Thursday, January 29, 2009

Got Oranges?


What the hell am I supposed to do with them? Peel and eat them? Drink the juice? Put the segments in a salad? Then I got a brilliant idea: make a syrup by reducing the juice! I’ve done this in the past with pineapple juice and balsamic vinegar. Concentrating the sugars really works wonders on these acidic liquids. They become zingy and potent, perfect for spiking stuff with.

There’s no recipe involved here. All you do is squeeze some oranges (in my case, about 8) and reduce the juice in a shallow pan (no cast iron!) until you get a nice, thin syrup. It will thicken a bit further upon cooling. Why not throw in some spices while it’s boiling down, like fresh ginger slices, star anise, cloves, and cinnamon, depending on how you’re planning to use the reduction? If you have leftovers, they can keep about a week in the fridge or freeze it for longer storage.

Start with 2 cups orange juice.

Get about 1/2 cup citrusy, syrupy goodness. See how it coats the side of the cup?

And how would you use this citrusy syrup? I like to use a couple of tablespoons to make a salad dressing. Or a little in a nice cocktail. Or in a pan sauce for something like pan-seared chicken or pork. Or in a sauce to brush over grilled meats. Or in a nice soy-based dipping sauce for spring rolls. You get the idea.

A couple of tablespoons of the orange reduction, a cube of cilantro-garlic puree from my freezer (or about 3 tbs chopped cilantro with 1 clove minced garlic), mustard and a little oil to bring to all together. Very nice salad dressing.

Here's my attempt at being fancy-schmancy. Pan-seared chicken on mixed greens and sweet potato cake dressed in cilantro-orange dressing.

This is my submission to Weekend Wokking, an event created by Wandering Chopsticks that spotlights a theme ingredient. This time it's the orange (if you hadn't guessed)! The host is Eating Club Vancouver. If you'd like to participate, there's still time! Send entries by Sunday, Feb 1 to email(at)eatingclubvancouver(dot)com.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cheap Meats

Let’s talk about cheap beef. No, not the kind that’s on clearance at the local supermarket because it’s a day or two expired. That’s yuck. Is there anything that sounds less appetizing?

What I’m talking about are the less expensive, underappreciated cuts. You know, chuck steak and cuts from the round (rump). For some reason, these cuts get a bad reputation: too tough or too fatty. Personally, I find these cuts to be wonderfully beefy, particularly the chuck, which I think is the best cut to use for stir-frying. Fat can be trimmed away and if properly prepared, these cuts are not at all tough.

Roast beef seasoned with garlic, smoked paprika and thyme. 

Let's start with roast beef.  Who says it has to be made with the tenderloin? My first choice for roast beef has always been a round roast. It’s a lean cut from the rump of the cow. It has a nice flavor, little fat and is very reasonably priced ($4.99/lb for grass-fed beef). If it’s a special occasion, I’ll spring for a tenderloin or standing rib roast, but no need for everyday roast beef. We are trying to stick to a budget, after all.

If you’ve never made a roast beef, I will tell you it’s one of the easiest things to prepare. The key to success is a meat thermometer (at least for me). I recommend something that can actually go into the oven with your roast. Even better if it’s attached to a digital display that will alarm when the target temperature is reached. I know they sell them at William Sonoma, but I got mine at Ikea for $6, which makes it one of my best kitchen buys.

One of the things I like to do is season my roast overnight before cooking it. Not everyone does this. I do it because I like the salt to penetrate the beef. Seasoning it right before cooking just salts the surface. And contrary to popular belief, seasoning meat in advance does not dry it out. People should have paid more attention to their chemistry teacher discuss osmosis and equilibria. Anyhow, feel free to experiment with different flavor combinations. I kept it simple this time and only used garlic, salt and sugar. Yes, I said sugar. No it doesn’t make the meat sweet. You’ll see.

Hubby bought me a food slicer for Christmas! Roast beef with sauteed kale, mushrooms and blue cheese on toast. An nice appetizer for a dinner party, no?

Garlicky Roast Beef
3 lb round (aka rump) roast (get a larger roast if you have more people to feed)
1 tbs kosher salt
1 tbs brown sugar
1 whole head of garlic, minced or crushed to a paste
salt and pepper to taste

Make the seasoning rub by combining the salt, sugar and garlic. Rub it all over the beef and put the roast in a Ziploc bag (push out all the air) and refrigerate overnight up to 24 hours. Turn the bag occasionally to promote even salting.

About an hour before you are ready to roast, take it out of the fridge to take the chill off. Rinse the seasonings off otherwise the garlic and sugar will burn when you sear the meat. Pat the meat dry and apply a small sprinkling of kosher salt and pepper. Sear the meat in a hot pan (like cast iron), stick your thermometer in and throw the roast into a preheated 275°F oven. (Alternatively, sear it in a very hot oven, say 450°F, for about 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 275°). For the best results, put it on a rimmed sheet pan or even better if you have a grate or rack that will lift it slightly. You want good air convection to get even browning. For roast beef, I like to cook it until the internal temperature reaches about 125 to 130°F. When you take it out of the oven, let it rest for at least 15 to 20 minutes. During that time, don’t pull the meat thermometer out, otherwise all the wonderful beefy juices will just run out.  Slice and enjoy!

I wanna know.  Who makes roast beef and how do you like to eat it?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pan-fried Japanese-style Mackerel

Before I lived in Denmark, I thought mackerel was used only in Asian cuisines, but it turns out the Danes and much of Scandinavia eat it as well.  (I also thought badminton was only popular in Asia, but it turns out the Danes are pretty good at that too.) I routinely bought the Danish smoked mackerel and ate it with Thai sticky rice and hot sauce. Hubby thought it was a strange combo at first, but he was easily converted. In turn, he introduced me to a product called Makrel Guf, which is mackerel in a tomato sauce not unlike Chef Boyardee tomato sauce. I know it sounds totally unappetizing, but spread atop Danish rye bread with a healthy squirt of mayonnaise, it was really quite tasty. It's been years since I've had it, and I do get a craving for it every once in a while. Maybe my in-laws would be so kind as to bring us a few cans the next time they visit?  

Mackerel is one of my favorite fish.  Some people don't like it due to the strong flavor, but that's exactly why I like it. Serving it to the kid can be an iffy proposition, but turns out, he liked it!  Yay!

This dish is flavorful (good way to get the kids to eat fish) and fast (hey, it's not French!).  I spread a miso mixture over the fish and pan fried it (great grilled too).  The only thing you need to be careful of is not to overcook this fish.  There's not much worse than overcooked mackerel. For an average filet, it only needs about 4 or 5 minutes, tops.   If you're not a fan of mackerel or can't get it where you are, try substituting with salmon.

Pan-fried Japanese-style Mackerel
Serves 2.5 people
  • 2 mackerel filets 
  • 1 tbs yellow miso
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbs mirin
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • lemon or lime wedges for serving
  • finely sliced green onion for garnish
Make the paste by combining the miso, sugar, mirin and ginger.  Rub it on the meaty side of the fish.  All that's left to do is pan fry the fish in a fairly hot pan with a little oil.  Start with the skin side down, then flip it for the last minute or so.  That's it!  Serve with Japanese rice and a (pickled) vegetable of your choice and/or a nice salad.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


To me, there seems to be two types of French food. There are the refined, sophisticated foods I associate with fine French restaurants. Then there’s the other, more rustic side, and to be honest, that’s the kind of food I prefer. Rustic food is so humble while at the same time being bold and hearty. It’s food friends and family can gather around. Comfort food made for sharing.

The one thing French food is not, however, is fast.  This may be why more people don’t attempt it at home. Luckily, the ounce of patience I do have shows up in the kitchen. Call me crazy, but I actually enjoy a process if I know that I will have something spectacular in the end. That’s not to say I like standing in the kitchen all day. If I’m faced with a lengthy preparation, I will break it down into manageable tasks that can be accomplished over the course of 2 to 3 days.

Perfect example is cassoulet. This meaty casserole is not something that can be whipped up one evening. It’s got multiple ingredients that need to be cooked separately, then put together in the end. Even if you have the one uncommon ingredient, duck confit, on hand, it would take you a good part of the day to get this casserole on the table in time for dinner. But if you break it down into 2 or 3 days of work, it is easy going. Another advantage is that each stage has a chance to develop in flavor. Over the course of 7 days, I casually worked on this cassoulet, starting with the duck confit. An hour here and there, but probably no more than 4 hours total prep time.  Cooking was mostly passive, so that doesn't really count.

Muscovy duck legs cured in kosher salt, cinnamon, clove and a copious amount of garlic.  You could make a cassoulet without the duck confit, but I don't think the result would be as good.  

Enough jibber jabber! You want the recipe? I used the recipe in the latest issue of Saveur as a guideline. I left out the pancetta and used olive oil instead of the duck fat in a feeble attempt to cut down on the saturated fat.  Kate Hill has a recipe and interesting post about her weekend at Camp Cassoulet. David Lebovitz was also there and wrote an entertaining post as well. If you’re interested in a more cultural perspective, here is an entertaining article I found in Time.

Blazing Hot Wok
This is my submission to Regional Recipes: France.  The host this time is Susan of Open mouth, insert fork.  If you'd like to submit a post, check out the rules and find out who's hosting by clicking on the RR link.  And definitely check out the roundup at her site sometime early next week.  There are sure to be wonderful entries and Susan will be announcing the next region!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

Aren't these oyster and king mushrooms beautiful? They were today's impulse buy at the Asian market. Still not sure what I want to do with them yet. Got any suggestions?

I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything Hungarian, and the only mushroom soup I’ve ever had is Campbell’s. I can’t even recall the last time I had that, but it was years ago to be certain. I don’t use dill very often in my cooking either. So imagine my surprise when I tasted Hungarian mushroom soup at a local cafĂ© and fell in love. Of course I had to try to reproduce it myself so did a little research. It seems that the basic components of this soup are mushrooms, dill, paprika, and sour cream. Pretty easy, huh?

Like most soups, this one gets better if made ahead, probably because the mushrooms have time to release all that natural umami. I planned to serve this at Christmas dinner with friends, but that got canceled due to the crazy snow we had. I stuck it in the freezer and served it on New Year’s Eve instead. It was so delicious! So feel free to make it head and freeze whatever you can’t eat for a quick meal another day. Smart, huh?

You'll notice I used a medley of dried mushrooms. I realize they are quite costly (Costco does have them for a reasonable price), so feel free to omit the dried ones and use an extra half pound of fresh mushrooms (any type, but a mix will give a better flavor). It will probably seem like a lot of mushroom relative to the liquid, but they cook down quite a bit.

Another thing, don't worry if the soups ends up being more brown than orange. When I made this soup a second time, it was more brown. Another reader also made this soup and it was also brown. However, the flavor was still fine.

Hungarian Mushroom Soup
Adapted from a gazillion recipes
Feeds 6 (or more if serving small bowls)
  • 1 pound fresh mushrooms, quartered or sliced
  • 1 oz dried mushrooms (I used a mix of different kinds for a more complex flavor)
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 handful fresh dill, chopped (use as much as you’d like)
  • 4 tbs butter
  • 3 tbs all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbs Hungarian paprika (any mild paprika will do)
  • 2 cups hot milk
  • 6 cups chicken stock (substitute any part with mushroom liquid from rehydrating dried mushrooms; I used about 2 to 3 cups)
  • fresh lemon juice, to taste
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • sour cream, for serving
  • fresh dill, for garnish (optional)

Start by rehydrating the dried mushrooms in hot water until soft. Fish out the mushrooms, squeezing out some of the water and strain the liquid to use in the soup. I did this using cheesecloth.

In a large pot over low heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and paprika to make a roux. Cook for a few minutes, stirring to prevent it from burning. Whisk in the hot milk, then turn up the heat a little. Allow to cook until the mixture thickens, which will probably take 5 minutes or so. Stir it frequently. Once it thickens up, add the mushrooms, shallot, garlic, chopped dill and the stock. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring the soup up to a boil, then allow it to simmer for about 30 minutes. It will be thin, but don’t worry, it gets creamier when you puree it. Turn off the heat and let it sit for about another 30 minutes, until it’s cooled enough to blend. If it seems too thick after you blend it, thin it out with more stock, then add the lemon and readjust the seasonings to taste. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and fresh dill, if desired.

I’m submitting this recipe to Weekend Wokking, the blogging event created by Wandering Chopsticks to spotlight a theme ingredient. The host this round is Palachinka and the ingredient this time is mushroom! There's still one more day to submit an entry! Send your submission to palachinkablog(at)gmail(dot)com by 11:59 January 4th. Check out who’s hosting if you want to participate in the future.

Fish, fish and more fish!

I hope you're not getting tired of hearing about my visit home to Las Vegas. Good! Because I have a little more I want to share.

It seems like every time I visit LV, there's a new fancy-schmancy casino opening and Mom always insists on taking me to see it. This time it was Steve Wynn's Encore. I think she was a bit disappointed I didn't want to go, but I'm just not into that sort of thing.

I wanted to go to a fish market instead.

I was in the mood for fish so I conned my 19 year old nephew into going to Seafood City, a Pinoy grocery and fish market. The selection was quite impressive. There were at least 20 fresh, fully intact types of fish available, labeled with where they were from and whether they were farmed or wild (if only I had brought my camera!!). In addition, there were live tanks with crab and a shrimp bar with a selection of fresh shrimp (some with heads! yay!). You pick the fish you want and bring it up to a counter for weighing. They will also clean and fry the fish for you, free of charge. (Fried smelt, anyone?)

Pompano are cute, aren't they? Especially when they're marinating in soy sauce, white pepper and lots (lots!) of garlic. They were simply fried to a crisp and eaten with sticky rice and dipping sauce.

Now, we get great seafood here in Portland, but the selection can be a bit limited. I had the opposite problem at Seafood City. I just didn't know what the hell to choose. Las Vegas is landlocked so everything was obviously shipped in, some from far away places. Made it kinda hard to choose local. I finally settled on a couple large streaked spinefoot and a few small pompano.

If one is called a spinefoot, then two would be spinefeet?? In any case, they were rubbed with a paste made of garlic, ginger, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and salt. Before we steamed them, mom doused them with a couple splashes of Healthy Boy mushroom soy sauce.

BTW, if you go to a place like Seafood City, you need to put on your poker face. Not because of any fishy smells. I was actually pleasantly surprised that it only smelled of the sea. But you may witness some unforgettable moments. Like when one customer dropped her fish on the floor, picked it up with her hands (completely unphased) and put it back in the plastic bag from which it fell. Or the other customer that tried to stuff a giant, fresh squid into a plastic bag that was not quite big enough. Apparently she didn't mind that the tentacles were splayed out in her cart, along with her other grocery items. It was simultaneously horrifying and hysterical. (Note to self: Never put fresh produce into a cart if it's not securely tied in a plastic bag. You never know who's been using the cart before you.)

What started out as a couple of fish dishes turned into a fish feast. In addition to the spinefoot and pompano we had fried mackerel courtesy of one of Mom's friends, shrimp fried rice and tom yum goong (which I made and Mom loved! yay!). Mom even made a delicious fish dip spiked with fermented fish juice! Yum!

Steamed spinefoot. The broth was awesome!

Bottom row: pompano. Top row: mackerel. People are always trying to do fish in some fancy way, but to me there's nothing better than crispy fried salted fish. I guess I'm just a country bumpkin :-)

When making tom yum, to prevent hard, rubbery shrimp, don't add them in until after you've added all the other ingredients and seasoned the soup to your liking. Turn off the heat and drop the shrimp in. Don't stir! Just put the lid on and wait about 5 to 7 minutes, then serve.

There's a fermenting fish in there! Mom used the juice to make a dip with fire roasted tomatoes, shallots, garlic, chilies and some fish meat. It really did taste a lot better than it sounds.

Shrimp fried rice for my stepdad. He doesn't eat much Thai food. Puzzling, huh?

And here are some final random pictures:

Grilled sticky rice. Thai sticky rice is steamed then cooked with coconut milk, sugar and salt. The rice is put into a banana leaf then grilled. This batch has a layer of taro (faintly purple), which is a little hard to see. My relatives brought these all the way from Michigan.

Mom called these Daughter-in-law eggs. It's fried eggs topped with a Thai-style sweet and sour pork stir fry. Apparently peas are the norm but she just used some left over veggie mix from Christmas dinner.

Another of Mom's friends missed our seafood extravaganza, but brought this over the following day. It was awesome! Crispy fried tilapia with a sweet, garlicky, spicy sauce. Better than what you can get at any restaurant!

Stir-fried bean sprouts don't sound very exciting, but this is a very flavorful dish. It has lots of garlic and simply seasoned with mushroom soy sauce and oyster sauce. This is more the type of simple stir-fry I grew up eating.

That's it! Hope you enjoyed seeing the type of Thai food we eat at home.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Kanom Koke

Did everyone have a fun, safe New Year celebration? Great!

Ours was low key, which is just what we needed after spending 6 days with my family. Just kidding, Mom! It was fun, but with nieces and babies and all around general chaos, it was nice to spend an evening just chillaxing. But I do want to post yet another highlight from our visit.

Another of Mom's friends, Auntie P, who wouldn't stand to be outdone by the tapioca pork dumplings, offered to make another one of my favorite sweets, kanom koke. It's hard to believe that I haven't had these since my last visit to Thailand, 9 years ago! (Where does the time go? It still seems like yesterday!)

How do I describe these?

Imagine a custard crossed with a pancake. They are made with rice flour and coconut milk and fried up in a special pan with several wells. The bottoms become crispy while the centers are still soft but firm. Hard to explain. You'll just have to taste.

These tasties can be embellished by adding slightly cooked, diced pumpkin or taro to the batter, but here's the basic version:

Rice flour is mixed with coconut milk. Pandan leaves or essence are added, much like vanilla would be to a dessert. A pinch of salt and sugar may also be added, but it's not necessary as another sweetened mixture will be added on top. The batter is heated until it thickens slightly and the flavor from the pandan leaves is released.

Auntie said the sweets are named after the pan used to cook them (koke = hole). Luckily I already have a pan like this I use to make Danish aebleskiver, a kind of round pancake. The batter is poured into the greased wells and allowed to set slightly.

After the batter sets a little, a second mixture of coconut cream mixed with a little coconut milk, chives (we used green onions), sugar and salt are put on top.

They're done with the edges and bottom crisp and the centers firm up.

Don't they look great? The texture is custard-y yet firm-ish. The bottom is slightly crispy and caramelized. They taste best eaten warm. My cousin said she ate these for breakfast every morning before school. I think I could do that too!

Compared to the tapioca dumplings, these were a breeze to make! I'll try to get a recipe posted once I replicate them myself.

Thai Tapioca Dumpling Filled with Pork (Sawku Sai Muu)

We've made it home safe and sound! And our roof is still intact! Yay! It started leaking, dripping water into our dining room a couple of days before our trip so we didn't know what to expect when we got back.

Before the trip, mom asked if there was anything special I wanted to eat. I told her I wanted to find a particular snack we used to get at a small Thai grocer. It’s a tapioca ball stuffed with a sweet-savory filling of pork, pickled radish, palm sugar and chopped peanut. It’s been at least 15 years since I last had it. Mom did better than find it, she called in her friend who used to make and sell them to various grocers to demonstrate how to make them!

Here's the quick version:

Start with rehydrated tapioca balls. I didn't get to see the tapioca being prepared, but it sounded very involved. I wrote it all down, but I have a feeling it's going to take a few tries to get the right texture, which is very pliable and soft. It looks crumbly, but it's not at all.

I could never cut it as a photojournalist. With all the talking and photographing and notetaking, this turned out to be the shameful picture I got of the filling! The filling is brown in part from the caramelization of the palm sugar. Those light flecks are chopped peanuts. There's also pickled radish and fried ground pork. The filling is so uniform, that the only recognizable texture of the filling are the peanuts. If you overcook the filling it will be hard and dry. If it's undercooked it's going to be too wet. I have a feeling it's going to take a few tries with this too.

The filling is enclosed in the tapioca. Make sure none of the filling is showing. It needs to be completely covered, otherwise it will come out. Also, the tapioca cannot be too thick or else you'll just get a chewy, messy mass in your mouth.

Drop the balls into boiling water. They will rise to the top when they are done.

Once the balls are done, toss them with garlic oil and bits of fried garlic.

Chopped garlic is fried in plenty of oil, then drained, reserving the oil. The oil is used to keep the balls from sticking and the fried garlic is sprinkled liberally on top. Don't try to cut corners and use the store-bought fried garlic. This needs to be made fresh every batch.

Ta-da! Tell me that doesn't look tempting. I won't mention how many of these bad boys I ate. Suffice it to say, it was a lot!

Sweet, savory, salty, fresh and spicy in one bite!

Easy, right? Let's see how long it's going to take me to get it right.