Thursday, March 31, 2011

Jade Chicken. Or, Why Fried Mint is Awesome

The first Asian cookbook I bought was Martin Yan's Quick and Easy.  Stir fry was one of the first cooking methods I attempted because it's quick and doesn't involve tons of prep work.  Initially, I failed to heat the oil hot enough, which resulted in below average stir fry.  Then, I read Yan's introduction in Quick and Easy and learned how to properly heat the oil to a high enough temperature.  Since I got a round bottomed wok, my stir fries are infinitely better.  If you have a gas stove, round bottomed woks are awesome. 

This recipe for Jade Chicken is one of the first stir fry dishes I ever made.  I still make it pretty often.  It's simple and the mixture of crispy fried mint and mint that was stirred into the sauce is unexpected and different.  The crispy fried mint is my favorite, and I usually make extra to put on top of the chicken.  The broccoli side dish is broccoli stir fried with ginger and Chinese cooking wine.  I love it because it takes 5 minutes to make.  Really.  5 minutes.  I make rice in my rice cooker, it's idiot proof and definitely one of my MVP kitchen appliances.  I'm not a huge fan of plain white rice, so I put a little rice vinegar in mine after I dish it out.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Before and After: Chicken Paprika

One of the very first cookbooks I bought was The Wine Lover's Cookbook, which is divided up by type of wine that pairs well with each dish.  Some of the dishes were extremely ambitious for someone learning how to cook.  When you don't really know what you're doing, an ingredient list with more than a dozen things can be pretty daunting.  But, I figured out that a lot of the ingredients for this Chicken Paprika with Almond Relish were spices and small things that got chopped up and tossed into a bowl, so I decided to give it a try.  It was also paired with viognier, which is one of my favorite types of white wine.  One of my favorite viogniers is Yalumba's Y Series Viognier.  It's fruity, but not too sweet like some Rieslings can be.  Also, the price is right at $15 or less. 

The picture below is from two nights ago.   After the jump is my version from 2007, guest starring Dave's lap.  When I was first learning how to cook, making more than one thing at a time was a little too complicated, so the result was a chicken breast plopped on a plate and covered some sauce and a ton of relish.  If you squint, you can see that there is, in fact, some chicken under the mountain of relish.  :)  The book suggests serving this with egg noodles or spaetzle and I always have egg noodles around, so now I put the chicken on top of egg noodles with caraway seeds mixed in. 

As the book says, having both hot and sweet paprika really makes this dish tasty.  Back in 2007, I omitted the mushrooms because Dave hated them.  Since then, he's decided he likes mushrooms so long as they're thinly sliced and not used as a meat substitute.  The mushrooms add a depth to the sauce that was lacking without them.  I don't really like peaches, and I've always got dried apricots around.  They're a good source of potassium and they keep forever.  So, my relish is always with apricots.  The caraway seed in the relish stops it from being too sweet and ties it into the sauce, which also has caraway seeds. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Black" Sesame Otsu

This picture is a little grainy because I had to use my phone.  In a moment of genius, I left my camera open all night and the battery died. 

Dave and I both love soba noodles, so I'm always looking for new recipes that use them.  Tofu is a bonus, so this recipe for Black Sesame Otsu looked interesting.  I had no idea what an otsu was, but from what the internet tells me, it's a soba noodle salad with vegetables. 

Comparing my picture to the one on 101 cookbooks, it's clear that my tofu didn't brown properly.  This is something I need to work on.  Usually when I attempt to brown tofu, it inevitably sticks to the pan like hair gel to a Jersey Shore cast member.  I think it's because I turn my heat up too high and don't add enough oil to the pan.  Regardless, I've read up on it and hopefully it will work properly next time. 

I have black sesame seeds, but not enough for the 1/4 cup I needed to make the sesame paste.  I used regular sesame seeds mixed with some black ones for color.  All black seeds would have looked better.  I used more cayenne than the original recipe called for.  Unfortunately, I omitted the pine nuts from the paste.  I bought some, and then accidentally used all of them in another meal. 

Overall, this was a quick, easy vegetarian meal that was more filling than it looked.  The sesame paste was more flavorful than I expected, I normally consider sesame to be very overpowering, but I could taste the vinegar and cayenne pepper.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Grilled Chicken Tikka with Mint-Cilantro Yogurt Sauce

This is one of my Indian staples.  It doesn't take long to cook, but it needs to marinate for 2 hours before cooking, so I usually only make it on weekends.  The sauce is easy because it's of the Throw Everything in the Blender variety and is not cooked.  I like uncooked yogurt sauces because I can use nonfat yogurt and not worry about the separation that happens during cooking.  Plus, it makes this dish pretty healthy.  In my opinion, the step involving the melted butter can be omitted, I've done it before and it doesn't impact the taste significantly. 

The marinade for this dish is a little spicy.  Nothing that will kill you, but it has a nice kick to it.  Sometimes I add extra cayenne if I want it to be spicier than normal.  I used a grill pan instead of a real grill and it turned out fine.  The sauce is mild and cooling even though it has a jalapeno in it. I made a full recipe of sauce even though I made a half recipe of meat.  I like the sauce so much that I dump it on my leftover rice after I finish the chicken.  The original recipe recommends serving with naan, but I have yet to try the premade naan they sell at Wegmans.  Rice works fine, and using a rice cooker reduces the amount of active time for making this meal.  I love my rice cooker so, so much. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fresh Pasta with Lentils and Caramelized Onions

This is an easy to make vegetarian dish that has very few ingredients!  It can be made with fresh or dried pasta.  I bought some fresh, but the original recipe specifically called for dried.  Part of the theory for using dried pasta is that it cooks in the same pot as the lentils, which should add more lentil flavor.  So, my fresh pasta version is probably less earthy than what the recipe intended.  The first time I made it a few weeks ago, I thought it was a little bland, but that was very easily rectified with a few dashes of Aleppo pepper.  Regular crushed red pepper would work too.  The most important thing for the flavor of this dish is to really let the onions caramelize. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

As Close to Pi as I'm Going to Get

Yesterday was Pi Day, 3/14.  I should probably turn in my nerd card since I didn't bake a pie.  I think I've baked approximately 3 pies in my entire life (4 if you count the Meringue Debacle of 2003).  While they were good, they can't hold a candle to my mom's pies.  Last night I got home from work and had a choice.  I could attempt to cobble together some sort of pie-shaped thing with ingredients already in my pantry.  Or, I could just cook dinner and then play computer games.  I decided to make a dish that most closely approximated pi(e).  Behold, kofte kebab over crispy pita with tomato sauce and spiced yogurt!  I am the first to admit that this dish isn't the prettiest plate in the world, but it tastes awesome.  And although it requires a decent bit of chopping, the cooking time is relatively short, about 10 minutes for the lamb and tomato sauce.  The yogurt doesn't require cooking and is spooned on cold. Since it's not cooked, nonfat yogurt works just fine.  I adapted the yogurt sauce a little to make it more flavorful. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Green Enchiladas

Aside from ground beef tacos, these green enchiladas were the first Mexican dish I tried to make.  I've been making them since 2006.  My first ones tasted great, but it's always been hard to get them on the plate looking nice.  Usually, they look like they were thrown onto the plate at an extreme velocity.  These were carefully plated by Dave; he's a master with a spatula.  The green salsa is made in the blender from canned salsa verde, cilantro, onion, and garlic.  Instead of using full-fat cream cheese, the recipe called for 1/3 less fat Neufchâtel cheese. These are (relatively) healthy and quite tasty!  Since the sauce doesn't require cooking, it's faster than the other enchiladas I make.  If you have leftover cooked chicken, or a rotisserie chicken sitting around, these would be even faster. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Loki's Super Tasty Turkey Chili

I felt like utter crap last night, plus I wanted to play Dragon Age 2.  So, cooking was put on the back burner (heh).  Instead I'll write about an awesome slow cooker recipe that I found on Loki's Kitchen.  I know her in real life, and she recommended it to me when I mentioned wanting to use my slow cooker for things other than making mulled wine once during the holidays.  I got my slow cooker as a wedding present years ago and have only used it a handful of times.  Several of my friends have praised the virtues of the slow cooker and I think they're right.  So far, I've only used it on weekends since there is nothing on earth that could motivate me to get up even earlier on a work day.  Morning and I are not friends. 

This recipe looked so good (and idiot proof) that I served it to friends without trying it by myself first.  Usually, I don't experiment on people.  But, I did this time and they really liked it!  I used my own combination of spices, as most people do when they make chili.  I also added extra cheese because, well, cheese.  One of my friends likes food so spicy that it would sear the tastebuds off a normal person, so I let him have some sri racha sauce on the side.  :P

Monday, March 7, 2011

Quick Dinner: Eggplants in Spicy Honey Sauce, Hummus, and Citrus Salad

My experience with eggplant is limited.  I've grilled it once, tossed into a curry a handful of times, and made baba ghanoush occasionally.  It seems like a very versatile ingredient, but I don't really get around to cooking it very often. 

Sometimes, I don't feel like making something elaborate for dinner.  Usually it's because I'm too busy punching things in the face (that is, playing Batman: Arkham Asylum), or because  I went running or to yoga.  But, I've got to eat and microwaved meals so aren't my thing.  So, behold, Eggplant in Tangy Honey Sauce with a side of hummus and orange olive salad.  I made the hummus earlier in the week, so the only active time involved was plorping it down on the plate.  The citrus salad was quickly made while the eggplants were cooking. 

Although the eggplant was quite tasty, the star of the show was definitely the harissa hummus, which is just my regular hummus but with a ton of harissa added in while it was still in the food processor.  I remain obsessed with harissa because it's spicy, but has a flavor.  So many hot sauces are just for heat, while the harissa is tangy, peppery, and has just enough heat to make it spicy enough for me.  I suspect that in the future, I'll turn half my batch of regular hummus into harissa hummus.  

According to The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, the eggplant is a North African dish that is best served cold.  I was too hungry and ate it at about room temperature.  Next time, I'll let it cool all the way, but this time my impatience got the best of me. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Broiled Scallops and Pasta with Smoky Red Pepper Sauce

I don't make scallops very often, but I really like them.  The handful of times I've made them, they've been sauteed.  Today, I didn't feel like sauteing them, so I decided to bread and broil them. I also wanted some pasta so I could play with an idea for a sauce. Now, both elements of this dish were separately very tasty.  But, I wouldn't serve them this way again.  It didn't occur to me until I served it, but the breading from the scallops came off a little into the pasta.  It didn't ruin the pasta, but it wasn't what I intended.  Next time, I would serve the pasta as its own dish, and place the scallops on a plate with nothing under them and some kind of side dish or salad.  Or, just put the scallops on the place and put the pasta next to them.  The sauce was thick enough that it wouldn't spread onto the scallops. 

Instead of using regular breadcrumbs, I used panko.  I added some chopped almonds, sumac, and a little Aleppo pepper.  Even though I didn't add a ton of each ingredient to the panko, they gave the scallops a nice flavor, especially the almonds, which got toasted under the broiler.  My inspiration for the breading came from Chicken with Pistachio and Sumac Breadcrumbs. I didn't have any eggs, so instead of dipping the scallops in egg, I brushed them with melted butter before rolling them in the panko.  For my pasta sauce, I used roasted red peppers, a spoonful of harissa, and some smoked paprika.  I didn't want to make a tomato sauce, and roasted bell pepper goes well with the almonds and sumac in the breading.  The red pepper sauce was quite good.  I didn't add any additional liquid, so the sauce wasn't watery, and it was a nice bright red color.  The little bit of harissa gave it a slight spiciness, and the smoked paprika added a level of complexity that I liked for a sauce with only 3 ingredients.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sichuan Wontons - These are Seriously Awesome!

Last night I made Pasta a la Stuff in a hurry and didn't feel like posting about it.  Instead, I'll post about something I made a few weeks ago that was awesome!  Dumplings and wontons are some of my favorite things to eat, but they're so time consuming!  Generally I like to make a big batch and then freeze some so that I can have them more than one night.  There's a restaurant near my office that serves "spicy Chinese ravioli" as an appetizer and it has some of the best dumpling sauce I've ever had.  It's a spicy, tangy soy sauce with sliced green onions in it.  The "ravioli" are served swimming in the sauce, which is part of the reason I love it so much.  The sauce on these wontons comes close, but I want to tweak it and see if I can get it closer to the sauce I've had in the restaurant.  I found this recipe for Sichuan wontons on one of my favorite food blogs, Appetite for China.  Everything I've made from there has been amazing. 

Despite being labor intensive, these are easy to make.  Dave and I made them while watching TV.  Instead of eating them as an appetizer, these were a meal!  I was afraid it wouldn't be enough food so I made a side of Random Noodles (barely in the picture) that turned out to be totally unnecessary. These wontons are excellent, and the freeze and reheat well.  A few days after I made them, I reheated some of the frozen ones and they were just fine, I just cooked them a little longer. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

First Time Cooking Mussels

I love mussels! When I went to France last fall, I was a woman on a mission!  I wanted moules-frites.  There are restaurants in DC that serve them, and they're great.  But, there is nothing quite like eating my weight in moules at a cafe in Paris.  Unfortunately, Dave doesn't share my enthusiasm for the marvelous mollusk.  But, he isn't here!  I'd never cooked mussels before.  A lot of the recipes in my cookbooks called for tons of liquid and a steaming basket.  I've got a small steamer, but it only works if there's an inch or less of liquid.  So, those recipes were out of the question.  I decided to go with the most simple recipe I could find. I whipped out my Larousse and read the entry on mussels.  Not only did it have important information about How Not to Cook Mussels That are Already Dead, it had some simple recipes that didn't call for a steamer basket.

I made moules à la marinière!  It had relatively few ingredients and didn't take long to cook. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Star Wars Cookies! A Guest Post by Maggie Cats

As previously noted, I can't bake my way out of a paper bag unless you like your baking products heavily smoked with a side of whatever it is that comes out of a fire extinguisher.  My friend Maggie, however, is a fantastic baker that shares my love of sci fi.  I tasted her awesome Star Wars cookies a few weeks ago, and she offered to write a guest post about them.  You can visit Maggie at her personal blog, Grasping for Reality, or at her TV blog, We're Wicket Smaht.  But seriously, make the cookies. 
 Enjoy!!  - Scienter___________________________________________________________________

Some things in this world were just made for each other. Peanut butter and jelly, Indiana Jones and his hat, Lizzy and Mr. Darcy. And now we can add Scienter and blogging to the list. I don’t know about you, but the things that she makes for this cooking blog constantly astound me. And she just whips them up at home in the evenings after working hard all day (trust me, I know since I work with her). 

But there is one thing missing from this blog: baked goods. 
Where are the cupcakes, the cookies, the pies, the muffins?

According to Scienter, she “doesn’t bake.” Now riddle me this, gentle readers. How can a woman who can knock out some uber-complicated Middle Eastern-Japanese-Creole fusion meal not be able to cream butter and sugar, throw in some flour, and slap on some icing? It’s a mystery and I blame her mother. 

But luckily for you, I invited myself to guest-post on her blog about my most recent baking adventure. I would call myself an amateur cook at best (it’s only really been in the past year since I remodeled my kitchen that I have started really cooking), but I am a champion baker. My mother has been prepping me for this my whole life—she wanted to make sure I was properly trained in the baking arts. You start small with boxed brownie mix as a preteen, and by age 30 graduate to fully taking over the holiday baking duties. 

My most recent baking project combined two of my favorite things: cookies and fandom, specifically, Star Wars. Thanks to my Aunt, I recently came into possession of some Star Wars cookie cutters by way of Williams Sonoma. And it was SO ON. 

I used my family’s classic sugar cookie recipe, known as Mom’s Sugar Cookies (referring to my maternal great-grandmother). Everything proceeds as normal: cream the butter and sugar, add eggs and vanilla, and then the dry ingredients, followed by chilling the dough for two hours. And then the fun part: rolling out the dough and cutting the cookies!

You can pause for a lightsaber battle using your rolling pin if you like.


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