Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Halibut with Thai curry passes the test

Mom's the kind of person you simply avoid cooking for. Everything's too greasy, too creamy, too cheesy, etc. But there are a few dishes that actually pass the Mom test, and very few of them are easy to make.

However, I can share one dish that is relatively simple, and it also happens to be one of the first that made me actually feel like a success in the kitchen. It might have still been too creamy for her taste, but it had to have been good enough, or everyone at the table would have known.

I first found the recipe in Bon Appetit back in October 2004 in the "Readers' Favorite Restaurant Recipes" section. I looked up the restaurant, Eartha's in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., but its Web site is down and there's very little new info. Guess I'll just assume the worst in this economy. But thank you, Eartha, for this delicious dish! Anyhoo, I seem to be unable to now locate the recipe on Epicurious, so I guess I'll just have to type out my cellophane-covered recipe (how geeky but yet intelligent is that?).

A few notes about the recipe. I am now channeling Mom when I say, "4 tablespoons of butter?!" One or two tablespoons are more than enough, really. I mean, who ever heard of bok choy and butter anyway (it's actually quite tasty, which I can admit since Mom doesn't read my blog because she can't stand to look at "the box")? And also, I had a hard time finding yellow curry paste until I found a huge tub of it at Uwajimaya. So let me know if you'd like to borrow some! Oh yeah, and as you may have noticed from the picture, I forgot the green onion tops. I always forget the garnish! And lastly, if you're looking for nice halibut but don't want to pay Whole Food prices, I got my cut at Costco and it was quite perfect.

And here's what you've been waiting for:

Roasted Halibut With Shitake and Bok Choy in Thai Curry Sauce
1 13.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 c. low-salt chicken broth
1 T. yellow curry paste
1 T. curry powder
1 T. (or more) fresh lemon juice (optional)
2 T. vegetable oil
4 6- to 8-ounce halibut fillets (about 1-inch thick)
4 T. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1-1/2 pounds shitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1 pound baby bok choy, leaves separated from core
1 cup chopped green onion tops

Preheat oven to 450 F. Bring coconut milk, chicken broth, curry paste and curry powder to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon, whisking occasionally, about 3 minutes. Add lemon juice to taste.

Heat vegetable oil in heavy large nonstick ovenproof skillet over high heat. Sprinkle halibut with salt and pepper. Add fish to skillet and sear until browned, about 3 minutes. Turn fish over and place skillet in oven. Roast fish until just opaque in center, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt butter in heavy large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add mushrooms and saute until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-high. Add bok choy; saute until leaves begin to wilt and stems soften slightly, about 5 minutes. Season vegetable mixture to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon 1 tablespoon curry sauce onto each of 4 plates. Top with vegetable mixture, then fish. Spoon remaining sauce over fish, sprinkle with green onions and serve.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

We eat this lemony goodness for Dad

Mom makes more than just spectacular Chinese food. She also makes a mean Lemon Meringue Pie. Of course, that’s a recipe passed down from my dad’s mom, a recipe that was one of his absolute favorites. Along with anything else that was lemony, or sugary …

Anyway, the last time Mom made one, he-who-will-not-be-named accidentally destroyed the entire meringue so we had to make a new one at my house. (Was it really his fault considering the pie was haphazardly placed in a plastic grocery bag?) And, despite the fact Mom probably hadn’t made this pie for at least five years before this particular morning, she had the entire recipe memorized.

Needless to say, I didn't watch carefully enough, because my meringue turned out a little less stiff than it should of. But it still tastes mighty fine. Hey, practice makes perfect!

We eat this pie in honor of my father, who we lost 13 years ago today. Be sure to eat it with some Talking Heads or Oingo Boingo in the background, and maybe a motorcycle hanging out in your living room.

Lemon Meringue Pie

1 9-inch pie crust

1-1/2 c. plus 4 T. sugar

1/3 c. flour

1/3 c. corn starch

1/2 t. salt

2 c. boiling water

1/2 c. lemon juice

1 T. lemon zest

3 eggs at room temperature, separated

Poke holes in pie crust with fork and bake at 450 Fahrenheit until golden, about 10 minutes.

Mix 1-1/2 c. sugar, flour, corn starch and 1/2 t. salt in a pan. Slowly pour in boiling water and cook at a slow boil until thickened. Remove from heat, then add lemon juice and zest. Mix, and add egg yolks.

To make meringue, mix egg whites until soft peaks form. Add 4 T. sugar and a dash of salt. Gently pour meringue on top of pie, then create peaks with a knife.

Bake at 400 for about 10 minutes, until meringue peaks turn golden.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Turn up the heat, really high

Apparently, the key to Chinese cooking is the smoke. Maybe that's why my stir-fry never tastes as good as Mom's! I'm scared to turn the temperature past medium-high, but the smokey flavor is where it's at. Mom shows you how it's done.

No, that's not steam, it's smoke that filled the whole house for about 15 minutes. And all she did was slice up a couple of tomatoes, sprinkle them with salt, then push them around in canola oil for a couple of minutes in a REALLY HOT cast-iron skillet. Too hot even for olive oil, she says. To top it off, she threw in a handful of fresh chives from her garden to absorb some of the tomatoes' juices for a tasty garnish.

Less scary are the veggies she grilled along with her much-loved Barbecue Chicken, which I should add she always serves boneless, because she cuts the meat off so she can use the bones to make homemade chicken broth. The woman is a nonstop cooking machine, I'm telling you!

Anyway, back to the veggies. Sick of your onions and peppers falling through the grill? Try Mom's trick: Cut sweet onions and bell peppers in half, making sure to leave the skin and ends on to keep them from falling apart. Sprinkle them with a little salt and olive oil, and put them on the grill for about 10 minutes on medium heat, but check often and turn when necessary. Mom turned the heat off and let them sit a little bit longer, so they weren't too charred, but were instead nice and mushy. Peel the skin off the onion and cut it in quarters, then cut off the membrane of the pepper and serve it in thick slices. Yummy goodness. A simple meal packed with flavor!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sweet & Sour recipe a blast from the past

I dropped by to see my parents this weekend and was greeted by looks of confusion when I told them I'd finally started the blog about Mom's cooking. Once again, I started explaining what a blog is, then they figured out what I was talking about and Mom rushed into the other room. Then she handed me a photocopy of a recipe from Charlie's days as a real estate agent.

Smart guy. Instead of offering Popsicles or whatever it is agents usually offer at open houses, the smell of freshly cooked Chinese food wafted out of the houses he was showing. And one even included a recipe for her Sweet & Sour Pork, and as a bonus featured a cute picture of Mom in her Safeway uniform (?).

It's sure a sign of the times. Besides the fact Mom's hair is now much shorter and has been for, oh, I'd say 10 years, she also doesn't really deep-fry anything anymore. Maybe some calamari or egg rolls for special occasions, but otherwise oil is very taboo these days.

Meanwhile, Charlie's been urging Mom to write a cookbook for years, so I hope he can at least be happy with this blog. Unfortunately, it's unlikely to make any of us any money, but perhaps we'll at least make some friends with it!

Here's the recipe (plus a few copy editing tweaks) just in case the jpeg isn't quite clear enough.

Sweet & Sour Pork
3/4 lb. boneless pork
2 T. dry sherry
Freshly ground black pepper
1 T. cornstarch
1/2 c. water
1 T. ketchup
5 T. sugar
1 T. soy sauce
2 t. red wine vinegar
Oil for deep frying
3 T. oil
1 green pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced *
1/2 onion, sliced into rings *

2 egg yolks
2 T. all-purpose flour
2 T. tablespoons water

3-4 lemon slices
Sliced carrots
Onion rings *

Cut pork into strips. Sprinkle with half of the sherry and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Mix the cornstarch with a little of the water, then stir in the remainder together with the ketchup, sugar, soy sauce, remaining sherry, vinegar and 1 t. of the salt.

Beat together the egg yolks, flour and water to make a smooth batter. Heat oil to 350 F. Dip pork into batter then deep-fry until golden brown. Drain and keep hot.

Heat 3 T. oil in pan. Add the green pepper and onion. Stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce mixture and cook, stirring, until thickened. Add the deep-fried pork strips and mix well.

Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the lemon slices, topped with carrot slices and onion rings. SERVE HOT!!!

* Note from she who ruins Mom's recipes: This is an old recipe, so I don't know if Mom just cooks differently now or if she was trying to make the recipe easier to make. But now she would probably cut the onions into julienne strips and peppers into bite-size chunks, so about 2 inches. Also, I've never seen her garnish anything with onion slices, but feel free to do so if you like! Here's my attempt and Bryan and I both were not impressed with the raw onions on top. But everything underneath was fabulous!

Monday, June 1, 2009

The older the rice, the better it fries

The last time Mom made her Fried Rice for a party I was going to, everybody there wanted to know what the secret was. I know it sounds gross, but the secret is old rice. And since the rice we'd used was nearly a week old and had been drying out in a plastic grocery store bag in her fridge the whole time, I really wasn't kidding.

Of course, when my mom makes Fried Rice, it's one of those everything-but-the-kitchen-sink recipes. In addition to bacon, she also added a crumbled-up bratwurst, then cooked up some chopped celery, bean sprouts and sliced green onions with the other veggies. I would have added the same if I had the ingredients, but like her, I just use what's in the kitchen whenever I make Fried Rice.

So the following should be taken as more of a base recipe. Be sure to add any of your favorite ingredients: cooked chicken, Chinese sausage (yum!), water chestnuts, cooked carrots, bamboo shoots, baby corn, etc. And if you're going meat-free, just add a little more sesame seed oil or vegetable oil when you cook the veggies. And have fun!

Fried Rice
4 cups cooked rice (2 cups uncooked)
1 t. vegetable oil
2 eggs, scrambled
2 slices bacon, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1 c. frozen peas, thawed
2 t. soy sauce, divided
1 t. sesame oil, divided
1 t. salt, divided

Heat oil in nonstick skillet and cook scrambled eggs as you would an omelette. Flip when the bottom is done and try to keep it pretty. Remove from pan when done, then cut into bite-size strips after it cools.

Cook bacon over medium-high heat until crispy, then remove with slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate. Add onion to bacon grease and cook for 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add bell pepper and cook for 3 more minutes. Add about 1/2 t. salt, then remove vegetables from skillet and set aside.

Put 1/2 t. sesame oil in skillet and cook put half the rice in the skillet. Smoosh it down a little with a spatula, and let it cook for a minute or two. Use a spatula and chopsticks to turn the rice over and smoosh it down some more. Keep cooking and turning for another couple of minutes until clumps begin to form, but don't let the rice burn. Add about 1 t. soy sauce and mix well, then set aside with cooked veggies and cook remaining rice in same manner.

Put everything - cooked veggies, rice, thawed peas, 1/2 t. salt, sliced eggs and cooked bacon - in the skillet and mix well. Add more soy sauce or salt to taste.

Chinese Barbecue Pork sans the red dye

Unfortunately, my mom is not the only chef in the family who doesn't believe in measurements. My aunt and uncle also fall into that category. They make a mean poor man's barbecue pork that I have tried many times to emulate, but so far I have been unsuccessful. It's still better than that stuff you can buy at the grocery store that is a scary red color and dry as a bone, though!

Here's my most recent rendition, which I tried this weekend and will be finishing off tonight with some fried rice. You can expect that recipe tomorrow.

4 pounds country-style boneless pork ribs
1 c. hoison sauce, divided
1/2 c. chicken broth
1 t. salt

Mix 1/2 c. hoison sauce, chicken broth and salt in a zip-top plastic bag. Add pork and marinate overnight.

Place on grill, then brush on remaining sauce as the pork continues to cook.

My aunt and uncle also cook this in the oven at 350 degrees, for about 30 minutes. I always use a meat thermometer, though, just to be safe.