Saturday, February 12, 2011

Kimchi Stew

I LOVE going to Chinatown. We just discovered Chicago's Chinatown last week when we went for the New Year's parade. Of couse we had dim sum and bubble tea. But we didn't get a chance to visit the grocery stores. So I went back this weekend, just for a boatload of Asian produce. I got bok choy, enoki mushrooms, napa cabbage and lots of other things I don't know how to make. My husband picked out a jar of kimchi and I thought of a Korean hotpot. I've had that before in Ktown, but have never attempted it myself.
I started with the Chinese chives, sauteed. Then add kimchi and sauté. 
Add water and bring to a simmer. It needed some flavourings. I should have gone with kochujang, but I didn't have any. Instead I added sriracha and fish sauce.

Rehydrated some shitakii and added those (sliced) and the broth as well. Tofu chunks go in as well. 

Simmer simmer simmer. 
Taste test - slurp... tastes good to me! Add a dollop of rice and good to go. Great for a cold freezing Chicago winter's night. Just the right amount of heat and spice. Love the smooth texture of the tofu, the chewyness of the shitakii and the crunch of the kimchi. 

Polenta Cakes

I've had this log of polenta in my fridge for a while now. I got it at Trader Joe's on a whim. No idea what I wanted to do with it, but I knew I would figure something out. A few months later, it still sat there. The date on the package was still valid so I thought today was as good a day as any to experiment with it.

I've watched enough Food Network to know that I need to slice it and grill it. With a 20º temperature and 2 feet of snow outside, I was in no mood to be grilling. The slices when in my griddle with a bit of olive oil. Sizzle away! 

As for the topping, I had very little to work with in my fridge. I dug around. Mushrooms, good. Frozen shrimp, even better. Manchego cheese, great! A quick saute on the mushrooms with an onion and salt-pepper. The shrimp I shelled and sliced in half lengthwise (which turns them into cute curls once they're cooked!). Then doused them with cumin, chili powder and salt and into the frying pan. 

Once the polenta cakes were nice and crispy on both sides, I topped them with the mushrooms, a few shrimp and a shaving of cheese. They were almost too pretty to eat! 

The polenta was soft and mealy in the middle and crunchy on the edges. The mushrooms had a great earthiness that balanced out the spice from the shrimp. I didn't realize how filling this meal would be, but a good 6 hours later I was still quite content. I'll be picking up another log at TJ's soon enough. I can think of a few more topping variations that would work well. Goat cheese and caramelized onions? Grilled eggplant? Roasted cherry tomatoes and basil with a balsamic reduction? Pulled pork?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nicaraguan Pork Chops

My husband has been craving Nicaraguan food for a while now. Particularly nacatamales - these elaborate concoction with potatoes, meat, olives and a whole buch of other things stuffed in a corn meal base wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. I helped his mom make these once - and it took 4 people 3 days to make a batch. There was no way I was going to even begin to attempt making a nacatamal. I promised we'll find some when we go to Miami. We had plans for Miami coming up but I couldn't find a Nicaraguan restaurant around where we were going to be. When we got there we decided to "wing-it" and walked around Calle Ocho looking for a Cuban place (as a compromise). Serendipitously got caught in the rain - across the street from a Nicaraguan restaurant! Imagine that. When you want something really badly, the universe makes it happen. (I'm reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, it has definitely had an affect on me!)

My husband got his nacatamal and it was glorious. He also ordered the Nicaraguan style pork chops. This plate was massive. We could have easily done with just one entree. 2 giant, tender, juicy pork chops smothered in sauteed onions with a side of rice and beans, tostones (fried plantains) and salad. Yuma-dum-dum! I wanted to put aside my own entree and eat his. I just had to taste it so I could reproduce it again in my own kitchen. The onions were key. So here I am, a month later, trying to figure out this chop.

I have a very unique ability to take an awesome piece of steak - and ruin it. I either over cook it, or under cook it. So its either dry or raw. Which is why I like the slow cooked pork recipes. They're hard to mess up. So cooking a chop is always challenge for me. I figured I needed more than intuition on this one - I need a meat thermometer!

I went with a bone-in pork shoulder steak, instead of a pork chop. It looked bigger and thinner (and more do-able) than the bone-in chops. And I definitely wanted the bone, to add to the juicyness.

Wash, pat dry and salt and pepper the steak liberally. Meanwhile heat a pan on high (make sure your exhaust is on!) Lightly oil the pan, and place the steaks in the hot pan. Let them sear on each side - do not move them for at least 4-5 mins. Flip over and sear the other side. I checked the temperature and they were at about 130º - not safe to eat! Pork needs to be at least 160º. Once seared the pork goes into the oven at 375º for about 20 mins. Keep checking the temp, and remove from the oven when it reads 155º and loosely cover with foil. The residual heat will carry over to 160º.  (BTW - I don't know why I never owned a meat thermometer before! Those things are steak-savers!)

Meanwhile slice onions, lots and lots of onions. Start caramelizing them on slow heat. I added a thinly sliced jalapeno into the onions for an extra kick. Add a little salt to draw out the moisture. You want the onions to be a golden brown - not dark brown.

For sides, I made rice and beans. Warmed up some frozen tostones in the oven - not the best, but better than none. Also chopped yup some heirloom tomatoes to cool it all down.

Top the steaks with the onions. Serve with the rice and tostones and salad. Then imagine yourself in Nicaragua as you slice into your tender and perfectly done pork. The onions bring a sweetness to the pork, while the pepper gives it a bite. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Drunken Spaghetti

I've had a half open bottle of Shiraz sitting on my counter for a few days (weeks?) There is no way I was going to drink it. But I felt like it would be a waste to throw it out. I mean, its from the vineyards of Mr. Coppola! So lets cook with it. Watching Food Network all day long has definitely introduced me to a lot of different foods, cooking techniques and ingredients. Cooking pasta in wine is one of them. I've never been a huge fan of pasta. It just seems like something to make when I have nothing else at home. But after last week's spaghetti and meatballs - I might have to change my outlook.

So tonight's "drunken pasta" is a pretty simple. Not a lot of ingredients, but full of flavor. I started out with emptying my wine in a pot. I added a bit more water to make sure I had enough liquid to boil pasta. Salt and bring to a rolling boil. Add pasta and cook to desired doneness. 
Meanwhile, chop garlic. A lot of garlic. Saute in butter and olive oil. Add red pepper flakes. 
Drain pasta and reserve about a cup of cooking liquid. Add pasta and liquid to garlic/pepper. Mix. Top with fresh basil and parmesan cheese. Enjoy!  
That's pretty easy, isn't it? And delicious! I love the color of the pasta, and the taste is slightly like red wine vinegar. Acidic, garlicky and filling. Yum! 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Persian "Tahdeeg" Rice and Lamb Kebabs

I found about this Persian rice by mistake a few years back. I was talking to my friend Aida about these awesome "persian potatoes" I had in Chicago. Aida told me these potatoes are cooked under the rice. What? How? I looked it up then, and then completely forgot about it. Fast forward to last week, and I think about these potatoes again. I figured this definitely needed some re-visiting. 
From my research online I found out that a golden rice crust is created at the bottom of the pot called Tah-deeg (literally "bottom of the pot"). This can be made with the rice alone; or pita, lavash or potatoes on the bottom. I'm interested in the potato version. The potatoes are thinly sliced and layered in a heavy bottomed pan with rice on top. The potatoes get crispy on the bottom, while the rice cooks.
I started out by partially cooking my rice in a bit pot of water. Like pasta. Cook for about 12 mins and drain. A lot of the recipes called for saffron, so I busted out my stash. Saffron, ounce for ounce is the most expensive spice. This tiny container of about 1 gram (.035 oz) cost about $10. 

But little bit goes a long way. I used about a pinch. Soak it in a few teaspoons of hot water and let it steep for about 20 mins. Pour into the drained, half-cooked rice. I also added a handful of slivered toasted almonds for a crunch. Mix well and set aside. 

Thinly slice potatoes on a mandoline. I used the red potatoes I got from my CSA. Any variety should do well here. Liberally oil the pan. I picked my largest non-stick pan for this. Now layer the bottom of the pan in a concentric circles of potato slices. 

Season with salt and another quick drizzle of oil. Then pile on the rice. Make holes in the rice with the back-end of a ladle, and drizzle in a bit more oil. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of water over the rice, cover and set on low. 

I kept checking on the rice and potatoes, and for some reason kept drizzling more oil, just to make sure it doesn't turn into a burnt mess. This turned out to be unnecessary. My rice ended up a bit too oily (but still tasty). The oil in the beginning and the non-stick pan would have sufficed. 
While the rice cooked, I worked on a few things to eat with this. Lamb kebab, sauteed green beans and a simple tomato salad. 
Lamb Kebabs: ground lamb + salt, pepper, garlic, ginger, cumin, chili powder, cilantro. Mix, form oblong kebabs and pan fry. 
Sauteed green beans: String beans. Sautee garlic, add beans and salt. Cook till beans are still crisp. 
Tomato salad: Chop tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt. 

The rice cooks in about 20-30 mins, covered on low heat. You're supposed to flip over the entire pan to have an intact bottom crust. I wasn't confident enough for that yet. We just dug in and made sure we got a piece of the lovely crisped potato crust. The rice was amazing. That tiny pinch of saffron gave the entire pot of rice a wonderful floral aroma. The nuts added texture and the potatoes were delicious. 

For next time, I'll definitely cut down on my oil. Cooking the rice a la pasta, made it very fluffy. This kind of rice would taste great with marinated chicken layered in the rice. Almost like an Indian Biryani. Lots of variations come to mind. I'll try it again soon. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Garden Gazpacho

I've been meaning to attempt to make a gazpacho all summer long. Considering summer is slowly slipping away, now is the time. I read up on a few recipes at epicurious and got a general idea of what should go in it. Tomatoes, cucumbers, tomato juice. But I can do better than that! Especially with this never-ending supply of vegetable that just keep coming at me. 
These are all the veggies that went in:
White Onion
Red Pepper
Hot Pepper

Heirloom Tomatoes
(We get the most amazing heiroom tomatoes from our CSA. This year is the first time I've ever tried a heirloom and I think I've wasted 29 years eating regular tomatoes. They're juicy, sweet and just the right amount of acidity. Tastes great just sliced with a sprinkle of kosher salt. Also great in this gazpacho.)
I chopped all the veggies (individually) in my food processor to a chunky consistency. Mix together and add the rest of the flavorings - salt, pepper, a dash of tabasco, red wine vinegar and a splash of extra virgin olive oil. Chill for a few hours and grab a bowl.

The consistency of my gazpacho was between a salsa and a soup. I didn't add any tomato juice- it seemed silly when I had so many fresh tomatoes at hand. But maybe that would help it get a bit more soupy. It was pretty tasty regardless. Maybe I'll be able to squeeze out another batch before summer is gone for good!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Spaghetti and Meatballs

After making all that sauce from my tomatoes, I just had to test it out. Spaghetti and meatballs came to mind - especially since its been a while since I've had it. I've always thought of spaghetti as the red headed step child of pasta. I buy rotini or ziti or macaroni - but hardly ever spaghetti. Plus we never go out to eat Italian food. It feels like a waste to go out and eat pasta!

I might have to give it another chance after tonight's meal though. It was delicious. The meatballs were made of ground pork. Mixed with garlic, basil, salt, pepper, some parmesan, an egg to bind and a handful of panko bread crumbs. Mix, form balls and pan fry. Once browned on all sides, add the tomato sauce and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti to desired doneness. I don't care for al dente pasta. I like mine cooked all the way through. Not mush though. 10 mins cooks it to perfection. Drain, top with meatballs and sauce. A bit more cheese and basil over the top and you're ready to dig in.

The panko and cheese made the meatballs very soft and pillowy on the inside. The sauce was delicious and very flavorful. I could taste all my efforts from planting these tomatoes in May till reaping the fruits of our labor! Sweet success.