Thursday, September 17, 2009

P.F. Mai Ling's Spicy Eggplant with Chicken

When it comes to going out for Chinese food, I'm about as snobby as you can get. It's pretty much International District, or you're going to see some disgusted looks on my face. So what if I act like a child? I'm just spoiled by Mom's cooking!

But the truth is, I love it when my girlfriends plan a date at P.F. Chang's. Not that I'm admitting they necessarily serve real Chinese food, but they do a good job of making everything so darn attractive and tasty. Actually, I really wouldn't know about everything, because I always order the same thing when I go there: Ground Chicken and Eggplant. I suppose I ventured from my usual fare a couple of times, but I always go back to this dish because it's so close to perfection. Finally, I decided I should try to make it myself. So I scoured the Web, but the closest I came to was this recipe on CDKitchen.

I made a few changes, and although it's still not as sweet and saucy as P.F. Chang's version, it's probably better for me this way.

Spicy Eggplant with Chicken
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 T. soy sauce
1 t. red wine vinegar
1/2 t. sugar
2 t. garlic chili paste
3 T. vegetable oil, divided
1/2 t. salt
1 lb. Asian eggplant, cut in bite-sized chunks
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 T. grated ginger
2 scallions, chopped and divided
1 t. sesame oil
1/2 c. chicken stock
1 t. corn starch
2 T. Hoison sauce

Pulse chicken in a food processor until it's ground. Move to bowl and stir in soy sauce, red wine vinegar, sugar and garlic chili paste. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add 2 T. vegetable oil and salt. Cook eggplant for about 5 minutes, until soft, then remove from skillet.

Place remaining 1 T. vegetable oil and sesame oil in pan. Cook garlic, ginger and half the scallions for about 30 seconds, then add the marinated ground chicken and stir until cooked through. Stir chicken broth and corn starch together, then add to skillet and stir quickly until evenly distributed. Add Hoison sauce, the remaining scallions and cooked eggplant, and mix well.

Serve with rice.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Roasted bell peppers make the pasta sauce

I can't be the only one out there who simply can't stomach jarred spaghetti sauce. I'd rather open up a can of crushed tomatoes and simply heat it with some olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. There's something about the flavor that is so, oh, I don't know, I guess artificial.

If I have a little more time to spend on the sauce, though, my favorite thing to add is roasted bell peppers. Previously I've used a recipe that has you halve plum tomatoes and roast them for an hour at 375 with a red bell pepper and an entire clove of garlic wrapped in foil. The garlic part I'm a big fan of, but I think I might actually prefer simply using a can of tomatoes. Some people might think you're sacrificing flavor, but it's so much easier -- not to mention skinless.

Here's my new favorite pasta recipe. It makes enough for about four generous helpings that require bread to slop up the extra:

Roasted Bell Pepper Sauce
3 red, orange or yellow bell peppers
1/2 onion
14.5-ounce can tomatoes
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t. kosher salt

Heat grill on high. Rub 1 T. olive oil on the cut side of the olive. Leave the skin on. Place onion cut side down on grill along with whole bell peppers. Check peppers every 5 minutes and turn to char the entire pepper. Turn the onion once or twice while peppers are cooking. When peppers are blackened and onion is soft, remove from grill. Place peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

After vegetables are cool enough to handle, chop the onion, then remove the skin and seeds from the peppers and chop them. Place onion, peppers and tomatoes in a food processor and pulse until the sauce is well blended.

Heat 2 T. olive oil over medium-high in a skillet and cook garlic for about a minute. Add sauce and salt, and cook until heated through. Mix with your favorite pasta, and serve with fresh Parmesan.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Let the roll-making begin

You now how most people, when they get a bread machine, it just goes in their garage and gathers dust until they decide to sell it at a garage sale? Well, that's not me. I don't remember how I got obsessed with the idea of making bread, but right before I made my first loaf from scratch, Mom offered to give me her bread machine instead.

I was always anti the square loaves, until my friend Chelsea, who's a trained chef with impeccable taste, convinced me that they're not so bad. Pretty much any food-related item that Chelsea gives her stamp of approval to becomes good enough for me that easily. I am so gullible.

So began the obsession with baking break. It started with the recipes that came with the bread machine. But then I came across Beth Hensperger's "The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook," and I think it might have been love at first sight. I started making the recipes from front to back, then I got sidetracked by a few and now I'm all over the place. But I never strayed from loaves.

OK, I sculpted a few lopsided pizza crusts and calzones that started off in the bread machine, but I was really scared of anything having to do with cutting the dough into chunks. Rebekkah Denn once tried to convince me that cinnamon buns are easy to make after I marveled at her ability to make these overnight rolls and take care of her two children, but to no avail.

However, last night, I didn't really have a choice when Bryan came home with a delicious-smelling smoked port butt from his SouthPaw BBQ buddy. Well, I suppose I could have gone BACK to the store to get hamburger buns, but who wants to go to the grocery store twice in a day? That is just silly. It makes much more sense to just decide on a whim at 5 o'clock at night to make hamburger buns from scratch.

Oh my gosh, it was so easy! Why have I been scared of dough my whole life? I suppose it has to do with Mom's countless failures at getting it to rise, but that's when the bread machine comes in handy. The rest just takes a gentle touch and a lot of flour.

Now take a look at this scrumptiousness ...

Monday, September 7, 2009

The closest you can get to grilling risotto

As if we're going to let a little rain keep us from grilling. It is Labor Day weekend after all. Aren't barbecues a required event to see off summer?

And besides, I can't resist all the sale items that just beg for the grill. Yes, that's Mom's fault. She even called me this week specifically to tell me about a certain sale on steak and was trying to buy me an extra package to put in my freezer. I do not need extra packages of steak hanging out in my freezer. That just sounds like trouble. Not to mention that I'm gluttonous enough on my own, since I bought a package with three HUGE steaks in it -- and I spent a good hour the last two days pondering how I could use the third one on Day 2 without making another trip to the store.

Then it came to me: one of our favorite dishes, risotto, but this one I'd make barbecue style. We marinated the steaks overnight using Mom's recipe, but this time I added a mutant-sized clove of garlic that was equivalent to about three. Cooking in advance for the risotto meal, I threw an onion and a red bell pepper on the grill, using extra-virgin olive oil infused with garlic and sun-dried tomatoes that Mom made in her dehydrator (and grew in her garden!). And I made an extra ear of corn for the risotto, too, with the infused olive oil, salt and pepper rubbed all over it and cooked in foil over the flames.

Barbecue Steak Risotto
4 c. beef broth
2 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. arborio rice
1/2 c. white wine
1 grilled onion, chopped
1 grilled red bell pepper, deseeded, skinned and chopped
1 grilled ear corn, cut off cob
2 green onions, chopped
1 lb. leftover grilled steak, cut in bite-sized chunks or strips
Parmesan cheese for garnish

Heat broth in a medium sauce pan and keep on low heat while you make the risotto.

Heat a second larger, heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat, then add olive oil and garlic. Cook for 30 seconds, then add arborio rice and stir for 2 minutes. Add wine and let simmer until wine is absorbed. Gradually stir in broth in 1/2 c. increments, waiting for the liquid to be absorbed before adding more broth. Stir frequently -- a wooden spoon with a long handle works best. When all the broth has been used (this usually takes about a half-hour), add onion, pepper, corn and green onion, and continue stirring until heated through. Add the steak and continue stirring until heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve with Parmesan cheese on the side.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

If money's tight, try Chicken Gizzards

Even though Mom slaved over the barbecue and made us steak and ribs this week, some of the simplest accompanying dishes that she made are some of my favorites. I could eat this trio nightly and be happy: Stir-fried Chinese Broccoli, Chicken Gizzards and Spare Ribs.

I see you grossing out over the Chicken Gizzards, but I've been eating them my whole life - since long before I knew that not everybody thinks of them as the delicacy that they are.

If you like dark meat on chicken, there's no reason you won't like gizzards. And besides, they're cheap and this recipe is easy, so why not give it a try?

By the way, if you're a cilantro fan, Mom usually puts some in unless she remembers her hater daughter is coming over. Yes, for those of you who don't know, I hate cilantro with a passion and Mom tends to forget that because I think it literally pains her. She seems to think that Asians are genetically programmed to like cilantro, and that something is seriously wrong with me.

Since she and I are the only ones who eat the gizzards in the family, you'd think she'd remember to at least leave it out of the one dish she's making especially for us to share. But the last time she served me gizzards she'd put cilantro in them, and of course I took one bite and I knew. Needless to say, she was not happy that I wouldn't eat our special dish. I figured she learned her lesson. I guess she kinda did, though, because this time after she put cilantro in the gizzards, she remembered my cilantro hatred and washed each individual gizzard with a only mother's love. But my supertaster taste buds could still taste the devil's weed, and I couldn't indulge like I usually do. Poor Mom. Denied by her hater daughter.

Well, give this recipe a try. And let me know if you prefer it with or without cilantro!

Chicken Gizzards
1 pound chicken gizzards, washed well
1-2 t. sesame oil
2 scallion, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. soy sauce
1-1/2 t. sugar

Heat sesame oil in a medium-sized sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and scallion, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add gizzards, soy sauce and sugar, and mix well. Cover and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes, until gizzards are cooked through.