Monday, October 27, 2008

Easy Mondays: Savoy cabbage, potatoes and spare ribs soup

There's something about cabbage that just screams "peasant" and "Russia" in the same sentence, mostly because Brian has so ingrained the horrors of Russian borsch in my mind that I've been quite hesitant to combine cabbage and potatoes in a soup. Over the weekend however, we took a stroll with down to the Broadway Farmer's Market and there sat a lonely little savoy cabbage bursting with all colours of green, beckoning to me to chomp on it.

Also, cabbage and soup reminds me of Brer Rabbit and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, both British institutions that demonstrate how highly popular cabbage and potatoes are in European culture. I guess that in the Old WorldAlaska, it must have been a great relieve to be able to dig something out of your garden, stab a pig (or a moose!) and toss it all into a large kettle.

I adapted this recipe from the New York Times, adding in potatoes as the bad-bad-bad carb filler and braising the spare ribs in liquid for the soup instead of doing it separately. Savoy cabbage lends a sweet taste to the soup, and complements the spicy spareribs. The actual recipe states that this will yield 10 - 12 servings. Unless you're a midget or Giada De Laurentiis, I think this whole recipe will yield about 6 servings for a main course with some crusty bread.

Cabbage, Potatoes and Spare Ribs Soup
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons dry mustard (I used mustard seeds)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
Pinch cayenne pepper (I used chili flakes)
1 1/4 pounds pork spareribs (about 8 ribs or 1/2 rack)
1 head garlic, peeled, cloves crushed
Vegetable spray
6 cups rich chicken stock
2 cups diced yellow onions
6 generous cups green cabbage in 1-inch dice
2 cups red potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cube
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons chopped parsley for garnish (Optional)

1. In a spice grinder process caraway seeds, paprika and mustard until fine. Turn into a bowl with brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and the cayenne; fluff with fingertips.

2. Dry ribs well with paper towels, and rub both sides with spices and crushed garlic. Place ribs on a small rack or plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

3. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, and heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a sheet pan lightly with vegetable spray. Brush garlic cloves from ribs, place ribs in a sheet pan, and roast until a deep golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven.

4. Transfer ribs to a 5-quart Dutch oven; pour rendered fat (about 2 tablespoons) from sheet pan into a large heavy skillet, and set aside. Place sheet pan on 2 burners over high heat, add 1 cup water, and stir with a wooden spoon to dislodge browned bits. Pour deglazing liquid and stock into Dutch oven, cover, and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, and simmer gently until ribs are tender, turning occasionally, about 75 minutes (1 hr 15 mins). Add in cubed potatoes and simmer for another 20 minutes until potatoes are soft.

5. While ribs simmer, sauté onions and cabbage in a skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the black pepper; stir to combine. Set aside.

6. Remove spare ribs from the soup. Pull pork off bones, trim off bits of cartilage, and dice meat. Discard bones. Return meat to soup base, add cabbage and onions, and simmer about 15 minutes. Serve, garnished with parsley.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hello Saturday Morning Breakfast!

I know what you're thinking: "Oh noes! Another sweets recipe - is she turning into one of those baking maniacs?"

Well the truth is that baked goods are so photogenic. And let's face it, no one really wants to visit a blog where all the writer moans about is calories, no butter and food that tastes like paste (hey, I rhymed!). Anyhoo, I'm not giving up on healthy meals just yet - the only time I have so far has been used to make recipes that I've wanted to try for a long time now. And those recipes just happen to be made up largely of sugar and flour (*wink!* -- Sarah Palin style).

Once again, a huge thank you to The Omnomicon for being a big inspiration. She set in motion my craving for crepes, something which I've never justified paying close to $7 in a restaurant for. I made a simple pear and vanilla compote to go with the crepes. The other variety was peanut butter, apples and cinnamon. I made a healthier crepe recipe using half all-purpose flour and half whole-wheat flour.

Basic Crepes
Makes 6 crepes

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp sugar
Pinch salt
1 egg
1/4 tsp vanilla essence
1/4 cup low-fat or soy milk
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp melted butter

In a blender, combine all the wet ingredients first then the dry. Refrigerate batter for about 45 minutes.

In a non-stick 8" skillet, brush a little bit of cooking oil on the surface and pour 1/4 cup batter on the heated pan. Swirl the pan around the coat the entire surface of the pan. Heat should be on medium to low. Cook the crepe about 1 minute on the first side, flip and cook the either side for 1 minute. Add in ingredients and fold. Garnish with powdered sugar or honey.

Pear and vanilla compote
4 servings

1 large comiso pear (or soft bartlett pear), cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 vanilla bean
4 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup water

Incise the vanilla bean through the middle and remove any seeds.

Bring 1/4 cup water to boil in a saucepan. Add in all the ingredients and simmer for about 20 minutes until the water has evaporated and the pear is soft.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Disconnect the Dots: Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake

If you're wondering about the dearth of posts recently (apart from stress-relieving sugar fixes), the story is that we got a miniature dachshund. It's the cutest little thing ever. I don't know what it is about dogs, but no matter how much you train them, they still always keep that little bit of genetics with them. Dieter the Dachshund loves burrowing and snorfing around, probably due to the inate hound nature in him. It's so fun watching him spaz out that sometimes I even forget about food!

A couple of days ago, Omnomicon posted a recipe for some Lemon and Poppy Seed Muffins, something which I've wanted to try for the longest time now since lemons are supremely easy to come by, and muffins are one of my favourite things in the world. Also, I stare at a jar of Lemon Poppy Seed face wash from Burt's Bees every morning. Some days I get some poppy seed stuck on the sides of my lips and it makes me think about lemony goodness in food form.

I actually prefer the idea of a lemon and poppy seed cake mostly because I want to save on muffin liners and because dumping a whole bowl of batter in a loaf pan is easier than scooping it out bit by bit. So yes, I'm lazy and have no pastry chef skills but have a go at this recipe. Be sure to floss well afterwards though, because you don't want to be walking around and grinning like a loon with poppy seeds in your teeth (speaking from experience here!)

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf Cake
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 stick butter
1/2 cup yogurt
3 tbsp blue poppy seed
2 tbsp lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)
2 tbsp lemon peel (from 1 large lemon)
2 tsp pure vanilla essence
Apricot jam for glaze (optional)
Powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

In a microwave safe bowl, heat butter for about 20 seconds. Stir until melted. Cool for about 5 minutes. Beat eggs together until fluffy. Gently add in the yogurt, vanilla essence, lemon juice and finally add in the melted butter.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in wet ingredients. Add in lemon peel and poppy seeds. Stir until just combined. Be careful not to over mix! Spoon into prepared pan and smooth the top with a knife.

Bake in preheated oven for about 55 - 60 minutes until a thin knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool completely on wire rack. Glaze with apricot jam and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Note1: Once again, I used soy yogurt and cooking margarine instead to make it dairy-free.
Note2: I always use less sugar in my recipes because I don't like the feeling of being on sugar high all day. If you like things a little bit sweeter, use 3/4 cup light brown sugar.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Comfort Food: Chocolate Chip Cookies

I recently started my PhD program and one of courses I'm taking involves a weekly quiz - which constantly leaves me constantly stressed out, cynical and crummy. I'm usually that way anyway, but I swear this course has multiplied all those negative qualities by a billion.

Of course, when stressed, there's nothing better to turn to than alcohol and food. My comfort food is usually an ENORMOUS bowl of pasta, several bottles of ale and one other kind of bad-for-your-hips munchies. Pasta because it fills me up and it involves tons of CHEEZ, beer because it fills me up and it involves tons of hops... and I suppose chocolate chip cookies because it involves tons of gooey yummy melted chocolate.

This recipe is from David Lebovitz's The Great Book of Chocolate - which Deb of SmittenKitchen swears is her favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe ever. So far I think it's mine too! For some reason, the bottom of the cookie is a little crunchy and the center is just soft enough without being mushy. I don't usually like walnuts, but the addition of it I think helped enhance the flavour of the cookies. Also, instead of using just a teaspoon of vanilla, I used two teaspoons and that made the cookies even more yumtastic (yes, yumtastic is a word in the Konosur vocabulary).

I might just pack this up for our trip out on Sunday to see Joe Biden in Tacoma. Chocolate chip cookies and a stop at Harmon Brewing Co. will offset whatever doldrumminess Monday will bring.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Based on David Lebovitz's The Great Book of Chocolate
Makes about 20 cookies (4" diameter)

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick)unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (or baking margarine)
1 large egg
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt (or omit if you use salted butter or margarine)
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped

Adjust the oven rack to the top third of the oven and preheat to 300°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Beat the sugars and butters together until smooth. Mix in the egg, vanilla, and baking soda.

Stir together the flour and salt, then mix them into the batter. Mix in the chocolate chips and nuts.

Scoop the cookie dough into 2 tablespoon balls onto prepared baking sheet, spacing the balls about 4-in apart. I used two tablespoon scoops and mashed them together and dropped them on to the baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until pale golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Monday, October 13, 2008

(Sulk) It's Monday, have an Easy Noodley Stir-Fry

Sulk! Pout! Stomp! I hate Mondays. Actually, I hate Sundays more because it's the day before Monday, and it reminds me that I have to go to school and work and start the miserable trudge through my mundane week again. I also hate Mondays because... who doesn't?

Cynicism and all things pouty aside, Mondays are good for being lazy and also good for getting rid of vegetables and what-nots so that when Wednesday comes and I am attacked by a massive amount of grocery store flyers promoting 10 zucchinis for a buck, I can stock up my fridge with a bucket-load of produce I don't even want to eat.

The quickest and bestest way to get rid of last week's vege is to use it in a stir fry. Here's a secret: The reason why Asians like chow mein is so that nothing goes to waste. Leftover cabbage? Chuck that in. Mushrooms? Celery? Chicken? Greens? Onions? Chuck them all in, add some soy sauce and you've got yourself a tasty dinner with maybe some leftover for lunch tomorrow.

Here's my easy peasy stir-fried noodles with bok choy, mushrooms and chicken - MSG free. By the way, unpeeled straw mushrooms look like little teeny-weenies, so to save yourself the shock, get peeled ones.

Political Speak (P/S): Last debate this Wednesday! I think we're going to do TexMex to support those folks in bell-weather New Mexico. And also, I don't think McCain has got me where he wants, despite whatever new stump speech he's moaning about now. And yes, Obama: we know how to spells JOBS.

Easy Noodle Stir-Fry
Serves 4

1 lb chicken breast, sliced thinly
1/2 lb vegetables (you can use ANY kind of leafy vegetables or even shredded cabbage, carrots, celery, bean sprouts, etc.)
1 can peeled straw mushrooms
1 can sliced water chestnuts
16 oz. wheat or egg noodles (chow mein variety)
2 cloves garlic, chopped

Chicken Marinade
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp corn flour
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp Tsiao Shing wine
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp Chinese Five Spice Powder

Stir-Fry Sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tbsp sweet soy sauce
2 tsp corn flour
White pepper

Marinade the chicken for 15 minutes.

Cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a wok. Add in chopped garlic and chicken. Stir-fry on medium-high heat until chicken is almost cooked through. Toss in mushrooms.

Fry for another 2-3 minutes and add in vegetables. In a small bowl, mix together ingredients for the sauce until corn flour is dissolved. Add in cooked noodles and pour in sauce. Turn off the heat and stir to combine. Serve with chili sauce.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Saturday night blues: Seafood Curry

I must be getting old, considering the fact that I spent Saturday night holed up in the house, cooking and watching a really bad movie (I have unbearably high standards). I should have known better, it was a movie with Will Smith playing an alcoholic superhero... Hancock indeed.

Most of Saturday morning was spent shopping at Pike Place Market and searching for a French Press because I've decided that I like the taste of pressed coffee more than the brownish piss water from a drip machine. I have a regular Bodum press that I've been using for ages, but the coffee always turns lukewarm after the infusing time. I ended up buying a Frieling stainless steel thermal french press from Bed Bath and Beyond. While the price cost me my left kidney, it works supremely well and I got piping hot, swishy pressed coffee this morning. And the pot looks really swanky too.

So I came home yesterday with french press in hand and lugging bottles of cheapo wine from World Market and felt like having seafood. One of the easiest way to make tasty seafood is by rubbing it with some spices and chucking it on the grill. Another quick way is conjuring up some seafood curry. All you need is some good quality curry powder and garam masala.

I've been using the curry powder blend from Dean and DeLuca for the longest time. After trying a few other brands, I think the the D&D ones give the strongest and freshest flavour. This seafood curry is super quick and easy, with a spicy tomato flavour infused with creamy coconut milk. Peas and fresh cilantro and lime gives it a tangy twist. It's what I call my "fall-back-on" quick meal.

Seafood Curry
Serves 4

10 large prawns (we used tiger prawns)
1 lb solid fish fillet, like halibut, mahi-mahi or snapper cut into 1-inch bite size
4 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp Cayenne pepper
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp Garam Masala
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp grated ginger
1/2 cup peas
1 cup light coconut milk
1/2 cup low fat or soy milk
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
Juice from 1/2 lime

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wok or stainless steel pot. Add in diced onions, minced garlic, grated ginger, garam masala, chili powder and curry powder and saute until fragrant, about 5 -6 minutes on medium heat.

Pour in coconut milk and milk and bring to a bubble. Let the curry simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly until thickened.

Add in the halibut and gently pour in half the chicken broth so that the curry covers the halibut. Simmer for 5 minutes until halibut is almost cooked through, then add in the prawns and remaining chicken broth. Simmer another 5 or 6 minutes until the prawns no longer appear transluscent.

Add in the peas and season the curry with salt to taste. Simmer another 5 minutes, stirring to make sure the seafood is coated with curry. Turn heat off, stir in lime juice. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve hot with bread or rice.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Oh noes! No-Cheese Easy Faux Lasagna

Let's establish one thing here. I detest going to the gym. I do so almost every other day because I need to, and because I get a personal TV screen whilst peddling my legs to muscular dystrophy on the elliptical machine. I also get to put on my headphones on full volume and yell at silly Sarah Palin statements or channel silent hate to Wolf HansWolf Blitzer.

Unfortunately, Direct TV decided to be a pain in the butt today and would not allow me to watch ANY news channel (ok, I didn't even bother trying FOX News). I ended up watching Racheal Ray's 30 Minute Meals because when you're triddling on the treadmill, you need some sort of distraction, even if it's in the form of a chippy who grins like she has had one too many omelettes and sounds like she swallowed a whole bottle of ecstasy pills (who TALKS like that in real life?). I've ranted before about how annoying I find her, but I tuned in today (shamefully) to find that she was making a decent recipe which I could improvise to make it dairy-free (the boyfriend has dairy allergies). She made an easy lasagna recipe using spiral pasta instead of egg noodles. And instead of using the traditional ricotta, she used a bechamel sauce, with milk of course.

For my improvisation, I used soy milk and added sliced canned button mushrooms to create a mushroom bechamel sauce. It turned out to be a wonderfully creamy concoction, not unlike melted cream cheese. Vegans can use portabello mushrooms instead of beef for the tomato sauce and substitute chicken broth for vegetable broth. The baking part is my idea, mostly because it allows the sauces to stick to pasta and dries it up a little bit. I added grated Parmigiano just coz IHRTCHEEZ. I used a bottle of Pugliese Primitiva red wine I picked up from World Market for the recipe, and finished the rest off while cooking. The entire cooking time took less than half and hour, and the end product was pretty good considering the fact that it's really just curly-wurly pasta in tons of meat sauce.

No-cheese Easy Faux Lasagna
Serves 4

2 cups whole-grain short spiral pasta (like fusilli or rotini or spiralli)
1/2 lb lean ground beef
2 Italian sausages links
2 slices pancetta, diced
1 small can tomato paste
1 medium carrot, grated
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/2 tsp allspice
2 bay leaves
1/2 can button mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp cooking margarine
2 tbsp flour
2 cups unsweetened soy milk
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
Handful chopped parsley (fresh) or 1 tbsp dried
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt

Heat 2 tbsps olive oil in a skillet. Add in the pancetta and ground beef and saute for about 5 minutes. Toss in the onions, 1/2 of the minced garlic, grated carrots, allspice, bay leaf and freshly ground black pepper and saute for another 10 minutes until the beef is cooked through. Add in tomate paste and wine and gently simmer until the beef mixture thickens.

Cook pasta according to directions. You want to make it al dente. Do not overcook. Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a separate saucepan, heat the margarine on medium until melted. Add in remaining minced garlic and sliced mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms turn slightly brown. Whisk in the flour and gently pour in soy milk. Whisk till the sauce thickens. Add in grated nutmeg, some freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste. Turn the heat down to low. Add in chicken broth until the bechamel sauce reaches the consistency of melted cheese.

In a baking dish, layer half the cooked pasta, add on the bechamel sauce, top with remaining cooked pasta and finish off with the meat sauce. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

It's Town Hall Night! Onion, Garlic and Italian Herbs Beer Bread

OK. Here's two things you need to do if you're watching the Presidential Debates tonight: 1) Drink... a LOT, if you want to offset the dull ache of "My Friends" ringing in your ear 2) Eat a LOT, if you want to offset the boredom that comes with listening to 90 minutes of earmarks, Fannie and failed economic policies, Fannie and earwaxmarks. You can read the minute to minute outtake of the debate here.

If you're looking to combine the best of both worlds, try out this savoury beer bread recipe with some grapes, sliced cheese and fresh butter on the side along with tons and tons of your favourite Oktoberfest Marzen.

We bought a variety pack of Sam Adams a couple of months ago, and the box came with 4 bottles of Boston Lager (which we never touch, and never ever drink... yelch), so I used that for this recipe. You can use any kind of beer - even shitty cheap ones. An apricot wheat would work perfect with this though.

P/S: McCain just talked about healthcare and hair transplants. Is he poking fun at Joe Biden?!

Onion, Garlic and Italian Herbs Beer Bread

1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 bottle (12 fl. oz.) beer
1 large white onion
2 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons butter or cooking margarine
1 tsp each of:
Dried Oregano
Dried Thyme
Dried Basil
Dried Parsley
Dried Marjoram
1/2 tsp black pepper

In a skillet, heat up the butter and saute the onions and garlic and half the herbs until the onions are slightly browned. Drain the butter from the pan into a bowl and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9X5 loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the all the dry ingredients, including the herbs. Make a well in the center and gently pour in the beer. With a spatula, mix the flour until all the beer is incorporated.

Add in the onions and mix into the dough. The dough will be be super tough and sticky. Use your hands to incorporate all the flour if necessary. Turn the dough out into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake for 55 - 60 minutes until a skewer or knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Set on wire rack to cool completely.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Ready in 3-minutes: Almost Healthy Apple Raisin Coleslaw

For the past two days I've been going on a beer tasting rampage. I want to draw attention again to the brilliant Pike Street Beer and Spirits shop down on Pike and Harvard in Capitol Hill. They had a Pumpkin Ale tasting session yesterday and I got to try some of Delaware's finest (Say it ain't so, Joe! Doggone it!), Dogfish Head Punkin Ale which was reminiscent of a whole huge amount of pumpkin spice cake dunked in some hoppy mixture. Of course, our favourite is Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale from San Francisco, but the Punkin Ale is definitely one worth trying if you're looking for an interesting albeit weird Seasonal brew.

We also tried a couple of seasonal brews at the Elysian which is a local Seattle brewpub, admittedly Brian's favourite brewpub (mine is Big Time in the U-District). I had a pint of the Awakener Amber Hef yesterday and some White Woods Wit (Germain weissbeir). Both were light wheat beers that reminded me of summer, I'm still in denial about it being Fall so quickly, I'm not ready for any stout, porters or IPAs yet.

After that crazy amount of beer, I felt the not-so-secret need to eat only light, easily digestible food. I love coleslaw because cabbage helps to get rid of water retention and makes me feel less bloaty. Celery seeds also help dispel tummy discomfort and oh well, it just seems healthy to be wolfing down greens and fruits instead of chomping on a gigantic hunk of cow. This recipe which is proudly something I serve at almost every barbecue, uses low-fat yogurt and an eensy bit of light mayo to create a healthy yet creamy texture.

Almost Healthy Apple Raisin Coleslaw
Makes 6 servings
1/2 pack coleslaw mix (no dressing)
1 large gala apple, cored and cubed, skin on
1 cup Thomson raisins
1 tbsp celery seed
2 tbsp poppy seed
2 tbsp low fat mayonnaise
1/4 cup low fat yogurt
2 tbsp sherry or dry vermouth
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp olive oil
Dash of pepper

Wash the slaw mix in ice water. Drain and dry well.

Core and cut the apple into 1/2 inch cubes. Mix all the salad ingredients in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Drizzle over the slaw mix and toss to combine. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving to allow flavours to meld. If the slaw is a little too wet after refrigeration, add in an extra 1/2 cup of slaw mix.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Rainy-day comfort food: Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

On some days the weather around here gets so depressing (that coupled with depressing political, economic and personal happenings), that I just want to say sod it, curl up into a ball and not move for a few hours. I don't know about you, but I sometimes wish that the Willy Wonka Magic Food Bubblegum with a 3-course meal variety is real. Either that or a food drip.

A few weeks ago I found a bag of overpriced wild rice at Trader Joes. On the days I have canned soup for lunch, I spend almost 10 minutes trying to figure out what the floating bits and pieces are. Sometimes they appear to be dehydrated chunks of chicken but I can never really tell. Just the other day, I opened a can of Progresso's chicken and wild rice to find mushed up carrots bobbing about with some little black specks. It took me quite a few minutes to realize that those specks were wild rice.

I figured if I could spend $2 on a can of sodium-infused carrot mulch, I could haul my lazy ass up to make a healthier version on soup that won't cause hair loss or severe dehydration half a year from now.

A lot of wild rice recipes online seem to have an insane amount of cream or half and half which I somehow find to be quite unhealthy. That coupled with the fact that my partner can't have dairy makes creamy soup recipes often undesirable. After a prolonged, time consuming, hair-tearing search, I found this really interesting recipe on Kitchen Parade that it uses vegetables to create a creamy base (red creamer potatoes create a starchy texture).

I wanted some protein in the soup so I added some pan-seared chicken marinaded in some Stubbs chicken marinade. I changed the recipe very slightly from the original, but all in all I think it stayed true to the Kitchen Parade vision of a healthy, vegetarian soup. We rounded off dinner with crusty bread and a really great bottle of Mirassou (one of the oldest wineries in Western US) 2007 Chardonnay.

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
Makes about 6 cups

8oz chicken breast, cubed
2 tbsp Stubbs chicken marinade or any kind of chicken marinade
1/2 cup wild rice, native or cultivated
1 tablespoon butter
1 tsp olive oil
2 cups sliced leeks, white and light green parts only (about 4 leeks)
2 cups chopped celery (about 4 stalks)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic
1/2 medium white onion, diced
6 cups no-fat, sodium-free chicken broth
2 cups red creamer potatoes, chopped (about five small potatoes)
1 tbsp dried chopped parsley
3 pieces bay leaves
2 tsp dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the wild rice in water according to package directions.

In a separate skillet, pan-sear the chicken meat until just cooked through.

In a dutch oven or soup pot, saute onions, garlic, leek, celery and carrot in the butter and olive oil until the onions become translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add in the chicken broth and potatoes, bay leaves, thyme and parsley. Bring the soup to a boil, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are soft.

Turn the heat off. With an immersion blender puree the soup until smooth, with some chunks left. Add in the chicken and wild rice. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Things that numb your tongue: Mapo Tofu

I was pleased to find a bottle of Szechuan style spicy bean paste during one of my monthly jaunts to the in the International District in Seattle. The first thing that popped into my mind when I saw this jar by Lee Kum Kee was Mapo Tofu. I have been wanting to try this recipe for ages, since finding it on several food blogs like RasaMalaysia and Closet Cooking.

As a Chinese growing up in Malaysia, I've certainly never had Mapo Tofu, which for the longest time I suspected to be a weird American invention of some sort. The first time I tried it in a Szechuan restaurant in New York, the dish struck me as bizzare, with its weird menthol-like flavour. It reminds me ever so uncannily of Orajel, with the numbing sensation and the tingly feeling it leaves on your lips. I found out a little later that this is due to the use of Szechuan peppercorns.

Since I love tofu, pork and all things spicy it only seemed fit to try my hand at making something that combined all these in one eccentric dish: Orajel tofu...

Mapo Tofu
Makes 4 servings

1/2 lb ground pork (or turkey)
1 block medium-firm tofu
1/2 cup Sichuan spicy bean paste
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 dried chilis, sliced
2 stalks green onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp ground Sichuan peppercorns (or Chinese white pepper)

Cut 3 inches off the white end of the green onions. Slice the white part into half. Chop the green parts into 1/4 inch slices. Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wok until wok is smoking. Stir-fry the ground pork until cook through. Set aside.

In the same wok, heat an extra 1 tbsp of oil and bring the heat down to medium. Fry the garlic, dried chilis and the white parts of the green onions until fragrant. Add in the bean paste and fry for a few minutes. Add in the pork. Fry for a few minutes to coat.

Gently slide in the cut tofu, scatter the peppercorns and stir to coat. Pour in the chicken broth and simmer the tofu for about 5 minutes until the tofu is cooked through.

Dish out on a plate and scatter with remaining chopped green onions.