Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ciao, Baby!

Couple of things…

I finally joined Foodbuzz. Big deal, right? Well, it is to me. I’m generally scared of cliques and social networks, but decided to give it a try anyways. So now I need friendz. Will you be my friend? My handle is either dp or Blazing Hot Wok. I’m not really sure. That’s how good I am at these things.

I’m leaving for a 2-week trip to Italy in about 40 hours. I’m thinking I won’t want to post be able to post during that time. But don’t worry, I’ll write down every minute detail about what I see, do and eat so I can be sure to share it with the you, even if you don’t care to know.

Now I have to go clean out my fridge and push all the perishable food off on my neighbors. And do laundry. And start packing. And finish that final report for work. Ugh.

Happy posting!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pork Shank Noodle Soup

If you need some comic relief, go see a T-ball game. We signed Sonny up for our local little league and had no idea what to expect. Let’s just say, I’ll be happy if Sonny isn’t scared of the ball by the end of the season. None of the kids can catch. Only one kid can actually throw hard enough to reach base to base. Since everyone is still learning the game at this point, the entire team is out on the field at the same time. Imagine ten 5-year-olds running for every single ball that comes out. Talk about pile-ups; it looked more like rugby than baseball. Then once they’ve wrestled the ball from their teammates, they’re usually confused about what to do with it. Once during the first game, Sonny was supposed to be running from first to second base but decided instead to chase the ball hit by his own teammate. That wasn’t as bad as the kid who hit the ball (pretty hard too) then proceeded to run to 3rd base. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life.

Sonny taking a practice lap. Isn't he cute with the little fists? Doesn't the weather look lovely?

Sonny running for home plate.

The downside to playing sports in the spring in Portland is having to deal with unpredictable weather. Last weekend was so warm and beautiful. People were wearing shorts and flip-flops to the game. This weekend it hailed and didn’t even break 50 F. People were dressed like they were going skiing. I made the mistake of wearing my Chuck Taylors and by the time I got home, my feet were so wet and cold, I couldn’t feel my toes.

While other people in warmer climes are pulling out their grills, I fired up my oven to braise pork shank for noodle soup. It’s a variation of a pork shank stew I ate growing up. Usually it's served with hard-boiled eggs over rice. This time I decided to nix the eggs and do it with noodles. The broth is savory-sweet with hints of anise, fennel, cinnamon and ginger. The pork shank is so tender because it’s braised with the skin on. This keeps the meat moist and when the collagen breaks down, it adds richness to the broth, much like what happens when you braise lamb shank.

Braised Pork Shank Noodle Soup
Serves 4 to 5 adults
  • 2 to 3 pork shanks, with skin (about 3 pounds)
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 3-inch stick cinnamon
  • ½ tbs toasted fennel seeds
  • ½ tbs toasted coriander seeds
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, sliced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 2 tbs fish sauce
  • 2 tbs thick soy sauce (see note)
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 pack chow mein noodles, usually sold in 16 oz packs (see note)
  • 4 or 5 green onions, thinly sliced for garnish
  • ½ bunch cilantro, chopped for garnish
  • ¼ pound Chinese BBQ pork, thinly sliced (optional)
  • ¼ pound fish cake, thinly sliced (optional)
  • bean sprouts or sliced bok choy, blanched (optional)
  • Condiments: chili garlic sauce or sambal, lime wedges, fish sauce

Note: The flavor base for the broth is thick soy sauce. As its name implies, it is thick with the consistency of molasses. It is also sweetened with molasses. Regular old Kikkoman cannot be substituted. I believe thick soy sauce also goes by the name ketchap manis.

For this dish, I recommend using the chow mein noodles. They have a better texture than ramen noodles or even rice noodles. However, if you can’t find them substitute any noodle you like. Or you could even use rice.

I've only recently discovered these noodles. I like them because they have a nice al dente texture, whereas ramen or rice noodles can get soggy. They are also great for stir-frying.

In a stockpot or large Dutch oven, warm a little oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the pork shanks and brown them well on all sides. Add the spices, ginger, and garlic and fry until fragrant. Add the water, sugar, thick soy sauce and fish sauce. Allow to come to a boil. When it comes to a boil, cover and braise either on the stovetop over low heat or in a 300 degree oven (my preferred method). Either way, it will take about 2 to 3 hours. It’s done when the meat on the shanks is fork tender and the collagen has broken down.

Normally I make this stew a day or two in advance and allow it to sit in my fridge to let the flavors meld. And it makes it so much easier to remove the fat, which will rise to the top and solidify. However, this isn’t necessary. If you plan to eat them the same day, just remove the shanks and allow them to cool slightly before removing the skin and bones and collecting the meat. If you allow the broth to sit for 15 to 30 minutes, the fat will rise to the top and you can skim some of it off. I recommend straining the broth to remove the spices.

Cook the noodles according to package instructions. For the chow mein noodles, I just boil them for 2 minutes and drain. Easy.

To plate, I put a bundle of noodles in the bowl, pile it with the garnishes then ladle the broth on top. I like just a couple of ladles of broth, while Sonny and Hubby like a lot of broth. The condiments go out on the table so everyone can season their soup the way they like.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Doing it Asian-style

When I found out the theme for Sugar High Friday this month is classic desserts with an Asian twist, I was on it like white on rice. I've already made 3 or 4 desserts that fit this theme. Check out the DESSERTS link in the right side bar. My favorite is the Thai tea crème brulee.

One of my favorite sweet combinations is coconut milk and bananas. This can be found in many guises, such as coconut, sticky rice and banana steamed in banana leaf (or bamboo) or deep-fried bananas drizzled with coconut sauce, or bananas Foster with a dollop of coconut ice cream. I’m a simple girl and don't need anything nearly so fancy. Give me a bowl of slightly sweetened coconut milk seasoned with a pinch of salt, throw in a cut up banana and I’m happy. But wouldn't I be happier eating it as ice cream? Or how about banana split-style??

Coconut milk and Banana Chunk Ice Cream
makes a generous quart
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1.5 cups coconut milk (lite is fine)
  • 7 egg yolks
  • 6 oz sugar/ 3/4 cup (see note)
  • ½ tsp kosher salt (see note)
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 firm banana, well chilled
Note: Salt in ice cream? Absolutely!! Salt is commonly used in Thai desserts that contain coconut. I think it works beautifully to enhance the flavor of the coconut milk. Also, I'm going to try to remember to use weights for things like sugar, salt and flour because it makes everything more consistent.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream and ½ cup of coconut milk just to the boiling point (but don't let it boil).

In the meantime, whisk the eggs with an electric mixer until they are pale and thick. Gradually add in the sugar and whisk well. Make sure to scrape down the sides occasionally.

Slowly add the scalded cream to the egg mixture while whisking vigorously. When it’s all incorporated, pour the custard back into the saucepan, add the salt and heat over medium heat to 175º. Strain the custard into a large bowl but do not push the debris through the strainer. Add the remaining coconut milk and vanilla. Give it a good stir, then cover and place in the fridge to chill.

Once it’s completely chilled, churn in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Before you start churning, put the whole, un-peeled banana in the freezer to chill. About 2 minutes before the ice cream is done, cut it into small dice and add it to the ice cream.

There was a lot of spoon fighting going on here.

Here are some other Asian-fied desserts that may pique your interest: Ube and Blueberry Swirl Ice Cream, Chocolate Matcha Marble Cupcakes, Matcha Cocoa Brownies, Lychee Mousse Cake, Tamarind Caramels. These are a few on the long, long list I'm waiting to try. It would go so much faster if other people made them and I just ate them.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Three-Flavors Fish

Here in the Portland area, we have a huge Asian supermarket called Uwajimaya. They offer an incredible variety of Japanese goods, as well as a decent selection of goods from other Asian countries. I’ve only been twice because it’s located in a suburb and I don’t get out that way very often. The times I did visit were quick trips to pick up specialty produce. They had a large enough selection, but half of their stock was wilted and just didn’t look that good.

Since I was in the neighborhood, I thought I’d just pop in to see if they had any good looking fish. This time I was pleasantly surprised. The produce still didn’t look spectacular, but the fish, meat and deli departments were very impressive. How I didn’t notice the live fish tanks before is baffling because they take up a large portion of the back wall. They had 4 or 5 different whole fish to choose from as well as filets of sushi-grade fish. In their tanks, there were mussels, clams, oysters, crab and lobster. I’ve yet to see a live crab at any other supermarket in Portland. Their meat department was very well stocked: pork belly, pork shank (with skin!), and kalbi cut beef short ribs. I noticed most of the meat was NW raised and natural, meaning no hormones or antibiotics. The deli department was my favorite part. No potato wedges or chicken strips to be found, thank goodness! There was roasted whole duck, dim sum, several different pickled vegetables and several different fish cakes. I was in paradise.

Many of you are probably rolling your eyes at my enthusiasm. The thing is, Portland really doesn’t have a big Asian population, so we don’t have an overabundance of retailers that cater to our preferences. I have a market for my everyday foods, but to have a place where I can go to get fresh, whole fish or kalbi-cut beef without having to special order is awesome. I left Uwajimaya with a whole tilapia, pork shank, a couple of different pickled vegetables, fresh turmeric, and fresh BBQ pork buns.

I was particularly excited about the fish because I’ve been wanting to make 3-flavors fish. You’re probably more familiar with it being called fried fish in chili-garlic sauce or something like that. The three flavor components are sweet, sour and salty, which are the result of (palm) sugar, tamarind or lime juice and fish sauce. Chilies are the bonus. This is one of my favorite “special occasions” dishes. Mom never made it, but her friend was a master at it and always brought it to special gatherings at their temple. I always thought it would be hard to make, but turns out it’s as easy as pie, and I mean that literally.

Now, I’m not one of those crazy purists that will berate someone if they deviate from the traditional. For this dish, that would mean deep-frying the entire fish then ladling the sauce over. If you can’t find a whole fish, use filets, preferably with skin. I’m not shy about deep-frying, but if you prefer, you can pan-fry the fish or even steam it (gasp!). Of course, steaming is the healthiest, but there’s going to be a little compromise in flavor and a lot in texture. However, the sauce is so flavorful, the end result will still turn out tasty. I promise.

3-Flavors Fish
serves 3 to 4
  • 1 large whole white fish (pompano, red snapper, sea perch, tilapia, etc), cleaned and de-scaled
  • flour for dusting
  • salt and white pepper for seasoning
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • chilies, to taste, split lengthwise
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 bunch cilantro, including stems, finely chopped
  • 5 tbs tamarind puree (see note)
  • 3 tbs fish sauce
  • 2-3 tbs sugar, to taste
  • oil for deep-frying or pan-frying

Note: Tamarind puree can be bought ready made but I prefer to make it myself from the big, condensed blocks. The blocks keep in the fridge in a Ziploc bag for months. To make the puree, add 4 oz of the tamarind block to 1 cup boiling water and let it sit for about 10 minutes to loosen the tamarind. Use a fork to help loosen it and stir it around. You’ll get a thick mixture with tamarind membrane and pits. Strain the mixture, pushing down on the pulp to push as much of the liquid and pulp through the strainer. Discard the solids. The puree can be stored in an airtight container for a couple of days. It’s also good for use in cocktails in place of sweet and sour mix (add simple syrup to taste). Try it and you’ll see!

Start by heating the oil to fry the fish. Depending on whether you plan on deep-frying or pan-frying, it may take a few minutes.

In a bowl, mix the tamarind puree, fish sauce and sugar. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Set aside until needed. Stir before use to make sure the sugar is dissolved.

Before cooking the fish, score it a couple of times on each side. Season it well with salt and white pepper and let it sit for a couple of minutes. Dredge the fish in flour and shake off the excess. Fry the fish for about 10 to 12 minutes, flipping halfway through if the fish isn’t submerged. I didn’t flip my fish, even though it wasn’t completely submerged. I just continually ladled the oil over the top, old school style. When it’s crispy and done, drain on a rack set over a sheet pan. I don’t recommend draining on paper towels because the underside of the fish will get soggy.

I must admit, that thing looks a little creepy with its eye staring off into space.

In a saucepan or small frying pan over medium-high heat, add about 2 to 3 tablespoons of the oil used to fry the fish. Add the shallot and chilies and fry for about 1 minute. Add the garlic and the cilantro and fry for about 20 to 30 seconds (but don’t let the garlic burn). Add the tamarind mixture and stir until it thickens, about 1 minute. Taste one last time and adjust seasonings if necessary. Plate the fish and ladle a little of the sauce over the fish and serve the remaining sauce on the side. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Isaan-style Sausages

I made another sausage! This time I made a fragrant, garlicky, spicy sausage using the “Thai trinity” (lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves) as the flavor base. The only thing that was missing was the sour component characteristic of this type of sausage. It is achieved by fermenting the sausage at room temperature for 1 to several days (see note). Wasn’t quite ready to go there, but soon, I promise! Even without the sourness, this fresh sausage turned out very tasty. Good thing too; I made 5 pounds of it!

Isaan-style Sausages
15 kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped
3 stalks lemon grass, finely minced
1 tbs minced galangal
2 heads garlic (about 20 or so cloves), minced
Fresh bird’s eye chillies, to taste (start with 5 then go up from there)
1 bunch cilantro, minced
4.5 pounds boneless pork shoulder, diced
1/2 pound pork (back) fat, diced
2 cups cooked, cold sticky rice, kernels separated (other long-grain rice will work)
1 ¼ oz kosher salt (more or less to taste)
1 cup very cold water

Note: If you have the nerve to try fermenting the sausage, you'll need to add 1/4 tsp of pink salt per kilogram (approx 2.2 lbs) of sausage. Hang the sausage for 1 to several days at room temperature (approx 70 degrees is optimal). Keep it out of direct sunlight. A cool basement is probably the best choice if you have one. Test the level of sourness by cooking a small piece bit every day. Once you determine the sausage is sour enough, freeze whatever you don't plan to eat right away.
Season the diced meat and fat with the lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, garlic, chillies and cilantro. Stick the meat in the freezer for about an hour. The meat should be well chilled, just starting to freeze. Your grinding equipment should be well chilled as well. I like using the coarse die for sausage. It leaves the texture just course enough to know you're eating real meat. Grind the meat into a bowl set on ice. To the ground meat, add the salt and water. Mix well. Lastly add the rice and mix again. Take a small portion to cook to determine if it’s seasoned properly (put the rest in the fridge while doing this). If it’s all good, then stuff the sausage into hog casings and enjoy! It's great served as a snack with ginger matchsticks, fresh roasted peanuts, and chillies. Being the simple person I am, I like to eat mine with sticky rice. I bet it would be yummy as a base for fried rice or noodles too. Remember, freeze whatever you can’t eat within two or three days.

Here are some other sausage recipes on my list that you may like to try: Burnt Lumpia's Longanisa and Mrs. Marv's Thai-spiced chicken sausage.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Homemade is Better Made! (Canadian bacon)

As I’ve said before, I’m intrigued by the idea of making my own cured meats. I feel like it’s really becoming a lost art. Maybe it’s because people think it’s hard or requires expensive equipment. That’s what I thought. Or maybe it’s because people think that they could just as well buy ham and salami at the market, so why bother? What I’m finding is that it’s neither hard nor expensive, and when everything turns out right, it’s better than what I can get at the market. I also like the idea of seeing the process through. Pick out the ingredients, watch the transformation and enjoy the taste. It really is quite rewarding.

For my first attempt at curing, I chose to do Canadian bacon, the recipe for which I adapted from Charcuterie (see the left side bar). It really is so easy. The only special things you’ll need is pink salt (aka Prague powder #1 or Instacure #1 or sodium nitrite curing salt) and a smoker, although the smoker is not really necessary. Roasting in a oven should work just fine. I don’t have a smoker, but my neighbor allowed me to use his (thanks Dennis!).

The results were far better than I expected. I was afraid the pork would be too salty or dry, but the brine salted the meat perfectly and the pink salt gave the finished product a wonderful pink color. Without it, I think the color would have been grey. The texture was right on and it wasn’t dry at all. Smoking the pork gave it the extra touch, as you can imagine.

Canadian bacon
Adapted from Charcuterie
  • 2 quarts water
  • 6 oz kosher salt
  • 4 oz sugar
  • 0.75 oz pink salt* (see note)
  • 1 tbs coriander seeds
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
  • 1 ½ lbs trimmed pork loin
*Note: There seems to be a lot of controversy over pink salt. In some recipes, it’s required as it neutralizes the toxins given off by the botulism bacteria. For this recipe, I think it’s mostly used to give the meat a nice pink color after it’s been cooked. I recommend using it, but use only as directed. Consumed in large amounts, it can be harmful. You’ll probably need to order it online unless you’re lucky enough to know someone who has access to it.

In a large (non-reactive) pot heat the water with the other brine ingredients until all the salt and sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool to room temp before sticking it in the fridge to chill. When it’s completely chilled, add the pork loin. Make sure it’s completely submerged. Let the pork loin brine for 48 hours. I actually left it in for like 60 hours because I forgot about it and it still turned out fine. After that time, remove it from the brine and pat it dry. Let it sit in the fridge, uncovered, for 12 to 24 hours. It’s best if you can suspend it on a rack over a tray to let it drip and allow air to circulate around it. Hot smoke the pork loin at 200ºF until it reaches an internal temperature of 150º. This took me about 3.5 hours. If you don’t have a smoker, you can roast the pork in the oven and I’m sure the result will still be tasty. According to the recipe, the Canadian bacon can be kept for up to 10 days after it's cooked, but I'm sure it will be gone well before that time!

Before I "sign-off" I want to direct your attention to the Foodie Blogroll icon in the left side bar. I just joined because I like the idea of having so many food blogs at my fingertips! It's also a great way to network. I encourage you to take a gander.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Even Though You Didn't Ask for It...Another Ice Cream Post!

I know I just posted an ice cream recipe. A green tea with lemongrass and mint ice cream, to be exact. Well, I’m doing it again. This time it’s Thai tea with coconut milk. I know, two similar recipes in two weeks. Is that a food blog faux pas? If it is, ya’ll better get used to it. I got me an ice cream maker, and there’s no stopping mama now!

As I was farting around the Internet looking for some ice cream inspiration, I came across this Thai tea ice cream. I would have gotten around to making some kind of Thai tea ice cream eventually, being Thai and all, but after running across it, I got a craving. Eventually became pronto. I was intrigued by the idea of using condensed milk, but I didn’t have any on hand. Instead of doing just straight cream, I used coconut milk. I used the guideline 2 egg yolks/cup dairy, and it worked out beautifully (thanks Mike!). What else can I say about this ice cream? Try it. You'll love it, and if you don't you're just plain crazy.

Thai Tea and Coconut Milk Ice Cream
makes about 2 pints
  • 6 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 oz loose Thai tea leaves*(see note) or 5 tea bags
*Note: Loose Thai teas tend to be very fine. It will go right through a strainer, tea infuser or even 5 layers of cheesecloth. I highly recommend using fillable teabags or a tea sock. I prefer the fillable teabags over the tea sock. No cleaning. The teabag can go right into the compost.

In a medium saucepan, heat the cream to just boiling. Add the teabags and allow to steep, covered, for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, in a large bowl, whip the egg yolks with an electric mixer until thick and pale, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar in increments, beating well after each addition for a total of about 3 minutes.

Remove the teabags from the cream, making sure to squeeze out excess liquid. Slowly add the liquid to the egg mixture while mixing with the electric mixer. Return the custard to the pot, and heat over medium-low heat, with frequent stirring, until it reaches about 175°F or until it coats the back of your spoon without running off. Strain the custard into a large bowl. Don’t push the debris through the strainer, unless you like soft scrambled eggs in your ice cream. At last, add the coconut milk and vanilla and mix well. Chill the custard, covered, until it’s cold, preferably overnight. Churn the chilled custard in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

If you like tea infused creamy concoctions, then this Thai tea creme brulee may pique your interest.