutes, or until dumplings become shiny and darker in color. Remove lid and continue steaming until water has evaporated; dump into a large covered serving dish and start cooking the next batch in the same way (more oil will have to be added with each batch). Serve hot with shoyu for dipping.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Curry and rice

Continuing with my love of Japanese food, one of my favorite Japanese dishes is a good curry and rice (karee raisu). It's something that's quick to fix, nutritious, warm and comforting, and the family loves it. The ingredients are very basic and I always have them on hand. When I have no idea what to make for dinner, I whip up a quick curry and rice and everyone's happy.
Japanese curry has an interesting history. S&B Foods, the first company to produce a Japanese-made curry powder, has a lovely page on their website dedicated to the Japanese curry story. Do read it; it's an interesting bit of cultural and culinary history, and will help you to better understand this wonderful dish.

I'm not providing an actual recipe here - sometimes I use S&B's packaged curry mix, which you can find in Asian supermarkets and many grocery stores, but when I do make curry from scratch I never know exactly how much of what I put in it. The first time I made curry and rice, about 8 or 9 years ago in an electric skillet in my college dorm room, I didn't use a recipe, and I still don't to this day. The basic ingredients are listed below; experiment and taste until you come up with something you like.

The basics:
  • Beef, chicken, or pork (beef is the most traditional and tastiest)
  • a few carrots and potatoes
  • an onion
  • beef or chicken boullion
  • yellow curry powder, mild or hot, to taste
  • cornstarch or other thickening agent
It's pretty straightforward: Chop up the meat, carrots, potatoes, and onions. Cook the meat in a large pan with a little oil; when it's done, add the veggies and cook about 5-7 minutes more, covered. Add the boullion and bring to a boil. Mix cornstarch with a little water and stir into pot. Add the desired amount of curry powder. Simmer about 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Serve with rice.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Fix-you-up chicken soup.

Anyone who knows me well enough knows I love Japanese food. Most of those people also know that my family (particularly the man of the house) do not. Sure, he'll eat yakitori when cornered into taking me to a sushi bar, and he likes gyoza as long as there's no cabbage in them, but he won't touch most everyday Japanese staples. The thought of eating traditional miso soup, made with fish stock and sea vegetables, repulses him. It's a great, healthy meal or snack and I wish I could just hold him down and pour it down his throat, but he's too big for me to beat up.

Right now, however, he's sick. Since sick men are worse to be around than colicky babies, I decided to take matters into my own hands and make some chicken soup. Miso chicken soup, to be exact. There are those that don't believe in the power of chicken soup when you're sick, but it's a simple fact that salty liquids help keep you well-hydrated, and being hydrated plays an important part in getting better - just ask my mother. Miso is not only salty, but it is also made from soybeans and brown rice, the general health benefits of which cannot be touted enough.* It is also tasty and adds a lovely layer of complexity to the flavor of any dish, which never hurts. Combine it with other delicious and nutritious ingredients, and you have a soup that's sure to perk you up any day.

Fix-you-up chicken soup

2 tsp sesame oil
1 1-inch knob of ginger, peeled and cut in half
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
1 small onion, diced, preferably a sweet variety
1 cup carrots, sliced or julienned
1 cup potatoes, diced
a generous splash of sake, preferably Gekkeikan
2 cups chicken broth or boullion
4 cups water
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 large handful of brown rice
1/4 cup brown miso (akamiso) paste**

Heat oil on medium-high in a large pan. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring briskly, about 30 seconds. Add onion, carots, and potatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes. Deglaze the pan with sake and cook an additional minute before adding broth, water, chicken, and rice. Simmer soup about 20 minutes, or until chicken is well-cooked and vegetables and rice are tender. Remove chicken and dice; return to pot and add miso, stirring well to dissolve. Serve in a big bowl with a warm blankie and box of tissues.

* I am not a health professional, and make no claims about the health benefits of eating the above soup. It just makes me feel better when I eat it. But while you're online, why not Google the health benefits of garlic, soybeans, ginger, brown rice, and the other ingredients in this soup?

** White miso makes a good substitution if brown is not available. Miso paste can be found in Asian or Japanese grocery stores, many health food stores, and some grocery stores. Real miso is completely gluten-free.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A riddle.

What's better than sex and almost as good as a cocktail?

Homemade truffles. I used Epi's recipe for caramel-dark chocolate truffles. I am now inspired to create all kinds of delicious handmade chocolate treats, now that I've got the basics down. They were pleasantly easy (though time-consuming), and unbelievably delicious. The fleur de sel adds a lovely note of complexity to what would otherwise be a very flat-tasting candy. Try some for yourself, and look for future truffle experimentation here. I'm thinking lime/white chocolate with a very very bittersweet coating (something like Cote d'Or's Noir Brut).

^ Truffles in the making - cocoa coated before chocolate dipping.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mother's little helper.

I'm taking about the caipirinha, the national drink of Brazil. Think of it as Brazil's answer to the margarita. I love cocktails, from the perfect dirty martini (a secret I will never share), to a great cosmopolitan, to a marvelous margarita. This one, however, tops the margarita in my book. So how do we make this delicious drink, you ask?

1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
2 tsp superfine sugar
2 oz cachaca
ice (preferably in fun shapes)

Put 4 lime wedges in a rocks glass. Top with sugar and muddle for about 15 seconds. Toss in ice cubes, pour in cachaca, and stir. Serve (and drink) immediately. Best enjoyed after the kids are in bed. But then again, isn't everything?

Weight Watchers POINTS: 3

Friday, July 4, 2008

What to do with fish.

I'm always a little uneasy around fish. I have a hard time envisioning creative preparations, particularly ones that my family will enjoy. Sure, I have a few safe standards - teriyaki for salmon or tuna, shrimp phat thai, and some nice pan-fried scallops. But still, my partner and daughter don't like anything spicy (she has an excuse - she's four), he hates salmon, and I have yet to try those really tasty scallops out on either of them. Anyway, I got a good deal on tilapia filets this week at the local grocery store, so I decided to try something a little different. Citrus and fish is generally a safe combination, so I've adapted Epi's recipe for pan-seared tilapia with chili-lime butter to suit my family's tastes and to better fit into my Weight Watchers Points. Add a couple of my favorite sides, and you have a tasty meal just about anyone can enjoy.

Pan seared tilapia with chili-lime butter; asparagus and shiitake saute; goat cheese mashed potatoes (serves 3)
Weight Watchers Points per serving: 9

1 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp finely chopped shallot
1/2 tsp lime zest
1 tsp lime juice
1/4 tsp sambal oelek (chili paste)
1/4 tsp salt

3 tilapia filets, about 500 g
1 Tbsp sunflower oil

2 tsp salted butter
75 g asparagus tips, preferably the small Thai variety
75 g shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 2-inch piece of leek (the light green and white part), sliced very thinly
1 tsp dried thyme (not ground)
1 tsp dried parsley

1 pound yellow-flesh potatoes
1 1/2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup vegetable broth or boullion

For tilapia:
Combine butter, shallot, lime zest and juice, chili paste, and salt well in a small bowl. Refrigerate until serving time. Pat fish filets dry and lightly salt on both sides; heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Fry until golden-brown on each side, about 5 minutes. Serve with a dollop of chile-lime butter on top.

For saute:
Melt butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add vegetables and herbs and saute until tender, about 10 minutes.

For potatoes:
scrub and peel potatoes; cut into half-inch thick slices. Boil in salted water until crumbly-tender. Drain well and return to pot. Add goat cheese and mash well. Add broth, 1 tablespoon at a time, mashing until potatoes are desired texture.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sicilian lamb chops (with food porn).

Every now and then I like to splurge on something really luxurious for dinner. It's sort of my subsitute for eating out. I can cook an amazing meal at home for a fraction of the price of eating said amazing meal in a restaurant. Tonight I made lamb, which I've never cooked before but grew to love years ago thanks to my Jordanian neighbors back in the States.

Flipping through my Italian cookbook for a previous night's risotto recipe, I found a delicious-looking lamb preparation that I simply had to try. Well worth the gamble - the chops were tender, juicy, and smothered in a rich pan gravy that was exceptionally good for mopping up with the accompanying fries.

Sicilian lamb chops with pan gravy and rosemary-garlic steak fries (serves 3)
Weight Watchers Points per serving: 8

300 grams lamb chops (about 3 large)
1 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 oz white wine
3 oz beef broth
1 Tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

500 grams (1 pound) yellow-flesh potatoes (about 4 medium)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 180 C.

Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Saute garlic with lamb chops until chops are browned on both sides, about 3 minutes. Deglaze pan with wine; simmer 2 minutes. Add broth, tomato puree, rosemary, and pepper. Stir well and simmer for another 2 minutes. Transfer chops and all pan juices to a glass baking dish, and bake for 35 minutes.

Once the chops are in the oven, scrub (but do not peel) potatoes and cut into 1/8 wedges. Toss potatoes with olive oil, rosemary, garlic powder, and salt in a large covered skillet. Cook on medium heat, turning occasionally to brown all sides, until lamb chops are done.

Serve chops with a heaping serving of fries and plenty of the pan gravy for dipping.

Chinese takeout - at home (part 1).

Lately I've had a real craving for Chinese food. Since moving to the Netherlands six months ago, I've missed what I grew up calling Chinese. Sure, there's really no such thing as real Chinese food in the United States, but here it's even stranger. 'Chinese' takeout here has heavy Indonesian influences, and I don't care much for Indonesian food. So I set out on an online quest to find some good 'Chinese' recpies like I'm used to.

Orange chicken has always been my hands-down favorite at any Chinese takeout place. It's sweet, it's spicy, it's sticky and just plain yummy. This version (much lighter, using white meat chicken and skipping the usual breading and deep-frying) is absolutely delicious, mildly spicy, easy to make, and tastes just like the American Chinese food I'm used to.

Orange chicken with broccoli and steamed rice (serves 3)
Weight Watchers Points per serving: 8

3/4 cup uncooked white rice, such as jasmine or basmati
3 cups broccoli

1 tsp sesame oil
350g boneless, skinless chicken breast (2 breasts), cubed
1 Tbsp soy sauce (or tamari)
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp sambal oelek (chili paste; found in most supermarkets)
2 tsp vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsp dark brown sugar
1 cup orange juice
1 Tbsp cornstarch or 2 Tbsp flour

Cook rice according to package or rice cooker directions. Steam broccoli.

Heat oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until browned. Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl and whisk thoroughly. Add to chicken mixture, stir well, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 6 minutes, or until chicken is well-cooked and no longer pink inside, and sauce is thick.

Serve over steamed rice, with broccoli on the side.

NOTE: For the non-spicy version, omit pepper and chili paste.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving leftovers, part one (sandwiches)

I've been a bit lax about posting new recipes lately, mostly thanks to lack of appetite and energy. But seeing as yesterday was Thanksgiving and I had the patience and stamina to prepare a huge feast for just two and a half people, I figured I should share some of my rather tasty leftover tips.

I've never been big on leftover turkey - always dry and boring, right? Well, since I started braising my Thanksgiving turkey I've discovered that turkey leftovers can, in fact, be a good thing. A very good thing, even. But turkey salad sandwiches get dull about halfway through the first sandwich, and there are still only so many things to do with the leftover meat. Here, however, are a few of my favorites.

Turkey, bacon, and guaccamole sandwich. A delicious twist on the classic club. Layer thick slices of juicy white meat with a couple strips of bacon and a healthy schmear of guaccamole. Not the store-bought fluffy green stuff, mind you. Please be kind to your tastebuds and make your own. It's incredibly simple. Just mash up 3 medium avocados with the juice of a lime, 3 cloves of minced garlic, a diced roma tomato, and salt and pepper to taste. Make sure to let it stand in the fridge for at least 15 minutes before eating (overnight is best, though). Your tortilla chips will thank you, too.

Stuffing. Leftover stuffing makes the best sandwiches, especially if it's homemade. Give it a try - spread on some cranberry sauce (sauce, not the jelly stuff). Turkey is optional.

Roasted garlic turkey salad. Use a puree of roasted garlic and olive oil instead of mayo in a basic turkey salad recipe. Stir in some diced pear and a dash of cumin and you've got one heck of a sandwich.

Cranberry wasabi. Blend a touch of wasabi paste with cranberry sauce and add turkey. The 'cool' spice of wasabi adds a nice zing and will even help clear out stuffy sinuses if you find yourself, like so many others, afflicted with a cold this holiday season.

Enjoy something a little different for leftovers this year, and look for Thanksgiving leftovers - part two (soups), coming soon.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

French onion, an old classic.

French onion soup is so awesome. I had a great bowl last weekend in Santa Fe at that adorable little French cafe at the La Fonda, and have been a bit obsessed with the stuff since (I blame the hormones). I ate an entire pot - about 2 quarts - yesterday all by myself. It did take me most of the day, but I ate it and it was delicious. And even today, I still want more. So while my onions saute, I've decided to post my own simple recipe for this delicious and easy classic. The difference in quantity between the butter and the margarine is due to the water content that makes margarine spreadable, and for a rich broth extra boullion is used. Most of the ingredients are already in your kitchen, and old baguette makes the perfect garnish, as it will be rock-hard, perfect for sponging up delicious broth without turning to starchy mush.

Great easy dish for a cold day or great homemade lunch without having to run to the grocery store. This soup needs no sandwich accompaniment, and is hearty and filling as-is.

Note: I don't recommend using oil instead of butter or margarine. The butter greatly affects the rich taste of the soup, and would be drastically changed if using oil instead. If you're concerned about cholesterol, use a good quality margarine instead. Also, don't try reducing the amount of fat. The onions will be dry, burn easier, and will not become as soft. It's fatty, yes, and it's just one of those dishes that needs to be that way.

Classic French Onion Soup

2 average-sized yellow onions (about 2 1/2 inches in diameter)
1/2 c margarine or 1/3 c salted butter
6 cups hot water
7 1/2 t beef boullion granules (or 7 1/2 cubes or sachets)
sliced 3 day-old baguette
sliced Emmenthal, Jarlsberg, or other Swiss cheese

Slice onions no more than 1/4 inch thick (a mandoline makes quick work of it); melt butter in a very large saucepan and add onions. Saute on low heat for about half an hour, stirring every 5 minutes. Onions will be very limp, slightly browned, and have no crunch left when done. Add water and boullion; bring to a simmer and remove from heat. Serve into bowls, top with baguette slices (about 3 per bowl) and sliced cheese, enough to generously cover baguette. Broil or microwave bowls (make sure your dishes are oven safe if broiling) until cheese is melted. Serve, and don't forget to warn diners to be careful of very hot dishes!

Note for celiacs: substitute gluten-free baguette and make sure the boullion is gluten-free. If you cannot eat dairy use a non-dairy margarine, but I do not recommend non-dairy cheese. Instead skip the cheese and turn your baguette into buttery toasted croutons instead.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Irish food.

I have to declare myself disappointed in Epicurious.com's Going Global feature on Irish cooking. I have found past international features to be comprehensive and truly characteristic of a particular country's cuisine. However, their collection of "innovative and modern" Irish recipes by chef Paul Flynn sorely disappoints. There is not a single really Irish dish among them. I realize that Irish cuisine has suffered its hardships since the potato famine, but today there are a great number of cooks, both professional and otherwise, who serve up real Irish fare without all that frou-frou nonsense. And simply taking ingredients from Ireland and throwing a bunch together does not constitute Irish food.

I never thought I'd say this, but shame on you, Epicurious.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

About tea.

One can never have too many different teas; I have well over 30, though I've lost count, and they take up an entire shelf in my large cupboard. I started to really appreciate the finer points of tea while pregnant with my daughter, now 3 - it's amazing what 9 months without a cocktail will do to you. Appreciating tea is much like appreciating fine wine and spirits. Today I came across Uncle Lee's Tea, and their gunpowder green looked too tempting to pass up.

Gunpowder is a lovely smoky loose tea; the leaves are rolled into little balls before processing (the Chinese call it pearl tea). This supposedly helps it retain better flavor than regular tea. Uncle Lee's brand of gunpowder comes in a vaccuum-sealed brick, inside a can, inside a box - an awful lot of packaging for a small bag of tea, but it makes a difference. When you open the bag it smells really fresh, almost grassy, much the way I imagine fresh tea leaves smell before processing. I've rarely come across teas this fresh, except some brought over by Chinese friends. When brewed it produces a rich golden-colored tea with delicate toasty-smoky flavors and a pleasant strong aftertaste that's not at all bitter. This is just what green tea should be, and Uncle Lee's Tea delivers a beautiful cup of mid-to-high-grade tea at a price that is very reasonable (a little over $7).

But why is green tea called green? All teas come from the leaves of the same plant (the tea plant) - but the 'color' of the tea (white, green, black) denotes the age of the leaves when picked for processing. White are the young, tender leaf buds, and their brew has a very delicate, aromatic, and never bitter flavor; green are still young and have a delicate flavor but can become bitter easily if brewed too long (low-grade greens always brew bitter teas no matter the timing); black are fully matured leaves with rich, full flavor, and make up the characteristic English and European teas such as Earl Grey. Each stage of tea leaf and type of tea is also processed differently. There is a leaf sometimes called red tea, but this is in fact not from the tea plant. It comes from an African bush called rooibos; the leaves produce a sweeter, rich tea and contain no caffiene. The more mature the tea leaf, the higher the caffiene content.

Note: White and green teas should produce golden-hued brews, so be wary of any green tea that makes green-colored tea.

Monday, October 8, 2007

45-Minute Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup)

More pregnancy cravings. I have to admit I had some pretty icky ones when pregnant with my daughter - Big Macs, anyone? This time around my tastes are considerably more refined, if a bit far-flung. I've gone through matar paneer, Creole food, and homemade butternut squash ravioli, not to mention a comprehensive culinary tour of Asia. Last night just as I was dozing off, I realized I simply had to have a hot, steaming bowl of pho. Since a dinnertime jaunt to Viet Nam (or any decent Vitenamese restaurant) was out of the question, I took an afternoon trip to my favorite market today, and spent the evening in the kitchen.

I really, really, really like soup. Any kind of soup. Even when I'm not pregnant. I think God, Siddhartha, and Mohammed all got together one day and decided to create the perfect food. And on the sixth day, there was soup, and they saw that it was good.

But what is pho? A rich beef soup with chewy rice noodles of the sort often used in Thai soups. Tasty toppings abound and include sliced beef, Thai basil, chiles, and scallions. It's traditionally eaten for breakfast or lunch, but is good hearty fare any time of day. If you've never tried Vietnamese food, this is the dish to start with. The ingredients are available pretty much anywhere, and it is not spicy and contains no really exotic or potentially offensive flavors. The traditionally Asian flavors of ginger, fish sauce, and star anise in the broth are very mild and take a backseat to rich, hearty beef. It is said that good pho broth needs to simmer at least 24 hours; Mai Pham's recipe takes only about 2 hours, and is very, very tasty. I do make it her way often enough, but if you have considerably less than 2-3 hours to put on a filling, delicious, and fairly impressive meal, try it this way:

45-Minute Pho
serves about 6

This recipe is gluten-free, but I know you celiacs know to check your stock and fish sauce labels just to be safe.

3 quarts good quality beef stock, broth, or boullion
2 3-inch pieces of ginger root, halved lengthwise and then cut into 1-inch chunks
8 star anise pods, toasted
5 whole cloves, toasted
1 pound of top sirloin, frozen
1 16-ounce package of rice stick noodles (the narrow, linguine-sized variety)

TOPPINGS (use any or all, more is better):
4-6 baby bok choy, leafy parts only, sliced
6 whole Thai chiles, sliced into thin rings
8-10 sprigs of Thai basil, leaves torn
3 scallions, finely sliced
1 pound bean sprouts
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1 lime, cut into 6 wedges
hoisin or plum sauce
Sriracha (hot chile sauce)

Combine broth, ginger, and half of the sirloin (in one whole piece) in a stock pot and bring to a boil. Boil 5 minutes, skimming off any foam or impurities from the beef. Tie the star anise and cloves into a spice bag (or cheesecloth or muslin) and add to the stock. Simmer 40 minutes, covered, occasionally skimming if needed. Place noodles in lukewarm water and soak for 30 minutes. Slice the other half of the frozen sirloin into paper-thin slices with a very sharp knife and set aside to thaw. Other toppings can be prepared while noodles soak and broth simmers. Arrange toppings for serving; they look very pretty in piles on a large serving platter (except for the sauces).

When noodles are done soaking, heat your soup bowls by filling them with boiling water left in until serving time. Keep broth simmering through the last steps. Remove sirloin from simmering broth and cut into paper-thin slices and set aside with the raw beef. Bring 2-3 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, enough to immerse noodles in. Once boiling, toss noodles in and cook very quickly, usually only 30 seconds or so, until cooked but still chewy. Drain noodles and empty water from bowls; divide steaming noodles into bowls and top with cooked and raw beef slices. Ladle on simmering broth and serve. Add any desired toppings at the table.

How to (traditionally) eat pho: Toppings, as many as you like, go anywhere on top, but sauces go to one side or the other of the bowl. Use chopsticks for the noodles and a Chinese spoon for the broth. Alternate between bites of noodles and toppings, and sips of soup. If you're totally hopeless with chopsticks you can use a fork, but don't twirl your noodles up like an Italian. In Viet Nam, good manners dictate that you slurp them from the bowl.

A note on chiles and basil: If you can't find fresh Thai (or 'bird') chiles, the dried ones will do. To use these, trim off both ends, rinse the inside to remove as many seeds as possible, and then soak in warm water for 30-45 minutes. For the basil, don't substitute common sweet basil for Thai (also called holy basil). You can substitute mint instead, or leave it out altogether.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


I've always been a huge fan of ravioli. There seem to be endless varieties that satisfy any palate, and it's really pretty easy to make from scratch. Honestly. What I find so fascinating about it is the way pairing sauces and fillings is really a science. Favorites I've tried in the past include a portobella ravioli with smoked cheese sauce (unbelieveable stuff), standard cheese filling with a nice light, zesty, meatless marinara, Italian sausage with meat sauce, and lobster in cream sauce. One of my real favorites, however, is butternut squash ravioli. I've had it in a pretty standard, run-of-the-mill cream sauce, but this time around I've gone with a lemon cream sauce that I think better complements the sweet, slightly spiced richness of the squash filling. The Chelsea Grill actually serves it in a cider broth that I'm told is very good, but that's just not my thing. Also delicious with the standard brown butter sage sauce.

On the menu this week

After I got over my cravings for Indian, Creole, and frozen pizza (UGH! "Frozen pizza? NEVER."), I moved on to stuffed pastas. Last night I was in such a bad state that I actualy nuked a Healthy Choice cheese manicotti dinner and had to settle for the syrupy sauce, mass-produced pasta, and gluey ricotta filling of the kind that could only come in a black plastic dish. To my pregnant tastebuds, it was kind of tolerable, but I would normally never settle for something like that when all the ingredients for fresh cheese tortellini are in my kitchen already. This got me thinking about why I was aparently too lazy to make fresh pasta, and then I realized it was because I HAVE NO PASTA MACHINE.

Don't get me wrong, I think the electric ones are a total crock. But what I'm talking about are the stainless steel, clamp-on-the-counter, hand-cranked variety that turn out beautiful fresh dough with slightly less effort and slightly more consistent results than doing it by hand. I immediately found one online and made my partner order it for me. However, since it will take about a week to arrive by standard ground shipping, I will be forced to hand-roll a small batch of dough to get me through until then.

So for this week, I am making homemade tomato sauce from fresh roma tomatoes, ratatouille (the recipe I found was in fact adapted from the one that was created for the adorable movie of the same name, which is in my opinion the best movie Disney or Pixar has ever made), butternut squash ravioli in a lemon cream sauce (MMM!), cheese tortellini, and something with fresh green chile (probably chili and maybe a nice tortilla soup) to commemorate my last chile season in New Mexico.

Food For Thought: Boys and Girls

Why is it, do you think, that while most of the people you know who are really great cooks are generally women, most of the professional chefs out there are men? And no, I really don't count Miss Yum-O. I can count on one hand (or maybe just a few fingers) the number of successful female professional chefs I've heard of, while the list of male ones is pretty much endless.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A few words on dairy, part two.

I really do like dairy products. I was allergic to milk for the entirety of my early childhood years, and when I finally outgrew the allergy (which I'm told will probably come back later in life), I went nuts. When I was a kid, we didn't have all the great dairy substitutes we have today. I used to have to eat my cereal with juice, as soy milk was pretty much unheard of. So when I was finally able to eat dairy products again, it was something of a novelty, and I've been a nut for anything milk-related ever since.

Lately, since my accidental butter making session one day (the cream didn't whip, it just turned solid!), I've had an odd interest in making fresh dairy products at home. Sure, I've always made the occasional batch of homemade ice cream, but nothing more. So when I recently came across instructions for making homemade yogurt, I was impressed by how easy it seemed. Fresh yogurt, without all the thickeners and preservatives and nasty things I don't want to feed my children, born or unborn - it can't get much better than this!

Truly, it does not get much better. My first batch of yogurt finished incubating a couple of hours ago, and I was absolutely delighted with the results. While not as thick as commercial yogurts, it is smooth, velvety, and CREAMY. Really creamy. The creamiest yogurt I have ever tasted. Seriously, I can't emphasize the creaminess enough. Even my partner, who is incredibly picky about anything dairy (it's not good enough unless it's Dutch, apparently) was impressed and proclaimed it far superior to any American store-bought yogurt he'd ever tasted. Go me! Homemade yogurt also gives you the ability to control the tartness of the finished product. The longer it incubates, the tangier it becomes. Personally, I like a medium yogurt, not quite as tart as some commercial brands (like Brown Cow). And not only does it taste great, but it's unbelievably economical as well. All it takes is milk (whole, lowfat, or skim, whichever you prefer) and a little yogurt to use as a starter culture, about a quarter cup per quart of milk. The whole batch I made (a whopping 2 quarts) cost less then $2.50, and is totally free from gelatin, food starch, and other icky fillers. Great way to save on organic yogurt as well - just use organic milk.

A few words on dairy, part one.

I love Indian food. My favorite dish, hands down, is matar paneer, or curried peas and cheese. It's not the traditional overpowering yellow curry that some might think of; the fresh peas and mild cheese are wonderfully balanced with just the right note of fragrant spices, fresh tomatoes, and yogurt. It's available where I live in canned (Jyoti brand) or frozen (Amy's Kitchen) form, but as with anything, homemade is much better. The only obstacle in making matar paneer, really, is the paneer (mild, firm Indian cheese). It's not the sort of thing you can buy, unless you're very lucky. A former coworker of mine had made paneer from scratch for a potluck once, and she described the process to me. Having since forgotten the details, I looked around online and found a plethora of sites giving pretty much the same instructions. I won't go into details here, because if you Google "how to make paneer cheese" you'll be inundated with results. Or you can just go here for the best (illustrated) instructions I found. Also great fun to make with young children - my daughter, Maya, loves 'helping' in the kitchen and had a blast with this one. Makes a very cool science lesson for school-aged children as well, and company will always be impressed that you made your own cheese. And all it takes is whole milk, and a little lemon juice or white vinegar.

But what to do with your homemade cheese? There are the traditional Indian dishes, but I know enough people who really don't care for Indian food (two of them live in my house). So for the less Asian-inclined, here are a few creative uses I've discovered myself:
  • Use in place of fresh, whole-milk mozzarella in lasagna and other recipes. Just keep in mind that paneer does not melt, so if it's gooeyness you're after, stick with the mozzarella.
  • Slice and layer with fresh sliced tomatoes, basil, and a little olive oil, salt and pepper for a delicious first course, light lunch, or summertime snack.
  • Chunk up on a salad. Goes great with baby field greens, cucumber, avocado, and even a few shrimp if you like, tossed with a light vinaigrette (balsamic is a bit strong - try something with red wine vinegar instead). Avoid creamy and/or strong dressings, which overpower the delicate flavors of the cheese and avocado.
  • Cube and add to a homemade tomato bisque. The light, creamy taste perfectly complements tomatoes, and the nonmeltingness (is that a word?) is ideal for hot dishes that need a little more texture.
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches. Brush bread with olive oil and stack with sliced paneer. Grill on an actual grill for best flavor, or in a heavy skillet til golden. Particularly good with Jewish rye or another strong-tasting bread, as the cheese lets the flavor of the bread shine through while adding a marvelous note of sweetness. Slip in a couple fresh basil leaves before serving if desired.
  • Just eat it. My three year-old's favorite way to enjoy paneer; chunk it up and enjoy.

I'm sure there are a thousand more things you could do with it, but I'm out of ideas for now. Come up with a few yourself, and let me know what they are!

A cure for the common Warcraft addiction.

I've been so busy in my kitchen the last couple of days I've all but forgotten about World of Warcraft. I couldn't even tell you right now what level my night elf druid is. Instead, I could ramble on about homemade cheese and yogurt, Creole food, and (hold your breath) Thai iced tea. The last is my proudest accomplishment this weekend. Forget that I made half a gallon of the creamiest, most delicious yogurt you've ever tasted. Never mind that there's a vat of red beans and rice, Leah Chase style, waiting in the fridge for tomorrow night's supper. And that jambalaya? A thing of the past. Sure, it's GOOD, but I have not been waiting ages to taste some only to find it's even better than I ever could have remembered.

Now the Thai tea - that's a whole other story. Thai iced tea has been my favorite iced drink ever since my first sip at Lemongrass in Las Cruces over 8 years ago (yeah, I actually remember when and where. It's that freaking good). I couldn't get enough. The tea is lightly and sweetly spiced with cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, and most notably (but not noticeably) star anise. It's rather heavily sweetened and usually tinted with a touch of red food coloring to give that signature reddish orange hue. Then it is poured over ice and topped with a generous amount of either half and half or evaporated milk, and is usually a rich sunset of pale peach to deep, burnt brown-orange when served (the trick is pouring in the milk very slowly so it stays mostly on top, tea on bottom. Sadly, you stir up this work of art before drinking). I once saw a beautiful glass of fresh Thai tea sitting on the shelf of a small Buddhist altar in my favorite Thai restaurant, Dodge City's little-known Thai Angel (no idea if it's still around, but they serve the best Thai food I have ever eaten. Two words: Angel Wings). My only gripe with Thai tea is that no cokbook I've ever come across will tell me how to brew the tea itself; they all simply give instructions for assembling the finished beverage. The closest I ever came was in Victor Sodsook's True Thai, which gave a vague mention of it being spiced mainly with star anise. This is, to this day, the only reason that spice resides in my kitchen.

Anyway, while surfing CHOW during a random bout of insomnia and yogurt-making tonight, I came across a recipe for Thai- and Vietnamese-style iced coffee, and it got me to wondering if they had a recipe for Thai tea. They did, and I immediately rushed to the kitchen and made some in my spiffy Mr. Coffee Iced Tea Maker. I don't actually use this appliance for iced tea all that often - generally I just brew hot in it, as it makes a really lovely pot of strong hot tea without my needing to attend to anything. Anyway, I brewed it hot and stuck the pitcher in the fridge to chill, but not before I thoroughly spoiled myself with a fresh glass over ice, topped with that customary rich, creamy swirl of half and half. It was better than I could have imagined. The black teas I had on hand worked perfectly with the blend of spices, and I was immediatey transported to another galaxy. Fellow Thai tea lovers, you know what I'm talking about. This is not the kind of beverage you can enjoy halfheartedly. For those of you who have never had the pleasure, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?! Make some now. You can thank me later.

NOTE: All recipes linked to in this post are gluten-free. If making the Creole jambalaya or red beans linked above, be sure to check your sausage and ham labels for gluten!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Pregnancy cravings

I know, this is a food blog, and you expect recipes, but I must digress for a moment.

Pregnancy is tough business. There's nothing normal about a pregnant woman. Right now I have more pimples than I did in high school (ok, not quite, but pretty close) in places where I didn't even know you could get them. Between the morning sickness and the heartburn I have too much trouble getting a decent night's sleep. Most mornings all I can choke down are some dry saltines, sometimes with peanut butter, and we won't even go into what's happened to my sex life the last couple months (horrible first trimester, when will you be over?!). But the worst part? I can honestly say it's the cravings. With my daughter I craved Big Macs and Spaghetti O's. That I could deal with. They're easy to come by and require no effort on my part. After all, that's what the man is able to help out with during pregnancy. They fetch, and though they complain, they're good at it and more than obliging. Mine even brings me things that I've previously craved without me even asking, like McDonalds double cheeseburgers (but I need to explain to him at some point that hese cravings are kind of a one-time thing right now).

This time around, however, I crave the weirdest, most varied foods that are usually impossible or difficult to purchase ready-made and require hours of effort on my part to prepare. And the cravings do not just go away if I don't eat whatever my hormones demand. Oh no, they linger until I manage to find the time and energy to make, say, Eggs Benedict in the middle of the night. Or they stick around til I finally fire up the grill and make just the right burger with bacon, cheddar, sliced tomato, grilled sweet onion slices, ketchup, relish, and mustard (yes, I really do demand tomato AND ketchup on a burger. Don't judge me).

What is it today, you might wonder? Matar paneer (Indian curried peas and 'cottage' cheese).