Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pan-fried prawns with pea shoots

Since our niece (who is allergic to seafood) was out of the house for the night, I decided to make hay while the sun shone. That is, I decided to fry up some prawns. So I went down to the Asian Market on Broadway, picked up some meaty prawns and some pea shoots. With good fresh ingredients, I think preparation should be simple, letting the ingredients stand out.

The pea shoots aren't usually available; according to Bruce Cost they have a short shelf life, turning tough and bitter if consumed too long after they've been picked. In his marvelous Asian Ingredients, Cost recommends cooking the pea shoots with a little sugar, salt and rice wine. I added two, small, thinly sliced cloves of garlic. Like other leafy greens, the shoots wilt considerably when fried, losing about half to two-thirds of their volume.

I decided to cook the prawns in their shell. A recipe I have enjoyed time and again is Blonder and Low's Pan-Fried Prawns in Ketchup Sauce from their Every Grain of Rice. This cookbook is every bit as enjoyable as Blonder's very fine Dim Sum, which I've mentioned in previous posts. Americans tend to avoid getting down and dirty when eating, preferring their prawns shelled. But the shells not only help the prawns retain their moisture, they also provide flavor. By cutting through the shell and deveining the prawn, but not removing the shell, you have a colorful, flavorful dish that is still ridiculously easy to eat.

Pan-Fried Prawns in Ketchup Sauce

1 pound prawns in the shell
2 TBS ketchup
1 TBS oyster sauce
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 TBS vegetable oil
2 green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces

With a sharp knife, cut each prawn through the shell just far enough to expose the sand vein down the back. Remove the sand vein. Rinse the prawns and pat them dry. (This step is important, otherwise the prawns will not brown properly.) Cut off the sharp point from the tails, but leave the rest of the shell intact.

In a small bowl, combine the ketchup, oyster sauce, white pepper, and sesame oil and set aside.

Place a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add the tablespoon of vegetable oil. Place the prawns in the pan in a single layer. Brown on one side, then turn and brown on the other. Lower the heat to medium, add the ketchup mixture, and stir to coat the prawns well. Add the green onions and continue to cook just long enough to bring out the color of the onions, about 30 seconds. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Es Apokat--Avocado "Shake"

Although I believe it is technically a fruit, I've always considered avocado a vegetable. It's wonderful in sandwiches, quesadillas, omelets, and, of course, guacamole. I was surprised, therefore, when my Indonesian friends were shocked, and even a little revolted, when I told them about guacamole. Avocados with salt, onions,tomatoes and cilantro? Ewww, gross! I later witnessed pretty much the same reaction in Vietnam.

Huh??? How do you eat avocado?

With sugar. And coffee. Oh, and that's appetizing, right? Actually, once you can rid yourself of your cultural biases, yes, it is. Delicious, in fact. A coffee shake for vegans who still long for milk and ice cream. Or anyone else who likes coffee shakes.

Although my wife does not like coffee or milk shakes, she loves es apokat. Whenever there's a little extra coffee in the house and a ripe avocado, she makes this. I followed her method of making it, which is a more rustic preparation than the smoothie style you'll find in most restaurants nowadays in Indonesia. Instead of using a blender, simply mash an avocado, stir in a couple tablespoons of strong coffee sweetened with sugar almost to the point of being a coffee flavored simple syrup, and then stir in crushed ice. Of course, for those who prefer, you could simply put everything into a blender and puree.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tamarind Ribs and Roasted Curried Cauliflower

After some many days of cookies and cocktail finger food, along with big family dinners of traditional Christmas type meals, I had a hankering for some Southeast Asian flavors. Tamarind makes a good sweet and sour type glaze when combined with honey, ginger, garlic, and shallots. Include some coconut milk and you've got a tasty marinade/glaze. The ribs really should have been grilled, but it was raining and I'm not much for grilling while holding an umbrella. Especially in such a cold rain. So I settled for baking the ribs, which had the benefit of also warming the house a little.

Tamarind with Coconut Baby Back Ribs

1 two-inch chunk of tamarind paste, charred over a gas flame
5 cloves of garlic, minced
4 shallots, minced
1 two-inch piece of garlic, finely grated
3/4 cup water
1 cup of coconut milk
2 to 3 TBS fish sauce
3 TBS honey
2 to 3 TBS gula jawa, or dark brown sugar
4 kaffir lime leaves, finely julienned

Dissolve the tamarind in the water. Strain through a sieve. Mix the water with all the other ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring to dissolve sugar and honey. Simmer for 10 minute or so. Cool.

Cover rack of baby back ribs with the cooled marinade. Marinate for at least two hours.

Preheat oven to 350º. Place marinated rack of ribs in a baking pan. Cover with foil. Bake for 80 minutes. Remove pan from oven and increase heat to 425º. Remove foil cover from the ribs. Brush ribs with any remaining marinade/glaze and return them to the oven, cooking for another 10 minutes or so. (Again, ideally these ribs should be finished on a grill, which would produce a more caramelized glaze.)

Roasting cauliflower is my favorite way of preparing this vegetable. For tonight's meal I simply combined a teaspoon each of ground cumin and salt with about 5 teaspoons of curry powder and a third of a cup of vegetable oil. I then tossed the florets of cauliflower with the oil mixture and baked in a 425º oven for about 35 minutes, turning the florets over once.

I'm submitting this recipe to Weekend Wokking, a world-wide food blogging event created by Wandering Chopsticks to celebrate the multiple ways we can cook one ingredient. The host this month is Palachinka. If you would like to participate or to see the secret ingredient, check who's hosting next month.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Lemon Meringue Tartlets

What to do when friends unload the bounty of their harvest of Meyer lemons on you? Make lemon curd. Lemon cakes. Lemon puddings. Lemon mousse. Meyer lemon ice cream. Lemons with coconut and kaffir lime leaves. Do what you will, but don't let this resource go to waste. Meyers lemon are sweeter than regular lemons, so you should adjust the sugar in your recipes if using them in place of the more common Eureka lemons. Apparently, their thin skins make them commercially unviable for large scale production, so you need to look for them at farmers markets or in the yards of good friends.

These tartlets are relatively easy to make and are convenient for serving large groups. I've made them for teacher workshops as well as family gatherings. People can serve themselves and there's no messing with cutting slices ("I'd like to try just a tiny sliver--a little smaller, ah, ah, ok."). For those who want just a bite, one is plenty. For the average appetite, two or three will do. The tartness of the curd is a refreshing contrast to the slight sweetness of the crust and meringue. This recipe comes from Epicurious and can be found here.

You will need a half recipe of the tartlet shells, which you can find here. One nice thing about this recipe is that the dough for the shells uses the three egg yolks you will have from making the meringue. I find it easier to roll out the dough and use a biscuit cutter to make rounds to press into the mini muffin tins rather than pressing balls of dough into the tins. Careful when blind baking the shells that you don't brown them too much. I recommend checking them after 9 minutes.

For lemon curd

* 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
* 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
* 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 3 large eggs

Cut butter into pieces and in a heavy saucepan cook with zest, lemon juice, and sugar over moderate heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved and mixture just comes to a simmer. In a bowl whisk together eggs and whisk in lemon mixture until combined well. Transfer lemon curd to pan and heat over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until it just begins to simmer. Pour lemon curd through a fine sieve into a bowl and cool slightly. Chill lemon curd, its surface covered with plastic wrap, at least 2 hours, or until cold, and up to 3 days.

Fill tartlet shells in baking cups with lemon curd. Chill tartlets, covered, 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

For meringue

* 3 large egg whites
* 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
* 3/4 cup sugar

In a bowl with an electric mixer beat whites with a pinch salt until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat whites until they hold soft peaks. Gradually add sugar, beating until meringue holds stiff peaks.

I simply spooned the meringue on top of the tartlets. If you want to do a more elegant presentation, transfer meringue to a pastry bag fitted with 1/2-inch plain tip and pipe meringue 2 inches high onto each tartlet, completely covering lemon curd.

Bake tartlets in middle of oven 3 minutes, or until meringue tips are just browned, and cool in cups on racks. Chill tartlets in airtight containers at least 2 hours, or until cold, and up to 1 day. Keep tartlets chilled until ready to serve.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Rosemary Shortbread

Although I don't have a real sweet tooth, I do enjoy buttery rich desserts. I've never gotten into the cupcake craze; I just don't care for the sugary icing that most people seem to slather over them. But I do like cookies, particularly ones loaded with butter. Shortbreads are little more than butter, flour and sugar. They are the perfect cookie to accompany an after dinner cup of coffee or espresso. These with their addition of rosemary are a pleasantly adult cookie. Leave out a plate of them for Santa and send the kids to bed. The recipe is from the recently departed Gourmet and can be found here.
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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Shrimp and Salmon Terrine

It's that time of year when there are cocktail parties that are a little festive. They call for more than your run of the mill appetizers. A terrine is not a dish most people make too often, but it adds a touch of class to an evening gathering. I've been wanting to make this particular terrine almost since I bought Charcuterie. Although I bought the book primarily for its recipes and instructions on making sausages and cured meats, this recipe quickly captured my interest. But I kept putting off making it because I was afraid it just wouldn't turn out. Actually, the recipe was quite easy. And the end result is appealing to both the eye and tongue.

If you like sausage, cured meats and such, I heartily recommend Rhulman and Polycn's Charcuterie. If you just want the recipe for this terrine, click here. Although they don't credit the book, the recipe is verbatim from Charcuterie.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Leek and Olive Tart

My wife has taken up knitting. Several Sundays a month she gets together with some other teachers and knits. Of course, knitters need nourishment. And somehow, I've become the designated cook for the group. I don't mind really, and I am getting a nifty burgundy wool cap out of the deal. It also gives me an excuse to cook some dishes I've been meaning to try.

Fields of Greens is a tremendous vegetarian cookbook. Back in the day, vegetarian cookbooks had recipes that were more penitent than pleasing. The recipes were good for you. You knew this because eating them was hard work. Then Greens showed up and people realized that you don't have to suffer to enjoy a vegetarian diet. Although I am no more vegetarian than I am religious, I have nothing but praise for Fields of Greens. It certainly makes me understand how someone could become a vegetarian.

Well, two of the teachers in the knitting group are almost vegetarian. They don't eat mammals, and all other flesh has to be made unrecognizable. I think the only reason they aren't vegetarian is they can't quite commit themselves. But they're lovely women, nonetheless.

Fields of Greens has several tarts using a yeasted tart dough. It's a supple, toothsome dough that is more buttery than a pizza crust but not as rich as a typical tart dough. It comes together easily and is not sodden at all when baked.

The filling in the original recipe calls for fresh thyme and Gaeta or Niçoise olives. I didn't have fresh thyme in, so used a teaspoon of dried instead, and used Kalamata olives because they were what I had on hand. The Kalamata olives are fairly salty, but I thought the tart tasted good. The knitters managed to finish three quarters of the tart.

Yeasted Tart Dough
from Fields of Greens

1 tsp active dry yeast, 1/2 package
pinch of sugar
1/4 cup warm (110º F) water
about 1 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp minced lemon zest (optional)
1 large egg at room temperature
3 TBS solft unsalted butter
unbleached flour for shaping

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the water set in a warm place while you gather the other ingredients. Combine 1 cup flour, the salt, and lemon zest in a bowl and make a well. Break the egg into the middle of it; add the butter and pour in the yeast mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon to form a soft, smooth dough. Dust it with flour and gather into a ball; set it in a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap or kitchen towel. Let the dough rise in a warm place until it is doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. If you are not ready to use the dough at this time, knead it down and let it rise again.

When you are ready to use the dough, flatten into a disk, then roll out, dusting with flour as needed to keep from sticking. I find using a rolling pin to roll out the dough is much easier and makes a more uniform crust than trying to stretch it with your hands as recommended in the book. Place the rolled dough into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, pressing it up the sides. It shoud be thin on the bottom and thicker at the sides, about 1/4 inch higher than the rim of the pan. It can be filled immediately or refrigerated until needed.

Leek and Olive Tart Filling

1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
3 medium-size leeks, white parts only, cut in half lengthwise, washed, and thinly sliced, about 3 cups
salt and pepper
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
8 to 10 Gaeta or Niçoise olives, pitted and chopped
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 TBS coarsely chopped Italian parsley
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1/2 tsp minced lemon zest
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, about 2/3 cup

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan and saute the leeks with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few pinches of pepper over medium heat. When the leeks start to wilt, in about 3 minutes, add the garlic, cover the pan, and lightly steam until the leeks are tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove the lid and saute, uncover, for 2 more minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss the leeks with the olives, thyme, and parsley. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Beat the eggs in a bowl and mix in the half-and-half. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, a pinch of pepper, and the lemon zest.

Spread the cheese over the bottom of the tart dough, followed by the leeks and olives. Pour the custard over and bake for about 40 minutes, until the custard is golden and set.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Daring Cooks Challenge--Porc en Croute

The 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking. Simone chose Salmon en Croute (or alternative recipes for Beef Wellington or Vegetable en Croute) from Good Food Online. I chose to substitute pork because my wife doesn't care for rare beef and my niece, who lives with us, is allergic to salmon. I did make the short pastry as well as a coconut creamed spinach bed for the pork tenderloin; I wanted to give it somewhat of a southeast Asian flavor.

I had planned to cook this earlier, when I had more time. But things came up. Then, suddenly, the fourteenth was here and it was time to post. So I made the short pastry before going to school this morning, then rushed home after class this afternoon, prepared copies of the final for my evening class, creamed the spinach, seared and butterflied the tenderloin, stuffed, wrapped and baked it, took some photos, wrote some words, and voila...another challenge met. Now I'll post this and then go give my final.

Short Pastry
450 grams flour
200 grams butter
chilled water

In a food processor, pulse flour and butter until you have a coarse meal. Add just enough chilled water to gather into a ball. Flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least an hour.

Coconut Creamed Spinach
2 TBS oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
16 ounces fresh spinach, stems removed (I used baby spinach)
cayenne pepper to taste
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup coconut milk

Add oil to a medium high pan. Add onions, garlic, and ginger, and cook until onions are translucent. Add spinach. As spinach begins to wilt, add coconut milk, salt, and pepper. Stir until spinach is totally wilted. Continue to cook to reduce the liquid slightly. Place spinach in colander and let cool and drain.

To assemble the dish, sear the tenderloin on all sides. Butterfly the tenderloin, then pound to thin slightly. Stuff spinach mixture in tenderloin. Place stuffed tenderloin on short pastry that has been rolled to about 1/8 inch thickness and brushed with an egg wash. Cut three vents in top of the pastry to let steam escape. Brush top of the pastry with egg wash. Bake in 400º oven for 20--25 minutes. When done, let rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fried Tofu Simmered with Scallion--Dau Hu Chien Tam Hanh La

It has been cold in Northern California, record breaking cold.  Good weather for stews and casseroles.  Or hearty pasta dishes.  But tofu?  Yes, indeed.  This dish is as satisfying as any beef daube or bourguignon you might find in France.  And as simple as sin.

There's nothing to it, really.  Just tofu, water, fish sauce, a little sugar and green onions.  That's it.  But the taste is rich and soulful.  It's a dish I could eat every night for a year and not tire of.  The key is to use fresh cakes of tofu and to fry the tofu up yourself before you add it to the simmering water mixture.  If you wanted to avoid the fish sauce, I suppose you could substitute Maggi seasoning or soy sauce for a slightly different taste.  If you think you don't like fish sauce or tofu, try this dish first. 

This recipe is adapted from Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen.  She doesn't add sugar, but I find I like a little sugar to balance the fish sauce.  Maybe it's a result of spending too many years in Central Java, where they like their food sweet.  Anyway, give this a try.

Dau Hu Chien Tam Hanh La

1 1/2 pounds tofu, preferably the fresh blocks available in Asian markets, or direct from the makers
neutral vegetable oil for deep-frying the tofu

1/2 cup water
2 to 3 TBS fish sauce
1 to 2 tsp sugar
3 scallions, green part only, chopped

Cut the tofu into cubes, approximately one inch. Deep fry until crisp.

In a saucepan or claypot combine water, fish sauce and sugar. Heat until simmering. Add the fried tofu, stirring to expose all sides to the liquid, cover and cook for about 3 minutes. Uncover, stir in the scallions, and serve.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Belgian Endive Crab Bites

Tis the season for cocktail parties. Which means it's also the season for overindulgence in rich, buttery, cheesy, creamy appetizers and dips, along with an array of buttery cookies and baked goods. And what's wrong with that? Nothing, really, 'cept sometimes you want something a little lighter.

But by lighter, I don't mean broccoli spears and carrot sticks in an insipid fat-free mayo dip. I mean something naturally light and refreshing and tasty. Because if I have to choose between something tasty that will cause my doctor to cry and something healthy that has no taste, doc, the kleenex are next to the puff pastry. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be an either or dilemma. You can graze the hors d'oeuvre table and eat light, satisfying bites that aren't loaded with butter or cream.

Belgian endive are the perfect vegetable for delivering refreshing bites. They can be filled with any number of toppings and assembled ahead of time. When your guests come, the leaves are still crisp, an advantage over crostini. Also, people feel good about themselves when they eat something in a leaf. Serve chocolate truffles topped with caramel in an endive leaf and people would gobble them up while feeling so good about themselves for getting a vegetable.

The dressing for the salad utilizes kaffir lime pepper jelly, but you could use Thai sweet chili sauce instead. However, I strongly recommend the use of fresh kaffir lime leaves in the salad. They add a very refreshing accent. If you can't find those, you might try finely grated lime zest.

Belgian Endive Crab Bites

Belgian endive (Trader Joe's sells them in packs of three--two green, one red)

crab meat, preferably fresh, picked over to remove any cartilage or shell
red pepper, finely diced
Fuji apple, finely diced (fresh waterchestnuts or jicama could be substituted)
kaffir lime leaves, center vein removed, finely minced

1 TBS kaffir lime pepper jelly (or Thai sweet chili sauce)
1 TBS fish sauce
2 TBS water
lime juice, to taste

Mix crab, red pepper, apple and lime leaves together. Squeeze some lime over salad to keep apple from browning.

Heat jelly (if using) in microwave to liquify. Stir in fish sauce, water and lime juice. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary to have a tart, slightly sweet dressing. Lightly dress the crab salad.

Spoon salad into washed, dried endive leaves. Plate and serve.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Chile Colorado

Mexican food for me is comfort food. I spent a number of my younger years living in Southeast Asia and as much as I love the food from the region, there were times I sorely missed Mexican food. I love a good plate of rice and beans, and I've been making my own flour tortillas since eighth grade. One semester in college I practically lived on a diet of homemade burritos, keeping my food budget to a minimum so I could buy more wine.

It's interesting that so many ingredients indigenous to Mexico found their way into Asian cuisines, most importantly the chili pepper. It's hard to imagine Indian, Thai, or Indonesian food absent the chili, yet that was the case until the sixteenth century when the Spanish or Portuguese (there appear to be arguments for each) introduced chilies to Asia. Mexican cooking incorporates a great variety of chilies, both fresh and dried, into its dishes.

This version of chile colorado is probably a greatly bastardized version of the original. It has been a go to dish in my family for more than thirty years. I believe the original recipe comes from Sunset's Mexican Cooking, a 100-page or so 8 1/2-inch by 11-inch paperback for which my mother probably paid about $4.95. I can't recall any other recipes from the book, but this one was a winner. By the way, if you're looking for heat, this ain't the dish. You could add cayenne, of course, or some other chili to raise the heat quotient, but try it as it is first.


3 lbs lean boneless pork butt
2 TBS salad oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBS ancho chili powder
2 TBS chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp oregano leaves, crumbled
1 3/4 cups water
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 TBS canned tomato paste
1/2 cup whipping cream
Roasted pumpkin seeds warm
soft tortillas or hot cooked rice

Garnishes: 1 large avocado,peeled, pitted, and sliced; 1 large tomato, cut in wedges; sour cream sprinkled with chili powder; 2 limes, cut in wedges.


Trim meat and cut into one inch cubes. Heat oil in frying pan over medium-high heat; add meat a few pieces at a time and cook until lightly brown. Push to side; add onion, garlic, chili powder, oregano, and cumin; cook until onion is limp.
Stir in water, sugar, tomato paste and salt. Sim- mer, covered about one hour. Skim off fat and discard. Add cream, and cook, stirring until mixture boils.
Turn into a serving dish and garnish with pump- kin seeds. To serve, fill warm tortillas with meat and garnish with avocado, tomato, and sour cream.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: A Moveable New Year--Hmong New Year Celebration

The fourth Thursday in November is a day of celebration across the United States, a day for feasting, for celebrating traditions, family and community. In Sacramento, the fourth Thursday in November is when Hmong celebrate New Year . They celebrate four days, from Thursday through Sunday, at Cal Expo, site of California's State Fair.

The Hmong view the New year's celebration as a chance to renew their community ties and celebrate their culture. Recognizing its importance in preserving their cultural identity, the Hmong stagger the New Year's celebration to ensure that most of the community can participate. Thus, in California the first New Year's celebration is in Chico in September and the last one is in Fresno from December 26 to 30. Besides the Thanksgiving weekend celebration in Sacramento, there are also celebrations in other communities across California between September and December.

A people 5,000 years old that have preserved their unique cultural identity while living amongst more politically dominant cultures, the Hmong have long employed a flexible approach to celebrating New Year. Although their New Year is based on the lunar calendar just as the Chinese and Vietnamese New Years are, in China, where the largest number of Hmong still live, they celebrate their New Year in December to differentiate it from the Chinese New Year. In Laos, where most of the Hmong in the US came from, the celebrations are scheduled around harvests and staggered over a month to allow greater participation.

Covering the celebration in Sacramento as one of Foodbuzz's November 24/24/24 participants, I spent several afternoons at the festival. My wife, another friend and I attended the New Year's celebrations Saturday and met several of our students. My wife and I then returned Sunday. We intended to just go Saturday, but my camera battery gave out and we decided we could get some more Hmong barbecue. On Saturday we watched some dancing and qeej (pronounced "keng," the Hmong bagpipe-like instrument) competitions. The dancing reflected the global influence on the generation of Hmong growing up in the United States. It ranged from hip hop, to Thai, to Bollywood inspired dances. The qeej are traditionally played at funerals, weddings, and other important community ceremonies. The players spin in circles, dip and thrust the instrument like the horns of a water buffalo, hop on one leg, hooking the leg with the qeej, twist it up and to the side, all the while playing a continuous melodic hum.

For most of the participants, the New Year celebration is an opportunity to wear their traditional clothes, visit friends and relatives, and eat Hmong barbecue. For young men and women it is a chance to see and be seen. Although both men and women wear traditional costumes, more men choose to wear western clothes, with some wearing conservative suits and others wearing hoodies and jeans. The traditional costumes identify the wearers as White Hmong or Green Hmong, from northern Laos or western Laos. Some younger women put together their own outfits based not on tribal identity but personal fashion preference. Besides offering Hmong dvds, cds, and medicine for sale, kiosks sell traditional jewelry, hats, and clothes.

The food was delicious. Chickens, Flintstone size pork chops, skewers of meatballs, fish wrapped in banana leaves and then in foil, as well as Hmong and American sausage are grilled over mesquite charcoal. The meats are served with sticky rice and Hmong sambal. Papaya salad was also sold at each of the barbecue stands. Each salad was made to order, resulting in long, slow lines. The Hmong version of papaya salad is much more robust than the Vietnamese version, and spicier and more fragrant than you'll find in most Thai restaurants. In addition to the barbecue and papaya salad, there were stalls selling curry noodles, pho, egg rolls, fried rice and other such fare. In as much as this is the capital of California, there were also churros and even one stand selling nachos of the variety you can find at gas stations. I can't explain this any more than I can explain the success of McDonald's in Singapore.

The final Hmong New Year celebration in California takes place next month in Fresno. According to my students, this is the biggest of all the celebrations. There were probably at least 20,000 people who attended the celebrations each day in Sacramento. For a peek into another culture and a chance to taste food that you can't easily find, I would recommend that anyone who is in the vicinity of Fresno from December 26 to 30 to take advantage of the opportunity and go to the New Year's celebration. If you can't do that, try one of the following recipes, or better yet, buy the book.

The recipes that follow are adapted from Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America by Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang. This is an interesting, at times very moving collection of recipes and stories of the Hmong experience in the United States. As an ESL teacher who has often enjoyed many of the dishes featured in the book at class potlucks, I especially enjoyed the cultural and personal stories included in the book.

Hmong Sausage
Nyhuv Ntxwm Hmoob
(makes 8 servings)

3 pounds pork meat with some fat, finely minced or ground
1 cup finely chopped ginger
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
2 to 3 hot chili peppers, minced
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
sausage casing (I used 35/38 mm hog casing)


Mix the meat and spices thoroughly. Take a small amount of the mixture and fry it in a nonstick skillet. Taste and adjust the seasonings. With a sausage-stuffing machine, fill the casing. Don't fill too tight or the sausages will burst. While the Hmong generally make longer links, I prefer 6 to 8 inch links.

After assembly, Hmong let the sausage rest for a day or two to let the flavors blend and allow the sausage to become firm. In Laos I saw people just hang sausage outside. Cook or freeze the sausages within two days of making them. Grill the sausages over hot coals, turning frequently to brown on all sides. As with all fresh sausage, you want to cook thoroughly but guard against bursting. Cook to 170º. Serve with sticky rice. (The sausage I bought at the New Year's celebration had a fairly high fat ratio as well as a lot of salt or salt and msg, but it was delicious.)

One of the interesting features of Cooking from the Heart is that many of the recipes are super-sized, appropriate for Hmong family gatherings and celebrations. While this might seem strange, it makes sense when you consider the book's target audience is younger Hmong who have grown up in the United States who long for the food they grew up eating. Their parents and grandparents probably cooked without set recipes and it's hard to pass that knowledge to a generation used to formulas. You might be able to cook green beans for eight, but how about when you're having a celebration and need to cook for 25? This book tells you how.

Garlicky Green Bean Stir-Fry
Taum Kib Xyaw Qej
(makes 25 servings)


5 pounds fresh green beans, washed and stem ends snipped off
2/3 cup vegeatble oil
1/2 cup chopped garlic
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup oyster sauce


Clean the green beans and snip off the stem ends. Heat the oil to medium-hot in a large, lidded, round-bottomed pan. Toss in the garlic and onion and stir-fry just until their flavors are released, about 20 seconds. Add the green beans and the salt. Stir-fry for a few minutes. Then add the water and cover the pan. Let the beans steam for 5 minutes. Uncover the pan, add the oyster sauce, and stir 2 to 3 minutes, until the beans are uniformly covered with the shiny sauce. They should retain some of their crunch.

I made the green beans, cutting the proportions by two-thirds, as an accompaniment to our Thanksgiving dinner and they were delicious. This is an easy dish to throw together at the last minute, as long as you have prepped the beans.

The stipend provided by Foodbuzz was more than enough to pay for parking, entrance, and food for my wife, friend, and I. Hunger is serious problem throughout the world and one that gets too little recognition in our media. I donated $150 of the stipend to World Food Programme. Others interested in donating to this organization can click on the badge on the right of this page. Every little bit can help in providing food for those who are in need.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Perkedel Jagung--Indonesian Corn Fritters

I was thinking the other day that I should have posted about perkedel jagung this summer, when corn was in season. Although it can be made with frozen corn, it's at its best when the kernels are shaved from the cob. I was very pleased then when I went to the local farmers market and found one grower still had corn. I was skeptical that corn this late in the season would be any good, but at four ears for $1.50 I figured I'd give it a try. It was the sweetest corn I have ever tasted, a little too sweet for my taste, but certainly more flavorful than any frozen corn could ever hope to be.

Perkedel jagung are a common side when fixing nasi tumpeng, a celebratory meal featuring a cone of nasi kuning and a variety of dishes to accompany it. Relatively easy to make, good perkedel jagung are all about the corn. There's a little flour added to the spices and egg to bind the fritters, but mostly they're just corn. I prefer to include shrimp, but they taste fine without. Although in Indonesia they are a part of a larger meal, they are perfect cocktail fare. If you wish to have these with drinks, you could serve with Thai sweet chili sauce, some nuoc cham, or a mixture of sriracha and mayonnaise. I prefer them plain, still warm from the pan. When making a batch of these, keep the fried perkedel warm in a low oven while frying the rest.

Perkedel Jagung

3 cups of corn kernels, preferably shaved from fresh ears of corn
3--4 TBS flour
1 tsp coriander, ground
salt, to taste
1 to 2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 red chilies, thinly sliced
2 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced
6 ounces peeled, deveined shrimp, coarsely chopped (optional, but recommended)

oil for frying

Mix corn, flour, eggs, and spices together. Stir in shrimp if using. Mixture should just hold together.

Heat large frying pan and add 1/3 cup of oil. Drop corn mixture by large tablespoon and fry on both sides until brown and cooked. Alternately, you can deep fry. Drain on paper towels and serve warm.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Indonesian Spiced Apple Caramel Bars

My wife has taken up knitting with a small group of ESL teachers a few Sundays a month. This allows me to watch football without too much interference. However, I'm also responsible for providing sustenance for the group. Last week it was savory pies with a butternut squash and leek filling. This week it's apple caramel bars with a coconut cream caramel spiced with star anise and cinnamon. Although I don't make a lot of desserts, I had been wanting to see what caramel sauce would be like if it were made with coconut cream instead of whipping cream. I also wanted to make something with apples for this month's Weekend Wokking. This recipe is for Weekend Wokking hosted by Momgateway.

I wanted apple caramel bars with a little bit of an Indonesian flavor. The base and topping are from a recipe that I tweaked from Cook's Illustrated. I had to look around to find a recipe that wasn't simple a shortbread base. I wanted the oatmeal and nuts to complement the apple filling. Macadamia nuts not only have more of a tropical flavor, they also were the nuts I had on hand. Although this was a little sweet for my taste, I thought they were a very tasty bar and would certainly be a hit with kids.

Indonesian Spiced Apple Caramel Bars

Base and Topping

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped dry roasted macadamia nuts (unsalted)
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks) cut into small pieces

Mix dry ingredients together. Cut butter into the mixture until you have a coarse, mealy texture. Pat two thirds of this into a 9-inch square baking pan lined with parchment paper. (Make sure the parchment paper extends above the edges of the pan so you can lift it out easily after baking.)

Coconut Caramel Sauce

2 star anise
1 3 inch piece of cinnamon
50 grams of palm sugar (gula jawa)
100 grams of light brown sugar
2 TBS water
2/3 cup of coconut cream

In saucepan stir together star anise, cinnamon, sugars and water. Bring to a simmer over medium low heat. Simmer about five minutes. Add coconut cream. The solution will bubble up vigorously. Stir the sauce and lower the heat.

Apple Filling
5 medium sized apples (I used 3 Granny Smith and 2 Fuji)
Coconut caramel sauce
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Peel, slice and cut apples into pieces about an inch long and 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle with spices and pour caramel sauce over to coat.

Assembling and Baking the Bars
Preheat the oven to 375º. Spread apple filling over the prepared base. Sprinkle reserved topping over the filling. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for at least 15 minutes before lifting out of the pan with the parchment paper. Cut into 12 rectangles.
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Saturday, November 21, 2009


In many countries, the best food comes from nondescript holes-in-the-wall that concentrate on one or two dishes. Instead of the Cheesecake Factory approach of creating a magazine-like menu offering something for everyone, these humble establishments focus on doing one thing right. In turn, the good ones become known far and wide for that one dish. Over time they may add one or two other dishes as a way to increase their appeal, but it's that one dish that draws people to them.

In any town you will find people with strong views on where to get the best soto ayam, rawon, gado gado, mie bakso, or rujak, dishes that are often eaten for lunch or a late breakfast. Warungs (food stalls) and rumah makans (the Indonesian equivalent of a diner) can make a name for themselves by doing one of these dishes right. It's not unusual to see businessmen who have pulled up in Mercedes eating at table with a family of four or five that has arrived on a scooter.

Rawon is one of those dishes that people will argue over. Essentially a beef soup, it is eaten with rice and garnished with young mung bean sprouts. It isn't commonly found on menus outside of Indonesia because its key ingredient, kluwek, is rarely found on market shelves. Besides being central to rawon, kluwek--a black, rounded seed that resembles a roughly triangular lump of tar or coal--is used in a some nonya dishes of the straits Chinese.

While my attempt at rawon tasted good, I don't think it compares with some of the rawon I've had in Java. Maybe when I go back next summer I'll find someone willing to share their secret to that perfect bowl. Until then, this was still very good, certainly worthy of a winter meal.


2 lbs beef brisket
4 kluwek, soaked in water at least one hour to soften
4 long red chilis
1 tsp terasi
8 shallots, chopped
2 tsp coriander, ground
1 inch fresh turmeric, or 1 tsp ground
3 slices of laos (galingale)
2 stalks of lemongrass, bottom half only, pounded
8 kaffir lime leaves, bruised
2 TBS oil
a one inch slice of tamarind paste, grilled to char on all sides
salt, to taste

Boil the brisket in 2 quarts of water with a little salt for one hour. Remove beef from water, reserving water. Cut the beef into 1/2 inch cubes.

In blender or mortar, process the kluwek, chilis, terasi, shallots, coriander and turmeric, adding water as needed from what the kluwek soaked in to make a smooth paste.
Fry the paste with the laos, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves in the oil for a minute or two. Add the diced beef, grilled tamarind paste and reserved water. Simmer for about an hour, until beef is tender. Remove the tamarind before serving. (I tie it up in a piece of cheese cloth to make this easier.)

Serve the rawon with hot rice, young mungbean sprouts, sambal terasi and krupuk ikan.

To make the mungbean sprouts, soak a cup of mungbeans in a bowl of water for ten minutes, then drain most of the water. Cover the bowl with a towel and place in a cabinet. Check in twelve hours to see if you need to add more water. Sprouts should be ready in a day or two.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Daring Cooks Sushi

The November 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was brought to you by Audax of Audax Artifex and Rose of The Bite Me Kitchen. They chose sushi as the challenge.

As fond as I am of sushi, and seafood in general, it's not something I would normally make at home as one of the members of the household is allergic to seafood. It's a pain to have to prepare separate meals for the different diets, so I generally choose to cook something that everyone can eat. And I don't care how accommodating you may try to be, sushi without seafood ain't sushi.

The biggest challenge in making the sushi was finding a time when I was well enough and had enough time to get the ingredients and prepare them on the same day. I think I may have had a touch of the H1N1 a few weeks ago, and then I was at the Foodbuzz Festival in San Francisco last week. During the week I don't have enough time to run to the store between classes and then prepare the sushi. And you don't want to make sushi with yesterday's fish.

So I had to put it off to the last moment. I actually made the nigiri sushi and the spiral sushi roll a few days ago when we had a holiday (although I still had a night class to teach). The dragon roll I only got to today.

For the sushi rice, I used Kagayaki Haiga brown rice, which is 100% khoshihikari rice. Although a brown rice with considerably more nutritional value than regular milled rice (more than twice the dietary fiber, three times the magnesium and B6, and ten times the Vitamin E), it appears almost as white as regular short grain rice. The taste was very good.

The recipes are too detailed to include with the post. They are surely available somewhere on the web, or breakdown and buy a book. The nigiri sushi is topped with salmon and ahi tuna. To accommodate my allergic niece, I made the spiral sushi with char siu, grilled green onions, avocado, and roasted red peppers. For the dragon rolls I pan fried salmon and ahi fillets that had been marinated in a teriyaki style sauce.

All of recipes were tasty. Thanks to Audax and Rose for an interesting challenge.
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Char Siu So Bang--Char Siu Pastry

Finding good char siu is becoming a challenge. While char siu is becoming increasingly available in American supermarkets, it's tailored to American tastes, lean, sweet, with no nuances. Good char siu should have streaks of fat which keep the meat moist and have hints of hoisin and soy. The best place to find good char siu is in neighborhood Chinese markets where the customers want the fat and the seasoning that they associate with the meat.

Char siu so bang is a simple pastry to make, one that can be prepared up to the baking stage and frozen until you are ready to bake. Employing the two stage Chinese short pastry dough, it requires some advance planning when making the dough to allow for chilling between stages, but is not difficult to make at all. Once the dough is ready to roll out and cut, the final assembly and baking is quick and easy.

The richness of these pastries make them more suitable for a light snack than an appetizer before a meal. They are great with cocktails and would be perfect as an offering at a holiday cocktail party.

The recipe is adapted from Ellen Leong Blonder's Dim Sum, a little jewel of a book with a number of accessible, delicious recipes wonderfully illustrated with the author's own watercolors.

Flaky Pastry Dough

Water Dough
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting when rolling out
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup vegetable shortening or lard
approximately 1/4 cup ice water

Combine flour with sugar. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles bread crumbs. Stir in ice water until the dough is moistened and just holds together when pressed. This may require a little more or a little less than 1/4 cup. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead just until the dough holds together as a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and then form the dough into a 5 x 8 1/2-inch rectangle. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Short Dough
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup vegetable shortening or lard

Cut the shortening into the flour unit mixture resembles coarse meal. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and then shape the dough into a 3 x 4-inch rectangle. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

After both doughs have been refrigerated at least an hour, unwrap the the water dough and place it on a floured surface with a long edge toward you. Unwrap the short dough and center it on top of the water dough, with a short edge toward you. Fold the sides of the water dough over the short dough, with the edges overlapping slightly. Press the overlapping edges and both ends to seal in the short dough completely. Roll out in the direction of the folds to make a rectangle about 6 x 18 inches. Fold the dough in thirds to form a 6-inch square. Wrap in plastic an refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Unwrap the chilled dough and roll it out again in the same direction to make a 6 x 18-inch rectangle as before. Fold, wrap and refrigerate another 30 minutes. Repeat the process one more time and refrigerate at least another 30 minutes and up to 1 day before the final rolling and shaping.

Roll the chilled dough into about a 13-inch square. With a knife trim the dough to a 12-inch square. Divide the dough into twelve 3 x 4-inch rectangles.

Char Siu Filling

2 tsp peanut oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce
2 TBS water
1 TBS hoisin sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 TBS water
4 ounces char siu, finely chopped

In a small bowl stir together the sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, water, hoisin sauce and sesame oil.

Heat a skillet over medium heat, then add the oil. When it's almost smoking, add the shallots. Stir and cook for about three minutes until limp. Stir in the sauce mixture and heat until bubbling. Add the cornstarch slurry and cook for 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the char siu. Set aside to cool.

Place about 2 teaspoons of the filling across the center of each pastry rectangle in the 3-inch direction. Fold the dough over the filling like enclosing a photo in a letter. Press down to seal in the filling on all sides. Crimp the ends with tines of a fork for a decorative seal.

Beat an egg yolk with 1 teaspoon of water. Brush this over the top of the pastries. Sprinkle with sesame seeds (I used black sesame because that's what I had in).

Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet in a 400º oven for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Although best served warm, they're still delicious at room temperature.
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Sunday, October 25, 2009


 I had been planning to make some rendang for some time before I finally got around to it. As much as I hunger for it, I only make it four to six times a year. A quintessentially Indonesian dish--slow, incredibly rich yet unpretentious, spicy with a steady heat that sidles up to you--it's a dish that demands your time and attention. Essentially a stew that is simmered until almost all the liquid has been absorbed or cooked off, like many stews it seems even better the next day.

I first tasted rendang on a picnic in Java. I had only been in the country a few weeks when one of my students and her husband took me to Sarangan, a mountainous lake in Central Java. Vivi was originally from Solok, a small town near Padang in West Sumatra where rendang originated. The rendang that Vivi made was from beef and beef liver.

Liver is something I abhor. My gag reflex kicks in whenever I have to eat it. The first bite of rendang I had was simply beef. Then I got a piece of liver. Even rendang could not disguise that distinctive texture and taste of liver. However, the sauce was so luscious I didn't mind at all. Vivi had made a large batch (rendang is not a meal to cook for two) and I could have eaten all of it by myself. When they dropped me off at my room later that evening, Vivi and her husband gave me a pint or more of leftovers (half of which I ate as soon as I was alone). The rest I ate the next morning, cold, and it was still phenomenal.

Several years later, I got the chance to visit Padang, and even made it to Solok where I met Vivi's mother. Padang was a quiet, unassuming city, much quieter and more sparsely populated than cities in Java. It was a wonderful city to visit, one I hope to return to again some day.

The recent earthquake there apparently caused extensive damage. At least 3,000 people died as a direct result of the quake. People who had little were left with nothing. It is hard for us in the United States, especially those who have never been in developing countries, to appreciate how so many who have so little can face such devastation. The disasters attract our attention and sympathy for a minute but then we're distracted by the next bit of fluff, a shiny ballon drifting over a desert, or the pop star du jour's latest meltdown. We can't bring ourselves to acknowledge that but for the luck of being born where we were, we too could be facing such loss.

In the face of such disasters and poverty and children dying for want of clean water or mosquito netting, it seems almost obscene to be blogging about food. I don't know quite how to reconcile my feelings about this dichotomy. I have put in some time volunteering to help people less well off than I, but is that enough? What's the point of sharing recipes? Perhaps people tasting the food of a country will take a moment to think of the people in that country. Perhaps it's just a selfish act. I don't know. Any ideas or feedback is certainly welcome. In the meantime, here's Vivi's recipe for rendang.

A printable version of the recipe is available here.

Vivi’s Rendang

3 pounds chuck roast cut into 2 inch cubes
2 15 oz cans coconut milk
2 cups water

1/4 to 1/3 cup finely chopped or ground red chilies (can use sambal oelek if fresh hot red chilies aren’t available)
1 head of garlic (about 50 grams), coarsely chopped
6--8 shallots (about 150 grams), coarsely chopped
5 kemiri (candle nuts)
1 tsp coriander seeds, ground
1/2 a nut of nutmeg, ground
5 cloves, ground
1 two-inch finger of turmeric, peeled and chopped (2 tsp ground turmeric)
3 thumbs of ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 thumb of laos (galingale) peeled and sliced
1 tsp kosher salt

3 daun salam
6 kaffir lime leaves
2 stalks of lemongrass, bruised with a pestle

Pulse the chilies, shallots, garlic, spices and salt in a food processor until you have a somewhat smooth paste.

In a dutch oven or similar pot, mix beef and spice paste. Add coconut milk, water, salam and kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass and bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat to maintain a steady simmer and stir every fifteen minutes or so. Open a beer, or the beverage of your choice, turn on some good music and relax. Like good barbecue, the secret to good rendang is cooking it low and slow. You can’t rush it.

James Oseland, in his excellent book Cradle of Flavor, recommends using a shallow, wide pan to cook rendang to speed up the evaporation process. I disagree for two reasons. One, I think you just need to give it the time it needs. Two, as you get near the end the oils tend to sputter and pop; with a shallow pan you will find your kitchen spattered with turmeric freckles.

As the liquid reduces you need to reduce the heat and stir more often. The rendang is done when the sauce has been reduced to a thick paste and is a chocolate brown.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wha tha pho? Pho Ga--Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

Although I lived in Vietnamese refugee camps several years, lived in Vietnam for almost a year, and could eat Vietnamese food every day for the rest of my life without complaint, I am not wild about Pho Ga (Chicken Pho). I like it, mind you. I would take it over its American counterpart any day of the week, but it is not something I ever find myself thinking I must have soon or my life will seem diminished. Sadly (for it is surely wrong to have such attachment to food), I do have these thoughts about other foods such as bun rieu, rendang, soto ayam, and pizza.

Still, this month's Daring Cooks' Challenge was Pho Ga. Although the challenge actually provided a simplified recipe, I preferred to go old school, charring the ginger and onion, the whole bit. So I followed this recipe. While it didn't convert me to a pho ga fanatic, it did produce as tasty a pho ga as I have ever had.

With the change in weather in Northern California, this recipe couldn't have come at a better time. It was a delicious meal for a cool, windy evening. For anyone thinking Vietnamese food is too difficult to cook at home, this soup proves that wrong.

The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook. Thanks to Jaden for this delicious challenge. I look forward to trying out other recipes from her cookbook.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thai-spiced Chicken Toast Rounds

I'm a whore.

Let me rephrase that.

I'm an ESL teacher for a school district that has looted its own adult education program to mitigate budget cuts the state legislature has forced on the district's K-12 program. As a result, there has been a 26% cut to the adult education program, eliminating scores of part-time teaching positions, although not a single administrative position has been cut (despite closing down one school). In order to preserve administrative positions, there has been a Byzantine reshuffling of administrative oversight so that the ESL department at my school is not done by the principal who is actually based at my school, but instead is handled by the principal of the closed down school who is now based at a high school that was closed down several years ago. Honest. Although this principal was successfully sued by a former vice-principal for, in part, asking him to alter data to get more funding, she still wields power in the district. Under her direction, our department has been told to forget the curriculum that has been developed over many years and to focus on EL Civics, a federally funded program that is so poorly managed that it practically invites fraud. So instead of focusing on teaching my students what they truly need to learn, I teach them to pass the assessments. Ka-ching!

In other words, I'm a whore.
But I'm not a cheap whore. As a friend of mine has been heard to say, "You can call me an asshole, but you can't call me a cheap asshole." In other words, I have my standards.

All of this is to explain my entry to be one of six Nature's Pride "Bread Ambassadors." Should my entry be accepted, Nature's Pride will cover the cost of my hotel room and travel expenses to the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival in San Francisco. Although it probably isn't the wisest strategy to announce my entry by proclaiming I'm a whore.

In truth, I bought my loaf of Nature's Pride Healthy Multi-Grain Bread. I do have a coupon for it, but I didn't want to feel cheap, so I bought my loaf. And it was good. It's a very fresh tasting, springy loaf with a natural nuttiness. I made a wonderful chicken salad sandwich with it. Alfalfa sprouts, shredded leftover gai yang with pepper coriander paste mixed with just enough mayonnaise to bind it together, and tomato slices. Truly delicious, but not worthy of an embassy posting.

Still, it got me thinking. So I decided to use some of that Thai flavor to make an appetizer akin to shrimp toast. Instead of frying the toast, I adapted the method Susana Foo uses in her cookbook to make shrimp toast. This produces a tasty, crisp toast that is not saturated with oil as the traditionally fried toasts are. To be honest, I prefer the fried version, but the baked version is very delicious and probably much healthier for you.

I used chicken breast because that seems like what most Americans prefer, never mind that it lacks the flavor of thighs. The breast does make a nice farcé that is easily piped onto the toast rounds. Taste the chicken mixture by frying a spoonful before baking and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Thai-spiced Chicken Toast Rounds
(makes 50 1 3/4 inch appetizers)

10 slices of Nature's Pride Multi-Grain Bread or Country Potato Bread

1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut in 1 inch pieces
1 egg white, lightly beaten
5 shallots, peeled and chopped
5 cloves of garlic, peeled
3 TBS cilantro roots or 4 TBS cilantro stems
2 TBS whole white pepper, finely ground
2 TBS fish sauce
1 1/2 tsp sugar
2 TBS olive oil
6 fresh water chestnuts, peeled and diced
2 TBS diced red pepper
2 TBS finely chopped garlic chives

1 bunch of garlic chive buds, blanched in boiling water for 20 seconds, shocked in ice water and drained
2 TBS black sesame seeds

Using a 1 3/4 inch diameter biscuit cutter, cut five rounds from each slice of bread (you may not get five perfect rounds, but it should be close). Bake the rounds on an ungreased baking sheet in a 250 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 400º F.

In a food processor, finely chop the garlic, shallots and cilantro roots or stems. Add the chicken, pepper, fish sauce, sugar, oil and egg white. Pulse until you have a fairly smooth paste. Transfer the paste to a bowl and stir in the water chestnuts, red pepper and garlic chives. Fry a teaspoon-full and adjust seasonings as needed.

Brush one side of the toast rounds with olive oil and place on a baking sheet, oiled side of the toast down. Using a pastry bag, or plastic baggie with the corner cut out, pipe the chicken paste onto the top of the toast rounds.

Cut the tops of the garlic chives with the buds to a length of about 2 inches. Tie these into loose knots and place on top of the chicken topped rounds. Sprinkle with black sesame.

Bake in the 400º oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Best served warm, although they may be served cold.

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pork Adobo

Many, many years ago when I was an undergraduate at Humboldt State University, I shared the back half of the upstairs of an old house with several different roommates. Although Raul was not one of my original roommates, he certainly was my favorite. He was brilliant, easy-going, talented and had good taste in music. He also was a decent cook, certainly an upgrade from the roommate he replaced, a very nice young woman whose recipes always included condensed cream of mushroom soup. Raul's parents were from the Philippines, so he brought something different to the table when it was his turn to cook.

I'm sure that when he made his mother's pork adobo that it was the first time I had ever tasted fish sauce. He must have brought the fish sauce up with him from Sunnyvale because I'm sure it wasn't available in Arcata in 1977. I know the dish floored me. Such a simple dish, yet so full of flavor and richness.

When I realized I still had time to get in an entry to this month's Weekend Wokking, I knew it would have to be Mrs. T's Adobo. Vinegar is at the heart of this dish and cuts the richness of the pork. The finished dish tastes like tangy, moist carnitas. It's wonderful with plain rice and a side of stir fried greens.

Mrs. T's Adobo (as I remember it)

3 to 3 1/2 lbs pork shoulder, cut into one and a half inch cubes
3/4 cup vinegar (I think Raul used palm vinegar; I use coconut)
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup fish sauce ( I use Vietnamese 3 crabs brand)
2 1/2 heads of garlic, coarsely chopped (the garlic disappears into the sauce)
1 TBS whole black pepper
a couple of bay leaves
water to cover meat, and another cup to add later after most of the original liquid has been reduced to a thick sauce.

Combine all ingredients except for the water and marinate from one to three hours. Place ingredients in pan and add just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then let cook at a moderate simmer, uncovered, for several hours until the liquid mostly evaporates and the pork begins to brown in the rendered fat. Careful you don't scorch the pan at this stage. When the pork has been browned and lightly crisped, add the cup of water and stir for several minutes to get a nice gravy-like sauce. Remove the fat on the surface and serve the adobo with rice and greens.

Weekend WokkingI'm submitting this recipe to Weekend Wokking, a world-wide food blogging event created by Wandering Chopsticks to celebrate the multiple ways we can cook one ingredient. The host this month is Darlene of Blazing Hot Wok. If you would like to participate or to see the secret ingredient, check who's hosting next month.