Monday, January 23, 2012

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

It's been a snowy couple of days for us unsnowy people, so I missed a trip to Mom's to celebrate Chinese New Year and had to throw my own, much less traditional affair. Part of the problem is that I don't really understand the tradition, except that it has to do with eating. And that, I can do.

I did, however, make one of Mom's recipes. Well, actually, it's Jamie Oliver's recipe for Monkfish Wrapped in Banana leaves with Ginger, Cilantro, Chile, and Coconut Milk. But since Mom discovered him and this recipe years ago, it has evolved into her creation and hers alone.

Gotta say, I really don't think I ruined this one. You'll notice that the fish, however, is not wrapped in banana leaves, and that is something I definitely picked up from Mom. To be sure, banana leaves would add eons of flavor, but it's so much easier to just use a casserole dish with a lid.

To impress your friends or family, I would suggest following Jamie's delectable recipe, but my way is definitely the easier option! Here's how I made what we'll call:

White Fish with Ginger, Cilantro, Chile and Coconut Milk
Adapted from a recipe by Jamie Oliver

4 (6-to 8-ounce) pieces white fish such as monkfish rock fish, Pacific mahi mahi, farmed striped bass or farmed catfish
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 limes, juiced and zested
1 can (2 cups) coconut milk
2 tablespoons sesame seed oil
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 sticks lemon grass, smashed and chopped in 1/2-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place fish in a casserole dish with a lid. Mix remaining ingredients, except for the lemon grass, in a food processor. Add lemon grass and pour mixture over the fish. Cook until fish is done, about 15 minutes. Remove lemon grass and garnish with sliced green onions, if desired. Serve with rice drenched in sauce.

In yet another Chinese New Year shoutout to Mom, I made Stir-Fried Broccoli that of course tasted nothing like hers. Each time I stir-fry I get closer, but like I've said before, I just need to turn up the heat. Well, at least got the basics down!

Stir-Fried Broccoli with Oyster Sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (or other high-heat cooking oil)
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 onion, sliced
1 bunch broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
Splash rice wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon corn starch
1-2 tablespoons Chinese oyster sauce, to taste

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add vegetable oil, garlic salt and onion. Stir fry until onion begins to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove onion from pan and add broccoli. Cook until bright but not wilted, 4 to 5 minutes. Return onions to pan, and add rice wine. Cover pan and let wine simmer for about a minute. Meanwhile, combine chicken broth and corn starch in a small bowl. Add to the stir-fry with the oyster sauce, and bring to a simmer to thicken the sauce. Serve immediately.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Practicing the art of cutting up a whole chicken

You're probably going to get really sick of me talking about my new cooking class, but with all of the cool stuff I'm learning, I hope I can pass on at least a few little gems of knowledge!

Or maybe even some big gems, like this week's lesson where we learned how to cut up a whole chicken. My parents can cut up chickens with their eyes closed, but despite their efforts to teach me, I've always been scared to do it myself. Even after watching my mostly vegetarian teacher make cutting up a chicken look like a cake walk, I still was scared and took forever making the tiny little cuts.

But this is culinary skill I definitely want to utilize — it's a much more inexpensive way to eat chicken, and it's such a great way to make broth (something we also did in class this week). So since practice makes perfect, I decided to give it a try on my own this weekend while it was still fresh in my mind (and without a teacher grading me on my skills or lack thereof!).

Not to shabby! Well, except for the gorgeous "oyster" in the middle. My still-untrained hand left the tenderest piece of the thigh on the carcass, so I cut it out anyway and just roasted it on its own. Hopefully I won't make that mistake again, but I think it's going to take a few more whole chickens before I get this one down.

We also were given free reign of the spice cabinet to make a roasted chicken breast in class, and I think mine turned out so delicious, I plan to make it again.

Cinnamon-and-Spice Roasted Chicken Breast

You can use any combination of your favorite spices mixed with olive oil to make roasted chicken breast, but on a chilly night this cinnamon-and-spice combination is sure to warm you to the bones.

1 boneless chicken breast, skin intact (or other similar-sized chicken pieces)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
1/4 teaspoon anise seed
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine olive oil and spices on a plate. Place chicken on the plate and rub the mixture onto both sides. Allow to marinate for 5 to 15 minutes.

Heat a dry, heavy skillet to medium-high. When skillet is hot but not smoking, place chicken in skillet, skin-side down. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until it starts to pop and looks cooked on the bottom quarter.

Turn breast over and place entire skillet in the oven for 7 to 10 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow chicken to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Note: For a more intense flavor, try using whole spices and grinding them along with the anise seed and chile flakes.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Roasted Eggplant Pasta sans tomatoes

Anybody have any good recipes for eggplant that don't involve drenching it in oil?

Eggplant Sauce with Tomato and Red Chili Pepper from "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" was the evening's original goal. But when I saw that the recipe called for frying the eggplant slices in 1 1/2 inches of vegetable oil, I wasn't too disappointed that I didn't have the tomatoes needed for the dish.

Instead, I decided roasting it with onion and garlic in extra-virgin olive oil would not only be healthier, but also quite a bit tastier. It ended up being something of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink recipe, but since I had a lot of tasty things in the fridge, it's a combination I would certainly try again.

Still, I admit the end product had a bit more oil (not to mention bacon grease) and salt than I would have used cooking most other vegetables. But maybe both are a necessary evil when cooking with pasta, since they rounded out the dish perfectly.

Penne with Roasted Eggplant
1 medium eggplant, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 medium red onion, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, smashed and divided
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups penne pasta (or other bite-size pasta)
4 slices bacon
4 ounces mushrooms
4 ounces fresh baby spinach
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss eggplant with about 1/4 teaspoon salt in a colander and let sit while you prepare the onion and garlic, from 5-15 minutes. Blot eggplant with a paper towel, then place in 9-by-12-inch baking dish with onion and 2 cloves garlic. Toss with olive oil and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Roast vegetables until fragrant, about 30 minutes, stirring a couple of times to be sure eggplant hasn't soaked in all of the olive oil.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. In a large skillet, cook bacon until crispy, then remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate. Add remaining garlic clove and cook on both sides until brown. Remove garlic clove, then add mushrooms to skillet and stir-fry until they start to lose their juices, about 4 minutes. Add spinach and about 1/4 teaspoon salt, and stir until wilted. Remove from heat.

When roasted vegetables and pasta are finished, add both to the skillet with the bacon and stir well. Add pepper and child flakes; adjust seasonings as necessary.

Top with feta cheese or serve on the side.

I'm learning Soups and Seasoning with Intuition!

So, did I mention that I'm taking a cooking class at my school? And I'm not talking about a measly two-hour cooking class where you learn the basics of Thai cooking or something like that. I'm talking about a full-on, 11-week class through our top-notch culinary program — just another kick-ass perk of working for a natural health university!

Needless to say, Mom and Charlie both were not impressed when I shared with them the big news. I bragged about the knife skills I would learn, Charlie said, "I could teach you that." I bragged about the course title, "Soups and Seasonings with Intuition," and Mom just looked at me like I was a fool to take a class when I could just teach myself to cook like she did.

Maybe I'm just too American, but I want to learn from the experts. I want to learn which foods pair well together and how to make my dishes pretty. And I want to feel confident about the food that I'm making.

So far, not so good. Sure, it's a cooking class, but it's a class that aims to teach us how to cook our own food, so we're not using recipes, we're just being given a topic and told to run with it. Week one was a vegetable broth, and although my decision to add smoked paprika to the mix was a bold one, I'm not sure if it was such a tasty one.

But the whole point of the class is to learn, and learn I already have. Our always-encouraging teacher, Chef Omid Roustaei, told us a secret that I probably should have learned from my mother, but I didn't. Every week, he takes the scraps of all of the vegetables I've been putting in my compost bin (onion skins, carrot ends, kale stalks, etc), and makes broth out of them to make his grains with or even to use as a soup base.

When I'd just cooked up my first batch and told Bryan what I was doing, he pointed out that Mom does that too, except she uses those scraps not necessarily as a broth, but she puts them in the soups she makes each day, which is why every time I have one of her soups the ingredients are different. She puts my wastefulness to shame, even after I've made this beautiful, flavor vegetable stock!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Peppers (and a zucchini) stuffed to the brim

I'd had a giant zucchini from my CSA sitting in the fridge for over the week when I saw a recipe in Family Circle magazine for Stuffed Zucchini. The recipe looked decent, but I thought I could do better. And then I went to Costco and bought a six-pack of peppers, and I kinda went nuts.

It's possible I made too much food for just the two of us. It was certainly enough to discourage me from making this fabulous salad I was envisioning, but hey, that just leaves my creativity intact for another day!

Stuffing for Bell Peppers or Zucchini
Makes enough for 6 bell peppers or 4 medium zucchini
6 slices bacon, chopped
4 ounces spinach
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 ounces crimini mushrooms, halved then sliced
1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
1-2 cups cooked rice
14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1/2 cup shredded cheese

Heat about 1 inch of water in a large pot until boiling. Add spinach, stir until it's just barely cooked (less than a minute), then dump into a collander and immediately stop the cooking process by rinsing with cold water. Squeeze spinach dry, then chop and set aside.

Cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet until it starts to get crispy, about 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels. Pour fat from pan, but leave a nice coating on the bottom.

Add onions and celery to the skillet, and cook until it starts to brown, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and continue stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and stir until mushrooms begin to lose their liquid, about 5 minutes. Add ground turkey and cook until no longer pink. Stir in rice, tomatoes and reserved bacon, then add salt, pepper and chile flakes to taste.

To assemble:
Although a lot of stuffed pepper recipes call for you to cut the tops off and stuff the peppers with raw meat, I prefer my peppers (and zucchini) still on the crunchy side, so I like to cook the filling first, and cut the peppers in half so they take even less time to cook. Not to mention that it's also a heckuva lot easier to fill!

Using this method, I filled 10 pepper halves and 2 zucchini halves (seeds scraped out and saved for a later use) until they were overflowing, then sprinkled them with cheese. Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cook until the cheese begins to brown and the zucchini and peppers are soft to the touch, about 30 minutes

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Gold Potato Gratin stars a Cougar in the Yukon

After our amazing Potato Gratin with Mushrooms and Gruyere on Christmas Eve, I've decided it was time to create my own potato gratin with some Cougar Gold that I'll otherwise keep snacking on late at night or at other times that are hardly ideal.

And since I was making steak with this dish, I decided to try a bit of a healthier route by replacing the heavy cream with whole milk. I'm pretty sure I've made potato gratin in the past with fat-free milk with success, so I thought this would be just as creamy.

Silly me. NOTHING is as creamy as heavy cream, and even thought the whole milk did prevent the gratin from at least turning into a soupy casserole, it was not nearly as decadent as our Christmas Eve gratin.

But it was still a tasty side dish to our simple steak, especially drizzled with white truffle oil!

Gold Potato Gratin
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
2 cups Cougar Gold cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Rub the crushed garlic clove around the sides and bottom of a 2-quart casserole dish with a lid (or use foil). When garlic juice has dried, generously coat the dish with butter.

Layer half the potatoes on the bottom of the casserole pan. Top with half the onions, then sprinkle with half the flour, half the salt and half the cheese. Repeat with the second layer.

Cover casserole, then bake for about 45 minutes, until it starts to bubble. Remove the lid, and cook for until the top begins to brown, about another 15 minutes.

I bet you want to know how I cooked that steak, too.

I kinda cheated this time and used a free Worcestershire-Pepper sample seasoning that's been sitting in my cabinet for way too long. But the real success came from following Leslie's directions on how to cook it (she said to just use a little salt and pepper).

Heat the oven to 350, then heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat until it just starts to smoke. Add about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, swirl to coat, then add the steaks and sear for about 4 minutes or until it starts to smell like it's cooked. Turn the steaks over and place in the oven for about 6-8 minutes, depending on the thickness.

I used beef loin New York steak from Costco that was about 1-1/2 inches thick, and they were perfect after 7 minutes in the oven. So much more even than grilling!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why would I need my own waffle iron?

This Christmas, we got a waffle iron for one of Bryan's sweet young bachelor stepbrothers, and I've been dreaming of buying my own ever since.

But no longer. I finally gave in this morning and got one of the Belgian waffles at the Bastyr Dining Commons, and not only did it soothe my craving, but it also soothed my guilt since I went for the gluten-free option.

There was a time when I planned on officially going gluten-free in 2012, but since I don't believe in New Year's resolutions, we'll see if it ever happens. In the meantime, I'll keep taking baby steps into a fully gluten-free diet. Hard to say no when the options look like this!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Leftover Christmas Ham, Day 5: Stuffed Squash

I've had a beautiful delicata squash sitting on my kitchen table for a little over a week now, just calling out to me. I love squash so much that it's always a struggle to decide on one dish to make. Unfortunately, my favorites are also the most time-consuming: Squash Lasagna and Squash Soup. And then there's the dishes I have yet to try, like this Pumpkin Curry Shrimp or even throwing some squash into risotto.

But most of the time, it just comes down to what's the easiest to make, which means most of the squash that I buy turns into the always-delicious Stuffed Squash. So with just enough leftover Split Pea Soup to make it a side dish, I decided the delicata would make the perfect accompaniment.

Since you can never have too much ham, I replaced the bacon that I often use in stuffed squash with some leftover Christmas Ham, and added kale cooked in some of the juice from the bottom of the ham dish, giving the squash a decadent sweet and salty flavor.

Stuffed Delicata Squash with Leftover Christmas Ham
1 medium delicata squash
1/4 c. raw walnuts
1/2 c. cooked rice
1 T. bacon grease or olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
6 c. uncooked kale (about 4 large stalks), leaves removed from stems and ripped into 1-inch pieces
1/2 c. broth (use ham juice if you have it!)
1/2 c. diced ham
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese

Slice squah in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Cook at 375 degrees Fahrenheit until soft to the touch, about 30 minutes. Roast walnuts in a separate dish for about 10 minutes, stirring once.

Meanwhile, heat medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add bacon grease and garlic clove, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add kale and a sprinkling of salt. Stir until the kale begins to wilt, about 5 minutes, then add broth, reduce heat and cover. Simmer until kale has shrunken in size and lost some of its color, about 15 minutes.

When squash is done, remove from the oven. Scrape flesh into a large bowl. Add kale, walnuts, rice and ham. (Liquid from the kale should be enough to moisten the squash, but you might have to add butter.) Stir well, then scoop back into squash shells. Sprinkle with Parmesan, then place back in oven until cheese begins to brown, about 15 minutes.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Ringing in the New Year with Egg Custards

Since Christmas Day ended up being just a small gathering with Mom and Charlie this year, we made up for it last night with a big party at my Aunt Sandy and Uncle Burly's.

Burly and Sandy prepared an amazing feast with lobster, garlic chicken, egg foo young (with homemade BBQ pork) and Chinese veggies, followed by everyone's favorite dim sum snack: Egg Custard.

Although the actual custard seemed easy enough, the crust was even easier since they came from a giant box of tartlet shells Burly had found at Cash & Carry.

Egg Custards
2 eggs
2 oz. sugar
3 oz. water
3 oz. milk (can use evaporated milk)

Preheat oven to 480 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix ingredients together, then pour into tartlet shells. Bake for 5 minutes, then lower oven temperature to 360 degrees. Keep an eye on the tarts, then remove from oven just before tops begin to blister, about 10-15 more minutes.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Leftover Christmas Ham, Day 4: Split Pea Soup

Although the main reason I made a 12-pound Christmas Ham for just Bryan and me was because we wanted plenty of leftover ham, another reason was because I had big plans for the bone.

It's always hard to just choose one recipe to use the ham bone in, but every year Split Pea Soup seems to win the toss-up. Maybe it's just one of those recipes I forget about the rest of the year because it's so dang easy to make.

The only recipe I've ever used is one I got from Heather eons ago that uses cubed ham and bouillon cubes instead of a ham bone. But since I used the bone, I used 2 instead of 6 bouillon cubes, and it still was a bit on the unsalty side for those who prefer a sodium bomb.

Heather's Split Pea Soup
1 c. onion, chopped
3/4 c. celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. split peas
8 c. water
6 chicken bouillon cubes
1/4 t. pepper
2 bay leaves
2 c. chopped ham
3-4 medium peeled carrots
3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped

Bring all of the ingredients to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes. Easy!