Friday, July 31, 2009

We Want Food - South East Asian Persuasian (Part deux)

So what do you do with leftover lemongrass pork and a whole lot of fish sauce? Why make Vietnamese bun of course!

Some Vietnamese rice vermicelli, julienned carrots and cucumbers, a little cilantro and voila -

The sauce to pour on top -
Rice vinegar
Fish sauce
a touch of honey
a squirt of soy sauce
a pinch of salt
the juice of a lime
a clove of garlic
and for my dish, a whole lot of jalapenos

A perfect cool, refreshing meal for a humid South Carolina evening. Mmmm mmmm. Why can't leftovers always be this good?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

We Want Food - South East Asian Persuasian

Inspired by all of the South East Asian food that I've been munching on in the Bay Area, I decided to bring some of those flavors to South Carolina to share with my mom.

One of Daniel's and my favorite foods to overindulge on are the fresh spring rolls that we get from Sunflower, so I decided to have a go at making my own, using a recipe from Epicurious. Recipe and pictures below:

Summer Rolls with Baked Tofu and Sweet-and Savory Dipping Sauce
(adapted from Epicurious/Gourmet)

  • 2 ounces dried bean thread noodles (cellophane noodles)
  • 1 small carrot, cut into thin matchsticks (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 Kirby cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into thin matchsticks (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 small fresh jalapeño, cut into thin matchsticks
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar (not seasoned)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 3/4 teaspoon fresh lime juice, divided
  • 16 rice-paper rounds (also called galettes de riz; about 8 inches in diameter) plus additional in case some tear
  • 4 romaine leaves, each torn into 4 pieces
  • 10 ounces packaged baked tofu, cut into 3- by 1/3-inch sticks (I used quickly sauteed shitake mushrooms instead)
  • 1 cup fresh bean sprouts
  • 1/2 cup each of torn basil, mint, and cilantro leaves (11/2 cups total) (didn't have mint, so just stuck with the other two)
  • 1/3 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons chunky peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons water

1) Soak noodles in a medium bowl of boiling-hot water 10 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, blanch carrot in boiling water until softened, about 45 seconds. Drain. Rinse under cold water to stop cooking.

3) Transfer carrots to a small bowl along with cucumber, jalapeño, vinegar, sugar, 1 tablespoon lime juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Let stand 5 minutes. Reserve 2 tablespoons liquid and drain pickled vegetables. (I did the jalapenos separately because my mom's having issues with spice, and it still worked fine, so it's easy to adjust for people with varying heat interests.)

4) Drain noodles and rinse under cold water, then drain and pat dry. Toss noodles with remaining 3/4 teaspoon lime juice and snip with kitchen shears 5 or 6 times.

5) Fill a shallow pan or pie plate with warm water. Soak 2 rice-paper rounds until they begin to soften, about 30 seconds, then let excess water drip off and stack soaked rounds on a work surface so that they overlap by all but 1 inch on either side.

6) Put 2 pieces of romaine on bottom third of round. Top with one eighth of noodles (about 2 tablespoons), tofu (4 sticks), bean sprouts (about 2 tablespoons), herbs (3 tablespoons), and pickled vegetables (3 tablespoons).

7) Roll up tightly around filling, folding in sides. Make 7 more rolls in same manner.

8) Stir together hoisin sauce, peanut butter, water, and reserved 2 tablespoons pickling liquid. Serve rolls with dipping sauce.

They were delicious. Not as beautiful as the ones at Sunflower, but I'll get there someday (yeah right).


For our main course, because we're in South Carolina, home of all things porcine, I went for a Mark Bittman recipe for Vietnamese style pork chops. I really think this would work equally well with boneless skinless chicken thighs or a thin cut of beef.

Here's the deal:

The Minimalist's Vietnamese Pork
Time: 30 minutes

  • 2 tablespoons minced lemongrass
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon nam pla (fish sauce), or to taste, or soy sauce (I used about 2 T of both)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork chops or country-style ribs
  • 1 lime, quartered
  • Chopped Thai basil or cilantro for garnish (optional).


1. Whisk lemongrass, garlic, honey and nam pla in large bowl. Add lime juice and pepper. Place pork in the bowl, turning to coat; let stand while you preheat grill or broiler.

2. Grill or broil pork, spooning marinade over as it cooks, until nicely done, about 10 minutes. Turn only once so that each side browns nicely.

3. Serve with remaining lime and, if you like, the herb garnish.

This was absolutely spectacular. One of those dishes that when I eat it, I can't believe I had a hand in it. The quick caramelization provided by the honey, and the fantastic combination of flavors with the umami of the fish sauce and the tang of the lemongrass and lime juice was sensational. And if you don't believe me or my mom (which isn't nice, frankly), you should believe this guy-

I gave him a tiny piece of fat cut off of one of the chops after it had marinated and cooked. He liked it so much, he went looking for seconds...

I may not be the Ace of Cakes, but perhaps the Jack?

As I've stated many times on this here blog, while I can generally cobble together a pretty yummy sweet treat (with some notable exceptions), said baked goods generally taste a lot better than they look. I am a bit of a baking slob.

All that may be changing, however, because look what I just made -

A southern style butter pecan cake with a maple cream cheese frosting!

It looks good, right? Take a closer look...

Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, I had some help making this cake look so good. A lot of help from a real Ace of Cakes, Mr. Kenneth Nix, with whom I'm doing a kind of mini-apprenticeship while I'm down in SC helping my mom as she goes through chemotherapy.

Kenneth is a whiz with frosting. He swirls that icing bag with the greatest of ease, creating basket weaves, stars, and general loveliness. He is exceedingly patient, laughing with me rather than at me as my unsteady hand made a horrible mess on the cake dummy and then later on some real cakes. But with some practice, he had me decorating cupcakes by the end of my first session, and, really take one more look at this cake.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

We Want Food - Olive salsa (What's not to love?)

Whenever we fly, Daniel and I overdose on magazines. In spite of the facts that we subscribe to about a thousand mags, that I always come armed with several books, and that we usually fly JetBlue or Virgin America, which have televisions, we live in fear of running out of distractions for the long flight(s) ahead. Where Daniel goes straight for Entertainment Weekly, ESPN, and Sports Illustrated, I make a beeline to the cooking section, and stock up on Saveur, Food and Wine, Gourmet, and Bon Apetit.

Our recent trek to Saint Louis was no exception, and given the inhuman number of stops on our return trip after the wedding of Melissa and Chris, these diversions were essential.

The July edition of Food and Wine had a whole section on salsas, and since I live with a great lover of salsas, I took note. When it came time to try my hand at one of the chunky sauces, however, I decided to broaden said salsa-lover's horizons, and skipped the tomato salsa with smoked cheese and the avocado and roasted tomatillo offering, and went for the exotic sounding minty green olive celery salsa. Involving capers, mint, garlic, and of course olives and celery, it tempted me with its briny savoriness.

With so much flavor to the salsa itself, I decided to pair it with a straightforward broiled flounder and to serve it with oven baked sweet potato fries (with the requisite homemade spicy ketchup) and a simple California green market salad of heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, and balsamic. I assembled the ingredients, and got going.

However, when I reached into my crisper, despite the entirely different look and smell and very essence of the two herbs, I pulled out my fresh basil instead of the fresh mint somehow not realizing my mistake until the deed was done. And so what emerged was a basil green olive salsa instead of a minty one. To make up for the error, I added some hot pepper flakes, threw it on the fish, and hoped for the best.

The result was very good- crunchy, savory, and pretty complex. Next time I'll try the minty version, but the spicy basil flavor ended up quite nice. Here's the recipe, based on the one from Food and Wine...

Spicy Basil Green Olive and Celery Salsa

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 cup finely diced celery (3 ribs)
1 cup finely chopped pitted green olives (5 ounces)
2 tablespoons capers, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Freshly ground pepper
Red pepper flakes to taste

-In a small skillet, heat the oil.
-Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat until golden, about 2 minutes. Let the oil cool, then discard the garlic.
-Transfer the oil to a bowl and add the celery, olives, capers and basil.
-Toss the salsa, season with pepper and red pepper flakes and serve.

Here's a quick pic of the side dishes.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

We Want Food - Camping Cuisine

While I generally think of myself as a city girl, I do appreciate a good Arcadian setting and have even grown to love a long scenic hike. I still shy away from bird watching and on principle the Congaree Swamp (sorry mom), but I have learned to really appreciate the unique pleasures of nature time. However, being the high maintenance, creature of comfort that I am, I have shied away from camping. I mean really, why sleep on the hard ground and wash up by water bottle when I have a comfy bed and a clean (okay relatively clean) bathroom sink at home? Besides, bears and other scary creatures come out at night.

Nature is for waking hours; civilization for sleeping. Right? Well, certain people, who shall remain nameless disagree, and so after years of resistance, I agreed to try out "car camping" 4th of July weekend. This is where you drive right up to your campsite and pitch a tent. The presence of other campers (in our case primarily South Asian families) and rudimentary facilities nearby, as well as the proximity to our actual home made the whole thing seem a little "Let's play pretend." Like we were ten year olds sleeping in the backyard just for fun. But with the exception of an aching back from sleeping on a slant and the enormously bold, St. Bernard size raccoons, I had a pretty good time.

I especially enjoyed the cooking element of things. Although we could have easily packed sandwiches or something simple in a cooler, as I and another camper were basically camping virgins, Eric, our resident wilderness expert, wanted to show us the real deal. And so we ate camping food. Mainly freeze-dried simulacrums of the real thing. But somehow, outdoors, they tasted pretty amazing.

Here's what we ate:

For lunch while on our hike, our friend Jacob whipped up his famous instant hummus. With a mysterious powdered blend and some water from his canteen, within minutes we had a very satisfying protein source. Served with pita, cheese, and sliced tomato, it was just the sustenance we needed.

For dinner, we were a bit more adventurous. Using our campsite's picnic table as his workspace, Chef Eric went to town, slaving over his little camp stove, he boiled water -

And made couscous,

Kung Pow chicken (!?),

Mac and cheese,

and pasta primavera

Each dish came freeze dried in an insulated bag, to which Eric added boiling water and then sealed.

Before "cooking" the contents were strange dry objects with the taste and texture of Freeto Lay products (the mac and cheese was Cheetos and the pasta primavera a kind of Cool Ranch Dorito. I did not try the uncooked chicken. Old habits die hard.)

Miraculously though, after absorbing the water and resting for about 10 minutes, dinner was served -

The verdict? I kind of loved the food. Even the Kung Pow chicken, which at first was a little grisly grew on me, especially after adding some Butt Burner hot sauce that Daniel had received as a gift and serindipitously left in our glove compartment. About the camping, on the other hand, I'm still a bit on the fence. Maybe real camping complete with backpacks and remote wilderness (therein absent of smelly toilets and emboldened, socialized raccoons) would be more my speed. Plus then I'd have hiked all day would know deep down that I'd really earned the fusion fare that is freeze dried campfire cuisine.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

We Want Food - Cold tuna lasagna?

I would say I eat lasagna about every three years or so. It's time consuming to make. It's heavy. It involves lots of things that Daniel doesn't eat.

However, when I encountered a cold tuna lasagna salad combo in Everyday with Rachel Ray, I decided to give it a try. It seemed seasonal and refreshing. When I went back and read the recipe though, I wasn't so intrigued with the red pepper puree that was intended to replace the tomato sauce in traditional lasagna. So I did some searching and found a red pepper pesto from Food and Wine posted on Serious Eats.

As I started compiling the ingredients, I have to admit my skepticism grew. Was it going to be good? Would cold lasagna noodles (especially of the whole wheat variety that I had selected) actually taste good, or would these sheets of gluteny goodness lose their usual appeal and become sticky slimy slugs?

Sure the arugula looked fresh and appealing...

And the red pepper pesto (to which I added red pepper flakes) smelled heavenly...

But as I stacked the layers...

And the pasta mound grew...

So did my doubts...

However, when we finally sat down and began our meal, Daniel and I were all smiles. The recipe is below. It's one I'll make again. (And I highly recommend topping the cold leftovers with a little hummus.) As RR would say, Yum-O!

Red Pepper Pesto Tuna Arugula Lasagna Salad Extravaganza
(Based on Rachel Ray's Tuna Salad Lasagna Stack and Food and Wine's Red Pepper Pesto)

For the pesto
3 medium red bell peppers
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 small garlic clove, smashed
1/4 cup basil leaves, plus 2 tablespoons chopped basil
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup shaved pecorino cheese
red pepper flakes to taste

For the lasagna
1 lb lasagna noodles (I used whole wheat)
three 6-oz cans tuna packed in water, drained
3 T Olive oil plus 1 T olive oil
2 T fresh lemon juice
2 T balsamic vinegar
3 C torn arugula
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes to taste
handful of chopped basil

1. Roast the red peppers over a gas flame or under the broiler, turning occasionally, until charred all over. Transfer the peppers to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let cool. Peel, core, and chop the peppers.
In a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderate heat until golden, about four minutes. Let cool.
Transfer the peppers and the pine nuts to a blender. Add the garlic and whole basil leaves and blend until coarsely chopped. Add the olive oil and puree to a chunky pesto. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
4. Grease a baking sheet with 1 T olive oil. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the lasagna noodles until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water. Arrange in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet to prevent sticking.
5. In a medium bowl, combine the tuna, lemon juice, 3 T olive oil, balsamic vinegar; season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
6. Place a layer of lasagna noodles in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Top with 1/3 of tuna mixture, 1/3 of arugula and 1/4 of pesto. Repeat 2 more times, using remaining tuna mixture and arugula and topping with the remaining noodles. Divide lasagna into 6 portions. Top with remaining pesto and chopped basil.