Monday, March 29, 2010

Valencian Orange Tart

Although I like a good dessert, it's not something I make that often. In part, its because I prefer to consume my calories in the form of alcohol or savory goods. I don't often refuse a dessert if it is offered, but won't go to the trouble of making one unless it's a special occasion. Even then, my wife and I have differing views on what constitutes a good dessert. Ching likes the syrupy, sweet, gelatinous desserts that are popular in Southeast Asia. I like buttery, rich baked goods.

We belong to a book club of other teachers that meets about once a month to eat, drink, and talk a little about the book we've read. We rotate hosting duties and each person contributes a dish to the potluck, but I've been designated the dessert maker. So, once a month or so, I make a dessert. I try to bring something that everyone will like, but it ain't easy. Desserts with fruit are usually popular, so I thought I'd try this tart. The recipe is from The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen.

Since orange and chocolate go so well together, I decided to make a chocolate crust. I got that recipe from Baking With Julia. Both the filling and crust are fairly easy to pull together, but the filling does take some time. The crust paired perfectly with the filling, but the filling was a little sweet for my taste. Ching, however, who usually doesn't care for pies or tarts, liked this one. It's a tart I could see serving with an afternoon tea.

Valencian Orange Tart
Chocolate Crust
from Baking with Julia

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tesp salt
1 stick (four ounces) cold, unstalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 large egg yolk
1 TBS +/- ice water

Using a food processor, blend dry ingredients. Add butter and pulse until you have small pebbles of butter/flour. Stir together the egg yolk with water and add to the flour mixture with the machine running. Pulse in short bursts until mixture is crumbly. Pour onto a large piece of plastic wrap and gather dough together. Chill at least 30 minutes.

To bake, roll chilled dough out and press into an 11 inch tart pan with removable bottom. Chill the crust in the tart pan for at least 30 minutes. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork at regular intervals. Bake in the center of a preheated 350º oven for about 12 minutes, rotating the tart halfway through the baking time. Remove and allow to cool before filling.

Orange Filling

4 to 5 medium thin-skinned oranges, scrubbed well
2 1/2 cups fresh orange juice
1 cup sugar, plus more for caramelizing the tart
1 TBS grated orange zest
2 tsp orange flower water (optional, available in Middle Eastern markets)
1 cup orange marmalade

Mix the orange juice, sugar, orange zest and orange flower water (if using) in a wide pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar.

Using a sharp knife, slice the oranges about 1/8 inch thick, discarding the tops and bottoms of each orange. Add the orange slices to the juice and simmer, partially covered, over low for about 15 minutes. The slices should be submerged in the liquid, if not add a little water. Allow the oranges to cool in the liquid, then drain and pat the slices dry with paper towels. Cut the dried slices in half.

To assemble and bake the tart, spread the marmalade across the bottom of the cooled crust. Working from the outside in, lay the halved orange slices in concentric circles, overlapping slightly. Bake on the center rack of a preheated 375º oven for 30 minutes until the oranges are very soft and lightly browned.

Sprinkle a thin layer of sugar on top of the baked tart and caramelize with a blowtorch. Von Bremzen says you could also do this under a preheated broiler, but I think that's much more difficult to control, at least I wouldn't trust my broiler.

Let the tart cool to room temperature before serving.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ayam Goreng Mbok Berek

Like most people who have had the pleasure, I fell in love with ayam goreng mbok berek the first time I tasted it. This was in 1983 on my first visit to Yogya. Not really a big fan of American fried chicken, and certainly no fan of the Colonel, I didn't expect much. Colleagues and students had recommended I try the famous chicken, so I did.

It wasn't until I had been to Vietnam and had Thit Heo Kho (Ravenous Couple have a nice recipe here) that this recipe made sense to me. When I lived in Indonesia, I had had chicken simmered in coconut milk before being fried countless times. This is a common way of preparing fried chicken in Indonesia. It also results in moist, flavorful fried chicken. Although I am fond of drinking young coconut, I didn't think simmering the chicken in the water from young coconut would be much different from simmering in plain water. Yet, if you've ever had the pleasure of having thit heo kho simmered in coconut water, you know the magic of the medium.

The water from young coconuts is subtly sweet, not in a sugary way, but with the freshness of a recent rain. It's like drinking in the day after the first rain in weeks. In Java young coconuts are a dime a dozen, but here in the States they cost a little more. The concentrated stock that one gets after simmering the chicken in the coconut water is heavenly. It would be the ideal base for a bowl of mulligatawny soup.

Although young coconuts are not commonly found in major supermarkets, most Asian supermarkets and Whole Foods carry them. You do want to make sure you use a young coconut and not the more mature ones.

I haven't been able to recreate the crispy bits you get when you buy the chicken in Yogya. Robyn Eckhardt of Eating Asia had an informative article in the Wall Street Journal in which she identifies the crisp bits as deep fried spices from the coconut water stock the chicken is first simmered in, but I've been unable to get them to taste quite like what I remember. Even without those crumbs, this chicken is better than any other fried chicken you are likely to taste any time soon.

Besides some good rice, one other accompaniment this dish really calls for is a good sambal terasi. The heat and pungency of this sambal really complements the richness of the fried chicken. At the restaurant they also serve the chicken with the sambal lalapan (sambal with raw cabbage and other vegetables) and the side is every bit as popular as the chicken. I will be posting the sambal recipe soon.

Ayam Goreng Mbok Berek
adapted from Sri Owen's Indonesian Food and Cookery

1 young chicken, preferably free range and air chilled, quartered
or chicken thighs, wings, and drumsticks
6 shallots, coarsely chopped
2 inches of ginger, peeled, sliced, and pounded
2 inches of laos (galingale), peeled, sliced, and pounded
1 tsp coriander, coarsely ground in a mortar
2 salam leaves
salt and pepper
3-4 cups of coconut water from two young coconuts

oil for frying

Mix shallots, spices and salam leaves with coconut water in wok or saucepan. Add chicken pieces and simmer briskly for 30 minutes or so, until tender. The coconut water should be reduced by about half. Remove the chicken from the liquid and allow to cool.

After the chicken has cooled and dried, deep fry it until it is golden brown. The frying does not take very long because the chicken is essentially already cooked; the frying is done to crisp up the chicken and give it some color. Once fried, the chicken can be eaten warm or cold. Serve with rice and a good sambal.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Laksa Ayam

There are times a recipe on the page sounds so much better than the dish itself. The ingredients are there; you can taste it in your mind, but when the dish hits your tongue, there's disappointment. You anticipated something more. What should have sung a high C instead hums indistinctly.

Alas, this was the case with the ayam laksa I made recently. Curry mee, curry laksa, or laksa, depending on if you hail from Ipoh, Penang, or Singapore, is one of my favorite dishes. A rich, spicy seafood coconut curry broth with noodles, tofu and beansprouts, its right up there among the top ten dishes for me. Unfortunately, my niece who lives with us is allergic to seafood, so I was looking for a variation of laksa that everyone in the house might enjoy. In fact, she and my wife did enjoy the ayam laksa very much. I, however, found it paled in comparison to what I think of when I hear the word laksa.

Laksa Ayam--Chicken Laksa
adapted from this recipe

1 lb boneless chicken thighs, sliced 1/2 thick
5 shallots, chopped
1 inch ginger, peeled and minced
4 inches laos (galingale), peeled, thinly sliced, and crushed in a mortar
1 stalk lemongrass, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced and pounded with laos
2 red chilies, minced
2 TBS oil
2 tsp Madras curry powder
2 cups chicken broth
1 can coconut milk
2 ounces rice vermicelli, softened in hot water
8 ounces fresh egg noodles, briefly cooked in boiling water
2-4 green onions, thinly sliced
laksa leaves (rau ram in Vietnamese)
boiled eggs (optional)

Heat a skillet or wok and add the oil. Fry the shallots, ginger, laos, lemongrass, and chilies until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken; cook, stirring, until the chicken becomes opaque.

Stir in curry powder, making sure it is evenly distributed. Pour in broth and coconut milk. Bring to a boil and simmer on low until the chicken is tender and oils begin to separate from the broth.

To serve, place some of each noodles in individual soup bowls. Add bean sprouts. Ladle the hot broth and chicken into the bowls. Sprinkle with green onions, laksa leaves and cilantro. Add sliced boiled eggs if you like.

A squeeze of lime, some sambal ulek or sriracha sauce and/or kecap manis may be added according to personal taste.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lemongrass and Kaffir Lime Risotto--Daring Cooks Challenge

As usual, I waited until the last moment to get the challenge done. My wife doesn't care much for risotto, so I wanted to do something a little different. In addition to infusing the stock with lemongrass and some kaffir lime leaves, I dehydrated several of the kaffir lime leaves and crumbled them into the risotto. I also added some diced red pepper and shallots. I think some lime juice would have brightened the dish. The basic recipe for the challenge can be found here.

The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Chicken Cilantro Rolls

Love it or leave it; people aren't ambivalent towards cilantro. I'm on the side of those who are for cilantro right or wrong. In salads, sandwiches, soups, or main courses, I love the jolt of cilantro. I even like it in sweets. One of the treats I sought out when we returned to Vietnam for a visit a couple of years ago was banh ngò thơm. These are thin wafers with a filling of sweetened peanuts with several cilantro leaves pressed into the wafer. They are beautiful, not too sweet, and have a subtle suggestion of cilantro.

Sometimes, subtle is not what you're after. These chicken cilantro rolls assert their cilantro filling. If you don't like cilantro, don't make this recipe. However, if you feel towards cilantro as I do, give them a try. They are quite easy to make, and are a nice accompaniment to cocktails. They would be perfect for a spring or summer cocktail party.

I think I first discovered these more than ten years ago. The recipe is from a really great collection of recipes of Southeast Asian dishes. A Taste of Indochina not only has a wide range of delicious recipes, but many of the recipes are meant to serve two. This is something I appreciate in a cookbook, so it's a cookbook I return to often.

Chicken and Cilantro Rolls

2 TBS oil
2 tsp curry paste, red or green
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
2 to 3 red chilies, diced
10 oz boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup fresh cilantro
1/2 cup chopped garlic chives (green onions can be substituted in a pinch)
1 tsp curry paste
2 TBS of the chicken paste mixture

In a frying pan, heat the oil and fry the curry paste, garlic, onion, and chilies until softened, about five minutes. Set aside to cool.

Blend the chicken with the cooled onion mixture and egg in a food processor. You want to blend until you have a fairly smooth paste.

For the filling, process the herbs, curry paste and 2 tablespoons of the chicken paste until everything is thoroughly chopped.

To assemble the rolls, divide the chicken paste into six even portions and the cilantro paste into three even portions. On 10-inch square piece of parchment or plastic wrap (I find the plastic wrap easier), spread one portion of the chicken paste into a 4 1/2 inch square. Spread one portion of the cilantro paste on top, then cover with another portion of the chicken paste. Lift the parchment paper or plastic to roll the square into a cylinder, like rolling sushi. Twist the ends to seal. Repeat the process two more times.

Gently steam over boiling water for 20 minutes. Remove rolls from steamer and loosen the wrapping to let liquid drain off. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing into 1/2-inch thick diagonal slices. These are equally delicious warm or cold.
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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Grilled Asparagus Salad

Asparagus season is upon us in Northern California. Asparagus is one of those vegetables I can't get enough of when it is in season. Fried, steamed, grilled, and baked--it's such a versatile vegetable. Although it is apparently a nutritional powerhouse, packed with vitamins C and A, high in folic acid, and a natural detoxifier, I eat asparagus because I like its taste.

One of my favorite dishes is asparagus and beef with black bean sauce. When I stopped at vegetable stand a few days ago and picked up some beautiful looking asparagus tips, I was planning on making that dish. However, it turns out some of the women in my life have given up red meat for Lent. So I decided to make a salad instead.

The infused oil in this dish comes from Susanna Foo's Chinese Cuisine. The vinaigrette is something I came up with, thinking it would work particularly well with grilled asparagus. I intended to include some grilled radicchio in the salad, but I forgot. Even without the radicchio, it is a wonderful salad. The grilled red onion and peppers add a subtle sweetness to the salad.

Grilled Asparagus Salad with Black Bean Vinaigrette

Infused Sichuan Peppercorn Oil

1 cup vegetable oil
2 TBS roasted Sichuan peppercorns
3 to 4 garlic cloves

In a small saucepan heat the oil until very hot. Add the Sichuan pepper corns and the garlic, cook for a couple of minutes over high heat until the garlic browns, then turn off the heat. Make sure you don't allow the garlic to burn, as this will produce a bitter taste. Cool, strain out garlic and peppercorns, and store in a glass bottle.

Grilled Vegetables

2 lbs asparagus
2 to 3 red or yellow bell peppers
1 red onion

Roast peppers in a gas or charcoal grill until blackened. Put in bowl and cover with plastic. After 10 minutes or so, peel the peppers and cut into strips.

Toss the asparagus with several tablespoons of the infused oil. Grill over high heat for 3 to four minutes. Cut the grilled asparagus into 2-inch lengths.

Slice the red onion lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick slices. Hold the slices together by running wooden skewers through them. This makes them much easier to handle on the grill.

Black Bean Vinaigrette

1 TBS fermented black beans, soaked in one cup of water for two minutes to remove some of their salt, then drained
1/4 cup of the infused sichuan peppercorn oil
2 TBS black vinegar or balsamic vinegar
2 tsp kecap manis

Mix the above ingredients in a jar. Shake well. Pour over the grilled vegetables and serve.