Sunday, April 25, 2010

How to make Chiu Chow Chili Oil

If you're crazy about spicy foods like I am, you might benefit from making your own chili oil. While regular chili oil is super easy and cheap to make at home, I prefer the more dramatic flavors of Chiu Chow chili oil. It spices up noodle dishes, can be used in stir-fries and is a must in Sichuanese cuisine. The stuff you pick up at the Asian market is usually filled with preservatives, or in the case of Lee Kum Kee, an insane amount of salt (which also acts as a preservative).

Chili oil is basically oil infused with chili to impart that smoky, spicy taste to the oil. Traditional chili oil is filtered to remove the dregs such that the resulting infusion is clear and light. Chiu chow chili oil is slightly different from the traditional chili oil in that it usually contains a mixture of chillies, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil. You can use both the infused oil and the dregs in cooking. I personally use the oil for stir-frying and the dregs I eat it as a condiment to pho and wonton soup. I have it in my pantry all the time and have basically substituted this for the artificial pastiness of Sriracha.

To avoid botulism and the various incapacitating hazards that go with infusing oils, I strongly suggest using dried ingredients and making sure you avoid getting any of the ingredients or tools wet while you are making this. This recipe is really easy to remember - it uses a 1:3 system. It also keeps for a long time, so you can make a big jar of it and use it for lightning quick chili fixes.

Chiu Chow Chili Oil
Makes about 250g.

1/2 cup peanut oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil

3 tablespoons dried chili flakes
3 tablespoons fried onions, crushed with the back of a spoon into fine crumbles
1 tablespoon dried garlic granules

3 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon light soy sauce

Heat the peanut oil and sesame oil in a pan over very low heat for about 6 - 7 minutes. Your oil should be hot but not smoking or boiling. You don't want to scorch your chilies.

Assemble all the remaining ingredients in a CLEAN, DRY glass bottle. Pour the hot oil over the chili mixture, mix gently with and let stand until cool. Seal tightly and leave at room temperature for three days. And on the third day, chiu chow chili oil is made! Make sure to use a clean, dry spoon every time you use your chili oil - the chili oil should keep for up to two months at room temperature.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Stories from my kitchen, deep in the recesses of the Grad School abyss.

The average graduate student in the United States takes 6.7 years to complete a PhD. I can tell from experience that this is a statistic of high significance. Earning a PhD. (and by earning, I sincerely do mean earning) is one of those things that you enter into thinking you'll be the one heroic person that won't ever be sucked into the black hole of procrastination and despair, and yet as you ever so gracefully fight your way through the torturous mount of journal articles, research assignments and unfortunate talks by dawdling old grandfathers, you feel as if the fight was already lost the moment you applied for graduate school.

I have been so despondent lately with the prospect of dragging this degree out beyond a decade that I have sunk into another unfortunate hole that graduate school digs for you: the hole of prepackaged cookies, microwave meals and tinned soup (horrors!). I sometimes think that cookbooks really should never be called cookbooks because really, in times of crises, they have absolutely nothing to offer! I do not have a single cookery book in my house that offers me advice on what to whip up when I'm tired, cranky and sully at 3am in the morning. I most certainly do not look kindly on Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall's butchering of a pig to make stew when I'm dying from hunger. I do not want to raid my spice cupboard after a nasty day at work for any of David Tanis' supposedly easy homecooked meals. And so I am resigned to tinned soup and Healthy Choice packet bought in bulk at Costco.

But all is not lost dear reader, for I have decided that while I will be no Thomas Keller, I will also not subscribe to being Julia Dreyfus. I also do not intend on being 20lbs overweight on Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies. Here's a sneak peek on what I will try to make more of on this blog: fast, healthy meals that can be prepared in no time and that taste better than anything your local Target can peddle.

Thick slices of full rye bread with lax & dill

Nicoise salad with smoked salmon

Leftover challah bread turned into french toast

Spanish rice with andouille sausage, spinach and pancetta

Friday, April 2, 2010

A little over three months is a long time to be getting my New Year's Resolution started. In between moving, going on a holiday, a surgery or two, school and general laziness, cooking has taken a backseat. A severe backseat, I might venture to say. I have had the opportunity to savour some of the finest from Safeway's frozen aisles and subsisted on copious amounts of rotisserie chicken and bread. In fact, my wine rack is so miserably barren, I feel an inconsolable amount of sadness.

All these leads me to the question of when will Coolio get his due and have his 76 or so ghetto-fab recipes featured on Konosur? As he would put it, "I've got no friggin' idea, shazam!". I really don't. But what I do now is that I have a pretty decent kitchen right now with a fancy shmazzy gas stove (gas stove!), a convection oven and several really good cookbook I've been dying to get (eg, David Tanis' 'A Platter of Figs' and 'The River Cottage Cookbook').

After a couple of seriously hectic and mind-numbingly dull weeks, we finally got our CSA box in this week. Spring is in transition and the first shipment of strawberries came. I think I might try making some rose-scented strawberries for Easter this weekend. But for now, I've put my aging carrots and bananas to good use for a fine breakfast coffee cake. This is probably nothing new, but it's a great way to use up bits and pieces of leftover carrots and bananas. I made this super easy cake for us , and a carrot/banana puree for the dog. Nothing goes to waste in this house.

Carrot and Banana Loaf Cake
Makes 12 slices

1 cup unbleached AP flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup mashed bananas (about 2 bananas)
1 cup grated carrots (about 2 large carrots)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9x5" loaf pan.

Mix together sugar, oil, eggs and applesauce in a bowl. Stir in bananas. Gently fold in flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda, alternating with the grated carrots. Fold in chopped nuts until just well mixed.

Chuck it into the preheated oven and bake at 350°F for 50 - 60 minutes until the "test"** shows the cake is cooked through. Remove from oven, leave to cool in pan for 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire rack, cool for another 5 minutes, cut and serve!

** Test refers to the thin knife/skewer method, you know what I mean.