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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