Sunday, June 29, 2014

What to get at the Asian Market

I've had this recipe on my tablet for a while, meaning to either ask Nexx to write up an entry or to just put it up myself. It's a great side dish, though I'm damned if I can remember just what we served it with.

I have, in learning about Asian food, come to enjoy the lightness and tang of some side dishes and salads. An easy snack is slicking cucumbers adding black sesame seeds and stirring them up with some ponzu. Ponzu, if you have not experienced it, is a citrus-based sauce. A lot of what you see in stores is actually ponzu shoyu, which means there is soy sauce involved, but it's commonly called ponzu.

I love cabbage, maybe it's the Polish ancestry. I love a good coleslaw, kraut, or golabki. I have on occasion made "lazy pierogie" which is fried cabbage and onions stirred up with medium-sized pasta shells.

But I digress (surprise, surprise). The following recipe is easy, tasty and light, which is perfect for summer days ahead. I think I'll serve it alongside next time Austin grills some salmon with an Asian-themed sauce.

Napa Cabbage Salad (serves 2)

10 leaves of Napa cabbage
1 dried kombu
60 g bonito flakes (which are also delicious stirred up with rice and soy sauce. A great way to use up leftover rice)
15 g of ponzu

Slice off the bottom 5 cm of the cabbage leaves and set them aside for another use (soup comes to mind). Pour boiling water on the kombu and let it rest while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Cut the cabbage leaves horizontally into strips about 1 cm wide (figure half an inch). Cut the kombu into strips about 2 cm long and 5 mm wide. Mix the cabbage, kombu, bonito and ponzu in a bowl. Serve chilled.

Delicious, light and nicely crunchy. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A rustic take on vodka sauce

I game on a lot of Saturdays. Sometimes it's D&D, sometimes it's board games. Of late, we've been working on putting Shadowrun characters together. If Austin doesn't fire up the grill or make chili, we usually send out to the pizza place. 

Not usually for pizza, though. Salads, calzone, sandwiches, wings. Most recently, a couple of us got penne vodka. It was merely okay. I thought I could do better, so I mulled it over for a week and this is what I came up with.

1 Cup diced yellow onion
2 T unsalted butter
4 oz diced pancetta
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil
6 oz can of tomato paste. I use Contadina. The ingredients read: Tomatoes. Nothing else.
1.5 cups of your favorite vodka (I used Chopin. Nexx thinks I should have used a grain vodka instead of potato)
Juice of half a lemon
1 t black pepper
1 pound of your favorite pasta. Penne is traditional, but honestly, I find it boring. And if I'm putting this much effort into a sauce, I want something that holds on to it. I used fusilli, but as you wish.
approx 1 cup heavy cream
grated parmesan (optional)

Melt the butter in a skillet on medium-low heat. Stir in the onions, and keep stirring until they are your favorite shade of brown and well caramelized. Set aside.

Cut the sundried tomatoes into strips. Place in a bowl, a mortar & pestle, a food processer and smush them into a chunky paste. Set aside.

 In a sauté pan, cook the pancetta until crisp. Remove the pancetta, but leave about 1T of the fat in the pan. Deglaze the pan with 3/4 cup of the vodka and keep the heat down low. Scrape up all the brown bits.

When brown bits are all incorporated into the liquid, gradually add the tomato paste, the sun-dried tomatoes, the lemon juice, the onion and the pancetta. Stir well to combine, goose the heat up a little bit.

Start your pasta water boiling. Continue to stir the sauce. Add in the pepper and bring to a slow boil. Gradually add the rest of the vodka. Keep the temperature to where you have tiny bubbles, but not a rolling boil.

Cook pasta to your idea of doneness. Drain. Slowly stir in the cream until you think it's the proper color and taste. Return pasta to pot. Pour sauce over. Gently stir so you don't break the pasta and serve. Top with parmesan. Completely forget about the salad you were going to make.

I loved how this came out. The tomato wasn't too sweet, the chunky texture I'll experiment with a grain vodka. I tend to prefer potato because I find it to have a softer taste, and Chopin because it's Polish. 

What pasta would you put this over? Inquiring minds want to know.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Too hungry to take pictures

Hello friends! I am pleased to bring you a meal that is both easy and tasty.

While I got a raise with last year's new job, a lot of it does get eaten up by the commute, so I shop the sales and try to eat seasonal.

This week, I was lucky enough to get a couple of tuna steaks for about 40% off their usual price. Once I found those, I started wracking my brains. I've done sesame tuna, and while it's delicious, it wasn't what I was in the mood for. It is trying to be spring outside, dammit, and I wanted a citrusy freshness, so to Google, I went.

I hit what I call paydirt here. Conveniently, I had both Old Bay and dried cilantro in the house though it wasn't the brand listed. I don't think I'm subject to a lawsuit.

Anyway, very easy to make and not a lot of time. The ingredients are simple too (serves 2):

  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 2 teaspoons dried cilantro leaves.
  • 1 pound tuna steaks (this was two hefty ones, a little over an inch thick).

Blend the first four ingredients in a bowl. Put the tuna steaks in a zipper back and pour marinade over, making sure everything is covered. Put in fridge.

The recipe said a minimum of fifteen minutes, more for more flavor, once I put the steaks in the fridge, I did the following.

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Chop about 2/3 a cup of red onions to a small dice and place in a small bowl. cover with white vinegar, add a pinch of salt and about 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, set aside.

Scrub a pound of fingerling potatoes with a vegetable brush and rinse well, let dry on paper towels, cut into approximately equally-sized pieces. With most of the fingerlings, I could cut them in half. The smaller ones, I put small cuts in for ventilation. Put the potatoes in the large bowl.

Grab 6-8 large bay leaves. Take the leafy part off the main rib and pulverise the leaves with the violent method of your choice until you have a fine powder. Add a touch of salt, and some black pepper. (I actually used 4, and I definitely needed more bay leaves).

Pour 1/4 cup of olive oil over the potatoes and stir until the potatoes are coated well. Sprinkle half the spice mixture over, stir again. Repeat. Spread evenly on a cookie sheet covered with foil and stick in oven. Set timer for 15 minutes.

Put some fresh lettuce leaves on your plates (either a corner of the dinner plate or its own, but don't use a salad bowl, it won't be as pretty). I used butter lettuce because I love the texture.

Halve, pit, and peel a fresh avocado. Rub lime juice on your cutting board before putting the avocados down and slicing them. This will keep them from getting brown after plating. Slice the avocado and arrange the slices over the lettuce leaves.

At about this time, the timer will be going off. Stir the potatoes and return them to the oven.

Slice a jalapeno into rings, then gently remove the seeds and ribs. Place 5-7 jalapeno rings in a line on top of the avocado. Top with pickled onions.

Set the table, pour a glass of wine, run out the time until the timer goes off. Stir the potatoes again.

Put 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a pan (because we're not allowed grills on our balconies and the public ones haven't been cleaned since the Clinton administration) and turn the heat up to medium high. Remove tuna from the fridge and sear for no more than two minutes a side. Transfer tuna to plates. Turn off the oven.

Add potatoes to plates. Pour more wine and serve.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

We need a candy thermometer

A few weeks ago, Nexx made a chocolate mousse and topped it with candied orange peel. It was quite delicious, and I topped mine with just a touch of cream.

This weekend, we were invited to a dinner party and we were asked to make a salad. In my staunch refusal to be boring, I went digging and found this recipe. A bit more about that in a moment.

Now, one can buy candied lemon peel, but somebody very cute frowned at that, so I went digging a bit and also talked to Nexx.

The recipe I found seemed pretty easy. Peel lemons, eschew pith, boil and strain a few times then cook in simple syrup until soft and tasty.

When I talked to Nexx, he mentioned that he didn't boil it as many times as Lynn Rosetto Kasper did in her recipe. I took that under advisement and started my first boil.

And when I saw how yellow the water had turned and how much lemony goodness was being thrown away, I decided to cut the peel into smaller pieces.

Then it was a question of making simple syrup, which is easy. 2:1 ratio. Sugar in the pot, then the water. I had the heat up too high (hence the title of today's post), so ended up making more, but in the end, I had delicious bits of candied goodness. 

Now for the rest of the recipe:

  • 2 heads frisée (curly endive) (6 to 7 cups, washed, dried and torn into bite sized pieces). Frisée is out of season, so I went with a mix of arugula, radicchio and a bit of endive.
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt I eliminated, the cheese provides sufficient salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons good tasting extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or to taste
  • About 3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved into long furls I used a cheese called grana padano here. It's much less expensive than imported parmesan and has a slightly softer texture, making it easy to shave with a vegetable peeler.
  • 1/3 cup Candied Lemon Peel, homemade or store bought, cut into 1/2-inch sticks
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup Balsamic Syrup (balsamic vinegar with a bit of brown sugar).

1. Place the frisée into a large bowl and have 4 to 6 individual salad plates at hand. Sprinkle the greens with the salt, pepper and the olive oil. Toss and then add the wine vinegar. Toss again and taste for oil-vinegar balance.
2. Heap greens on each plate, and tuck the cheese furls and lemon peel here and there into the greens. Scatter with the pine nuts and drizzle each pile with a few streaks of the balsamic syrup. Serve immediately.

We didn't quite get into the fancy plating as this was being driven about an hour away. So, tossed together, except for the balsamic, it was sent with Nexx to the dinner party, with a bowl reserved for me to eat later. To my extreme annoyance, I had been attacked by a cold this week and was not fit company for man nor beast. Which is a pity because the friend hosting the dinner party has bunnies and bunnies are one of my favorite beasts.

Nexx came home with an empty container and a little bit of balsamic syrup that had been funneled into a bottle for easy transport. The salad, I was told, was a hit. I had enjoyed it quite a bit, especially the different play of textures. The sharp saltiness of the cheese ad the richness of the pine nuts practically danced with the lemon peel.

And now I have about a pint of lemon syrup which is going into hot tea, because poor Nexx now has my cold.

Next time--either a lamb chili or a carrot ginger soup. Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Another round of making ingredients or, "Oh shit, pot luck!"

In my new job, I work with some great people and have recently transitioned onto a new team. It's both a happy and sad occasion, because while I'm looking forward to new challenges to go along with my current project a person I'd become very fond of took a job elsewhere. 

So a couple weeks ago, someone said, "Let's do a pot luck!" And then someone said, "Spicy!" and I said, without thinking, "I'll make aloo gobi." 

Three of the guys on the team are Indian. Can you say, "Oh shit?"

I was also long out of garam masala, so this was a nice excuse to make a new batch. After several uses, I decided I could do better than the last one--in retrospect, it seemed heavier on the black peppercorns than it needed to be.

So in the grand Knives, Fire, and Fun tradition, I explored some recipes and then made up my own. Into a dry pan on medium-low heat went:

  • 1 T cardamom pods
  • 1t whole cloves
  • 1 t black peppercorns
  • 2 t cumin seeds
  • 1 2" cinnamon stick
  • 1 t coriander seeds
  • 1" dried chile
  • a medium-sized bay leaf, broken into bits.
Toasting spices is one of my favorite culinary things. I get to make the house smell heavenly and I get to shake a pan to mix the ingredients as if I knew what I was doing. Anyway, I did this until the seeds started to make popping noises and then turned off the heat.

I began to break the ingredients down first in a mortar and pestle and then to a fine powder in my spice grinder. I also added a teaspoon of powdered nutmeg, which is something I always have in the house (and why can't I have egg nog all year round?).

This went into my aloo gobi, which I hadn't made in a while. The following morning, I packed it up and navigated the bus, the Metro North train the subway to get to work. At lunchtime, I heated it up and waited nervously.

Success! I was given a pass by the Indian guys, all of which brought some delicious food of their own. 

This has the slight disadvantage of setting the bar a little higher next time . .  . I think I'll go for the cabbage recipe. If I can find it. There were mustard seeds involved . . .