Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fried Rice Revisited

Since I had leftover Chinese sausage, I decided to make fried rice. I’ve previously expounded the virtues of fried rice so I'll spare ya'll another expounding. What I wanted to do was try a recipe using black soy sauce, which I normally avoid because it’s so salty (see this post for the Cliff notes). However, I’ve found it inexplicably enhances the flavor of Chinese sausage, and rice can definitely tolerate a little salt.

Fried rice with Chinese sausage
  • 1 large carrot, diced small like confetti
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 scallions, finely sliced
  • 1 link Chinese sausage, diced small like confetti
  • 6 oz pork sirloin or 1 large breast chicken, coarsely minced
  • 1 tbs sesame oil
  • 3 tbs black soy sauce
  • 4 tbs oyster sauce
  • 6-8 cups cold cooked rice, broken into small clumps
Combine the black soy sauce and oyster sauce in a small bowl. Set aside until ready to use.

Set a wok over high heat. When hot, add 1-2 tbs vegetable oil and use your spatula to push the oil up the sides. Add the carrots, peas and garlic and quickly stir-fry for a minute or so. Add the diced Chinese sausage, minced meat and sesame oil. Stir-fry until the minced meat is just about done, about 2-3 minutes. Add the crumbled rice and use your spatula to break it up further. Don’t stir the rice constantly; give it a few seconds (about 15-20) to brown before turning it. When most of the clumps are broken up, add about 2/3 of the sauce mix. Continue stir-frying until the rice is uniformly coated with the sauce. You may need to add the remaining sauce. Continue to cook until all the clumps are broken up and the rice is heated through. Turn off the heat and stir in the scallions. Enjoy warm with a squirt of Sriracha.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Sometimes You Gotta Make Due

Ever tasted a Chinese sausage? I didn’t like it the first time I tried it. It was sweet, hard and an alarming shade of red-brown. It made Spam look healthy and natural. Now I appreciate the Chinese variety (even though they are about as healthy as Spam...everything in moderation, right?) and use them in different dishes, such as fried rice and hot pot. Here I’ve used Chinese sausage in shu mai with a twist. These dumplings can have a variety of fillings and I've yet to taste one I didn't like.

Shu mai with Chinese sausage filling
  • 1 lbs ground pork
  • 1 link Chinese sausage, finely chopped
  • 3 scallions finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp cornstarch
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup peas (optional)
  • 1 pack shu mai wrappers (thinner than goyoza wrappers)
Combine the filling for the dumplings. Use about 2 tsp of filling for each wrapper (keep unused wrappers under a damp cloth to prevent drying out). Shu mai, unlike potstickers, are not sealed shut. The filling is exposed at the top. It may take a little practice to get the wrapper to form pleats around the filling and to keep in place. You may find it helpful to use a lightly moist finger to shape the wrapper. Keep finished dumplings under a light damp cloth to keep the wrapper from drying up. To cook the dumplings, steam them in a bamboo steamer lined with lettuce or cabbage leaves for 10 to 12 minutes (or until done). They are ready to enjoy with your favorite dipping sauce. If you’ve made more dumplings than you plan to eat, freeze them (before they are cooked) on a cookie sheet then transfer to a plastic bag.

Here’s the twist. I went to my Asian grocer and they were out of shu mai wrappers! Instead of driving out to the burbs to find wrappers, I decided to use the phyllo sheets I had leftover from making a strudel. While the end result was excellent, it took a lot of work because I’m not used to working with phyllo and it dries out so quickly, even when greased up. Cut the phyllo into 3x3 squares and use at least 2 layers to wrap the filling. To cook the dumplings, I put them into a 350º for 20-25 minutes, or until nice and brown. These should be eaten immediately.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Are You as Confused as I Am?

With all the different types of soy sauces out there, do you ever find yourself confused? I certainly am. I grew up using fish sauce and occasionally plain ol’ Kikkoman soy sauce. Now that Asian cuisines have become more widespread in America, there are a ton of different soy sauces on the market. What’s the difference between them? What can be used interchangeably? Here’s a quick run down of what I have in my pantry and what I think are the differences.

Soy sauce usually contains water, wheat, soybeans, salt and a preservative. I use this for everyday cooking and making dipping sauces. I normally use Kikkoman low sodium sauce. When I cook Korean or Japanese food, I use tamari, which is Japanese soy sauce.

Black soy sauce usually has water, soybeans, molasses, wheat, salt and maybe a preservative. I only purchased this sauce because I found a few Chinese recipes that call for it. However, I find it very salty and prefer thick soy sauce.

Thick soy sauce has molasses, soybeans, salt and maybe wheat and a preservative (the brand I use does not). As it’s name implies, it’s very thick and has a very concentrated taste, like salty burnt molasses. It is usually used with regular soy sauce or fish sauce to add more saltiness. I prefer this type of soy sauce to black soy sauce and have been able to use it interchangeably (though not volume for volume). I usually use 1 tsp thick soy sauce in place of 1 tbs black soy sauce (approximately). I keep this sauce in the fridge after opening.

Mushroom soy sauce normally contains water, soy beans, mushrooms, salt, sugar, wheat and maybe a preservative. I’ve only recently started using this kind of soy sauce and I really like it. It’s not as salty as regular soy sauce and it’s got a mellow flavor (although, I would have never guessed it has mushrooms). I use it interchangeably with regular soy sauce in noodle dishes and fried rice.

Fish sauce is not a soy sauce, but it’s salty. I grew up on this stuff and it’s a staple of Thai cooking. It’s made from anchovy or shrimp extract and usually contains salt and sugar. It can be quite pungent if it spills and it’s definitely noticeable when used in stir-fries, but I wouldn’t say it’s fishy (as anchovies are not fishy when cooked). Because it has a distinctive flavor, I don't recommend substituting soy sauce in it's place.

Oyster (flavored) sauce doesn’t contain soy. I don’t think it contains oyster either (my coworker, who is allergic to fish, uses this stuff). It does contain water, sugar, salt, wheat, and coloring. Of course you can get real oyster sauce, but you’ll have to seek it out. The stuff you get in most supermarkets is the flavored sauce. It is not really salty like soy sauce (relatively speaking) and needs to be used with soy or fish sauce. If you normally just stir-fry with soy sauce, I highly recommend adding a tablespoon or two of this stuff. I guarantee you will taste a difference. Keep this sauce in the fridge after opening.

Like I said, these are the sauces I have in my pantry. There are a ton of other sauces from other Asian countries I don’t even know about. If you have a favorite salty sauce, let us know. In the meantime, here’s a recipe using thick soy sauce. The flavors are reminiscent of Pad Kee Mao or Pad Ka-Pao.

Spicy Pork Stir-fry using Thick Soy Sauce
  • 2 tsp thick soy sauce
  • 1 tbs oyster flavored sauce
  • 1 ½ tbs fish sauce
  • 1 ½ tbs lime juice
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • handful basil leaves (holy basil is preferable; make sure the leaves are dry)
  • 1-2 hot chili pepper (or to taste), quartered lengthwise
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 cup green beans, cut into 1 ½ inch segments
  • 10 to 12 oz minced pork*
Start by making the sauce. In a small bowl, mix the thick soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, lime juice and sugar in a bowl. Set aside until ready to use.

In a wok over high heat, add about 2 tbs oil. When it’s smoking hot, add the basil leaves, chili pepper and garlic. Stir-fry quickly for about 15 seconds, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the green pepper, onion and green beans. Continue stir-frying for 2-3 minutes. The veggies should still be crisp. Add the minced pork. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes more or until the pork is just done. Add the sauce mix by drizzling it down the sides of the wok. Hopefully your wok is sufficiently hot to caramelize and thicken the sauce a little. Turn to coat the food and heat through, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.

This stir-fry is also great to do with noodles. Scale up the amount of sauce by 3 or 4 to make sure there is enough to coat the noodles. I recommend using about ½ lbs of fresh rice noodles (wide variety). You need only separate the layers. If they come in a slab, slice them into ½ inch slices before separating. If you don’t have access to the fresh variety, the dried kind is fine. Soak in warm water until pliable (not soft, otherwise you’ll get a mushy mess when you stir-fry them).

*I recommend mincing your own pork. I find that store bought minced pork is too wet and will release too much water during cooking, even if your wok is blazing hot. To mince your own, use the specified about of pork sirloin and a sharp knife. No need for a fine mince, coarse is fine. Chicken can also be used instead of pork.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Trying Something New

The nice thing about getting farm fresh produce through a service is you don’t have to choose what to purchase. We pick up a large bag of produce once a week at a local park, and there’s always something I wouldn’t normally buy (but will gladly eat). Some people don’t like CSA programs for that reason, but I think it’s a good way to get variation in our diet.

This week we got cauliflower. I don’t even remember the last time I ate cauliflower, much less bought it. I have nothing against it, but I don’t have a burning passion for it either. Of course I could use it in a stir-fry (and I will), but I decided to make a soup too. The result was better than I expected. Sonny even asked for seconds, which made me feel warm and fuzzy inside (or was it the 85º heat?).

Cauliflower Soup
  • 1 head cauliflower, florets only
  • 4 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • ½ head garlic, crushed
  • 1 ½ quarts stock (chicken or veggie)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ to 1 cup heavy cream (optional)
  • Finely chopped parsley for garnish (optional)
In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add about 2 tbs olive oil. When hot, but not smoking, add the onion and celery. Sauté the veggies until they are nice and soft. Add the garlic and cauliflower and sauté for about 5 minutes to soften the cauliflower. Don’t let it take on too much color or your soup may end up a funny shade of light brown. Add the stock and bring up to a boil. Cover the pot and turn down the heat to simmer the soup until the cauliflower is soft. When everything is nice and soft, turn off the heat and blend the soup (let it cool slightly if using a conventional blender). I recommend running it through a double mesh strainer to give the end product a nice, smooth texture. Return the strained soup to the heat, and add salt and pepper to taste. If the soup is too thin, add either the cream or some of the strained soup solids back in (up to ¼ cup). Serve warm, sprinkled with the chopped parsley.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Never Say Never

I rarely eat turkey. It’s usually dry, as in, use-it-for-kindling dry. It’s also pretty flavorless. To get around these shortcomings, I usually brine the meat, and since that is a whole process, I only do it once a year. Too much work for too little payoff, if you ask me. So you can imagine my surprise when I tasted the world’s juiciest and most flavorful turkey burger. I loved it. Sonny loved it. Even Hubby loved it, despite his reservations about turkey burgers.

The recipe is from Sara Moulton, and can be found here. It’s very easy to make, but does require a little more time than just forming patties. The only modification I made was that I ran the cooked onions and peppers in a food processor before mixing with the ground turkey (if Sonny were to even suspect the presence of onions or peppers in his food, he wouldn’t touch it). I didn’t do Sara’s salsa either, but threw together avocado, sweet onion and cherry tomatoes instead.

Turkey Burgers
1 lbs ground turkey
1 small onion, finely chopped
½ red bell pepper, finely sliced
1 tbs creole seasoning*
1 tsp salt
fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a skillet over medium heat, add about 1 tbs oil. When hot, add the onion and red pepper. Cook until soft and caramelized, which could take 20 minutes. Using a food processor, blend until you get a paste. Put in a large bowl and allow to cool. Once cooled, add the creole seasoning and salt. Blend well. Add the ground turkey and blend well (don’t squeeze the meat). Form into patties. If you plan to cook on a grill, make the patties about ½ inch thick. If you are going to do it indoors, a thicker patty is fine because you can finish them in the oven. I recommend chilling the patties in the fridge for at least 20 minutes (these patties are softer than ground beef patties, so it helps to chill them).

I’ve cooked these burgers both on the grill and on the stovetop/oven. Both ways work well, but grilling gives a better flavor. If grilling, resist the urge to turn the patties too often because they will break. If doing them indoors, cook them in a skillet over medium-high heat. For thicker patties, you may need to start them on the stove and finish them in the oven.

*I make my own using Emeril’s “formulation”: 2 1⁄2 tbs paprika, 2 tbs salt, 2 tbs garlic powder, 1 tbs each black pepper, onion powder, cayenne pepper, dried oregano, and dried thyme. Keep in an airtight container (like a Ziploc bag) in a dry place.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Nevermind the Scorching Heat

I know it’s not time for hot soup. The mercury's pushing 90+, but Sonny has been asking for tomato soup and I wanted to make some comfort food for a friend who just had a baby. You know, a two-birds-with-one-stone situation.

Tomato Soup
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 10 large tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch basil (or 1 healthy handful)
  • 2 cups water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • honey or sugar (optional)
In a large Dutch oven or other heavy bottom large pot over medium heat, add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot in a thin coat. Add the onions and cook until they are well caramelized. This could take 20 minutes for more. It’s okay if they take on color; just don’t let them burn. Add the vinegar and allow to reduce until almost completely evaporated. Add the garlic, tomatoes, basil and water. Bring to a boil, put the lid on and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for at least 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly before blending with a stick blender (or in a regular blender). I always run the soup through a sieve to give a smooth texture (this is optional). If you do this, you can add some of the solids back in to give a thicker texture (try about 1/4 cup). Season the soup well with salt and pepper. If you used sweet onions and tomatoes, you probably won’t have to add honey, but add a little to cut the acidity if you think it needs it. I recommend serving it warm to lukewarm (not piping hot).

I love serving this soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. See that sandwich in the picture? It is made with the best tasting toasting bread I’ve ever had. I got it at Delphina's at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market. It's got polenta and rice, and it’s dense and slightly sweet. Reminds me of the wonderful fresh baked breads I had in Denmark. When toasted, all the different flavors stand out yet complement each other nicely. A little pricey, but worth it for artisan bread.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Berry Pie (updated!)

Would you believe we didn’t eat pie when I was a kid? It’s true. Mom certainly never baked one and we never missed them. Even as a young adult, I was not a pie eater. Then one day...poof...I decided I wanted to bake a blueberry pie. Luckily the recipe I found way back when was a good one. I never use any other recipe. I think it’s from Martha Stewart, from the time she was at Food Network. It works with just about any berry or combination of berries, and it’s not overly sweet.

I wanted to update this post because I really think it's a good recipe, and I wanted to note a few things I've played around with. First off, I decided to actually use weight instead the standard cups for measuring. I feel like it's more informative to know the weights rather than the volume of ingredients when baking. That way, the we can ignore the differences among different brands and types of flours, sugars, etc. Another thing, you can easily make this vegan by using something like Earth Balance vegetable shortening instead of butter and brushing the top with soy milk. Still has the same great taste.

Berry Pie
  • 4 to 5 cups (about 1.5 lbs) fresh berries
  • 2/3 cup (5- 1/2 oz) sugar
  • 3 tbs cornstarch
  • 2 tbs lemon juice
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 2 tbs milk or cream
  • 2 pie crusts (recipe follows, or use store-bought)
Preheat oven to 400º.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar and cornstarch. Mix until all the clumps disappear.
Add the berries and lemon juice. Toss well to combine. Fill a 9 inch pie crust with the berries and dot with the butter. Cover with the second crust and make a small slit in the middle for steam. Brush the crust with the milk or cream. Bake at 400º for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350º and continue to bake until golden brown (anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes). Make sure to put a baking sheet underneath the pie as it bakes in case it leaks. Allow the pie to cool completely before slicing, otherwise the filling may not be completely set.

If you want to try making your own crust, it’s pretty easy, especially if you have a food processor. This recipe makes two crusts and is good for sweet or savory fillings.

Pie Crust
  • 9 oz (2 cups) all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 5-1/4 oz (2/3 cup) cold butter
  • 6-7 tbs cold water
Stir together the flour and the salt. Cut the butter into the flour until it resembles small peas. This is easiest/fastest with a food processor. Just give it a few pulses. Sprinkle in 1 tbs water at a time until dough comes together, pulsing between each addition. If you’re doing it by hand, knead a little between each addition. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before rolling out into two crusts.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

It's About Time!!!

I can finally say with confidence that summer has arrived in Portland. This last month, Mother Nature has been teasing us with alternating warm and cool days. Many nights have been below 55º, which isn’t very conducive to growing tomatoes, eggplant and basil (although the snap peas have been kicking ass!). But now that the hot weather is here, I’m craving crisp, refreshing salads…everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type salads. That is, give me lettuces, snap peas, snow peas, baby bok choy, kohlrabi, cabbage, onions, broccoli florets, carrots, and green beans (did I forget anything?). Sprinkle some cashews, almonds, peanuts or walnuts on top, along with a tangy dressing and I’m in heaven. This time I tried Martin Yan’s version of the Chinese chicken salad dressing (which can be found in my current favorite cookbook Martin Yan’s Chinatown Cooking). It's tangy and gingery, just the way I like it. As you can see, I used this dressing with a simple grilled salmon salad. It is also perfect as a dip for fresh veggies. And it's easy to make.

"New Classic Chinese" Salad Dressing
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tbs plum sauce
  • 2 ½ tbs honey or sugar
  • 1 tbs sesame oil
  • 1 tbs Dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp chili garlic sauce (or sambal oelek to taste)
  • ½ tsp grated ginger
  • ½ cup vegetable oil (I used peanut oil)
Combine all the ingredients in a blender, except the peanut oil, and blend until you get a uniform mixture. With the blender running, add the peanut oil in a slow, steady stream until well incorporated. Makes about 1 cup dressing. Can keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a week.