Monday, September 28, 2009

Tahu Lontong

Tahu lontong is streamed-lined gado-gado. It doesn't have the cabbage, the krupuk, the eggs and other vegetables that gado-gado has. It is simply fried cubes of tahu (tofu), blanched bean sprouts, green onions and slices of lontong in a sweet and piquant peanut sauce.

In Java, tahu lontong is frequently sold by hawkers who specialize in just this dish. It is cheap, nutritious, and tasty. This is what becak (trishaw) drivers often have for a meal during the day because it is so cheap yet also provides protein and energy.

Once you have the lontong on hand, making this dish is easy. Fry four or five cakes of fresh tofu that have been quartered. Blanch two cups of bean sprouts by pouring boiling water over them and letting them remain in the water for about 2 minutes. Then drain them. Slice three to four green onions in half-inch lengths. Toss all the ingredients together and drizzle with sambal kacang. Enjoy.
Get the flash player here:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Vols-au-Vent

Having passed on last month's challenge, last night I suddenly realized it was time to post this month's Daring Bakers' challenge. Problem was, I didn't have a pound of butter in the house. I have been making some Indonesian dishes in the last week, and didn't have any filling that I felt was really appropriate for vols-au-vent. My wife has recently joined a knitting group she meets with on Sunday mornings, and they were hoping I'd make something for them. So I had to get cracking.

Making the puff pastry was not difficult at all. I had two sticks of butter in, so I just halved the recipe. The real key as others have remarked is keeping the butter cool and contained within the dough. Working quickly is the key and then chilling the dough between alternate turns.

Making the vols-au-vents was more problematic. Again, the dough needs to be kept chilled. Our refrigerator seems to be stuffed with all manner of left-overs, so finding room for a baking sheet with the cut disks of dough was impossible. Also, when I put the slipat on the disks to inhibit rising, the vols-au-vents ended up sticking to the slipat. As a result, my first batch came out less than ideal. I then decided to make a second batch, which I cooled on a small piece of parchment paper that I was able to fit into the meat drawer. I baked the second batch in a jelly-roll pan with a piece of parchment paper laid over the top and the slipat on top of that. The edges of the pan kept the slipat from weighing down on the disks and the sticking was minimal.

I filled the baked vols-au-vent with a simple smoked salmon salad of quartered cherry tomatoes, diced red onion, avocado, homemade smoked sockeye salmon, alfalfa sprouts, salt, olive oil, dill and lemon juice. I thought the lightness of the salad was a nice balance to the richness of the vols-au-vent.

I guess I'm more a chicken and dumplings person, than a vols-au-vent filled with creamed chicken guy. I like puff pastry when used with a dish like Beef Wellington, but don't know that I would go to the trouble of making it for vols-au-vent unless I really wanted to impress someone. It's essentially a container for the dish you are presenting, and I think it runs the risk of drawing the focus away from your main dish.

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.
Get the flash player here:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's Been a Lontong Coming

First, let me explain. It has been three weeks since I last posted. It's not because of any one thing, but a combination of the start of the school year and some computer hiccups.

The start of the school year is always a stressful time, this year more than most. Eight and a half years ago, I resigned my teaching position--tenured, mind you--because my principal treated staff and students with equal contempt. As an example of her management style, she wanted teachers whose "data" about their students was "messy"--incomplete, missing information about how much school they had completed, whether their goal was to improve their literacy skills or an unspecified personal goal--to wear the "apron of shame" during staff development meetings. Seriously, an actual apron with something like "My data's a mess" printed on it. There were a number of other things that happened that I won't bore you with.

I decided I would never again teach adult education classes--as much as I enjoyed the students--because I was disgusted with the administration. A day after 9/11/2001, I get a call from the ESL coordinator of what might be considered a rival school in the same district asking me if I might consider taking on a class or two. As much as I respected her, for I had been to some workshops she had led and had been impressed by her tact and skill, I declined. I had had enough of the shite of this particular school district and just didn't want to deal with it anymore. I was content doing the community college gig, and possibly working towards getting on full-time there. But the coordinator kept pressing me and I eventually agreed to give it a go. Eight years later I'm still there.

Then, in May, the school district decided it must make more drastic cuts. A change in state law allowed it to loot adult education funds for K-12 classes. Although more than $500,000 in cuts had been made in each of the last two years, more cuts had to be made. The adult education division suffered a 26% cut, yet not a single administrator was eliminated. Instead, they were shuffled around and now once again I am working for the principal from hell although her school has been closed and she is now based at a high school that has been closed for several years. Two weeks after the start of the school year my schedule went from a standard 8:30 to 3:30 shift to a split shift starting at 8:30 a.m. and ending at 8:30 p.m. two nights a week. Ain't life grand? This, in addition to the community college class I teach to 9:35 p.m. two nights a week and the minor computer problems are why I've been so lax about posting. So it goes.

Lontong is the perfect accompaniment to a number of Indonesian and Malaysian dishes. Although it is little more than rice cooked in a container too small to comfortably fit in--think of Marlon Brando in his later years trying to fit into his On the Waterfront jeans--dishes served with lontong taste better than if they were simply served with rice. Soto ayam, gado-gado, sate ayam, opor ayam, and tahu lontong are not the same when served with plain rice. The denseness and concentration of rice in the lontong, along with the floral notes from the banana leaf, compliment the sauces and kuahs of those dishes. Instead of simply being absorbed by the rice, the liquids stand out and you are able to enjoy the subtle complexity of spices. Opor ayam with lontong is a totally different experience than when it is served with steamed rice.

There appear to be differing schools of thought on how to prepare lontong. Some like to partially cook the rice before rolling it in squares of banana leaf and finishing the cooking. Others suggest putting raw rice in the banana leaf cylinders and doing all the cooking in the leaves. Although cooking the rice partially gives one a little better control of the rolls (it's easy to fill the leaves too full with the uncooked rice), I prefer doing all the cooking in the rolls.
Get the flash player here:

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Thai Basil Claypot Rice

Moo Paht Bai Graprao--Pork Fried with Basil is one of my favorite Thai dishes. I also like the basil fried with chicken or shrimp. It's a comforting dish that comes together quickly. Many times when I don't have anything specific in mind for dinner I'll to a quick stir-fry with basil. It's something that comes together in a few minutes and makes a great leftover to bring to school the next day.

I'm also fond of claypot rice. My wife makes a version her mother made with minced pork, garlic and choy sum which I like very much but which she keeps as a closely guarded secret. Like the stir fried basil dishes, claypot rice is a dish that comes together easily and makes great leftovers.

Since I couldn't get my wife to part with her mother's recipe, I decided to do a mash-up of Thai basil pork and claypot rice with mushrooms. While I don't think it's quite as tasty as my wife's claypot rice, it was delicious, quick and comforting. A great one-dish main for a busy school night.

Thai Basil Claypot Rice

12 ounces pork, diced (you could easily substitute boned, skinless chicken thighs)
8--12 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked in water 30 minutes, diced
2 shallots, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
2--4 thai chilies, thinly sliced or minced
2 TBS fish sauce
1 TBS kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)
1 TBS water
2 cups rice
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup Thai basil

Mix the pork, mushrooms, shallots, garlic, ginger, chilies, fish sauce, kecap manis and water. Marinate for at least 15 minutes.
Put rice in claypot. Stir in chicken broth and bring to boil. After a minute or two of boiling, place pork mixture on top of rice, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked. Add the basil leaves and stir the meat and basil into the rice. Remove the claypot from the heat and let the rice stand for five minutes or longer before serving.
Get the flash player here: