Sunday, October 30, 2005

Oxtail and beach plum

Yesterday morning I decided to go shopping at the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market. I went first thing in the morning, so I was able to start the day with breakfast there. I had bacon gravy over home fries (they were out of sausage gravy, alas). The gravy was thick, creamy and a little smoky-tasting. The home fries were little wedges of fried potato seasoned with pepper and probably a few other things; I was too busy scarfing it all down to be very analytical. Definitely the kind of solid food you feed to the farm hands to fortify them for a long day's work.

Once I had fortified myself, I settled down to shopping. I couldn't resist getting another bag of peanut brittle; the one I bought last week disappeared so fast! I need not to make a habit of this, though. I bought a pile of other things and hauled them all home. There's something about a big shopping trip that makes me feel very satisfied. When I get the food home and stashed away in the cupboards and pantry, I feel like I killed a mastodon all by myself. Yes, I can provide for myself. I know this rosy picture falls apart on closer analysis (it's all about the payment of money, not real providing skills), but it's a pleasant feeling if not examined closely.

One of the things I got yesterday was a pound of sliced oxtail. The minute I saw it at the meat counter, I knew I was going to dig out a recipe for oxtail stew. The one I used was Bruce Cost's "Slow-Simmered Oxtail, White Radish, and Star Anise" from Asian Ingredients. Since I didn't have any daikon, I substituted sliced carrots. After parboiling the oxtail for two minutes, you boil eight cups of water and add the oxtail, three star anise, a quarter cup of Shao Xing wine, four smashed garlic cloves and six slices of ginger. This mix is cooked over medium heat, partially covered, for an hour. Then you add one tablespoon of mushroom soy and two tablespoons of light soy, two pieces (one inch square apiece) of rock sugar and one and a half teaspoons of salt. Cooking continues for two and a half hours. At that point, add the carrot or radish and cook for 30 more minutes. Of course, I neglected the step of cooking the stew down until the sauce was greatly reduced, so what I got was more soupy. I suppose I can cook it down tonight when I heat the leftovers for dinner.

The stew was lighter in flavor than I expected, probably because I didn't cook it down. The oxtail was falling-off-the-bone tender, very delicious. The carrots were almost but not quite as tender. I threw in some remnant egg noodles from almost-finished packages, just to confuse the issue; not enough to be a main ingredient, but enough to keep cropping up. Then I sat down to dinner while watching Colameco's Food Show and finding out how easy good roast beef can be (I liked his paean to iceberg lettuce and Russian dressing, too, though Perfect Tommy would probably be scandalized).

Today, The Lurker and I went out to Sandy Hook. We saw some birds, but the sunny breezy day was just a perfect fall day to be savored, no matter your recreation of choice. Migrating hawks flew overhead regularly while sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers and hordes of Dark-eyed Juncos foraged in the scrub and undergrowth. One find we made was what proved to be a beach plum bush with indigo fruits hinting at a violet tinge and what can only be described as a pruinose sheen. (I'm surprised to be able to link a botanical definition, since The Lurker and I were thinking of pruinose dragonflies when we made the comparison. Learn something new every day.) I picked one and brought it home to confirm the identification. Once it was identified, I ate it; its tart flavor and big pit may not be the sort of thing that commercial food producers go for, but it has a mystique all its own for those who love the beaches and barrier islands of the Atlantic coast. Besides, that particular beach plum may not have been ripe.

All in all, a fine weekend. I just wish it could last longer.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rosemary chicken

This is one of those dishes that make you happy to have an herb garden. I resorted to The Frugal Gourmet for this recipe, which can also be found here. The Frug ascribes it to Italy.

Rather than using a whole chicken, I cooked this with some boneless, skinless chicken thighs from the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market. For the white wine, I chose the 2004 Seyval Blanc from Unionville Vineyards up in Ringoes, not too far from here. I discovered this winery when The Deacon served the Seyval Blanc at a get-together not long ago. I'm more of a red wine fan, but the Seyval Blanc hit me just right; not too dry, not too sweet. I'll have to drive up there and get a few more bottles at some point.

In any case, this was another nice simple dinner that made an evening special and provided excellent leftovers the following day. I served the rosemary chicken over some wide noodles from the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market, which made a good combination. I have some of the extra-concentrated tomato paste mentioned in the recipe page linked above and I used two tablespoons, but then, I'm one of those people who believes you can't have too much tomato-ness.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Off-the-cuff lo mein

I wanted to make lo mein to celebrate the discovery of the world's oldest noodles. I finally got around to it last night. After casing the library for recipes, I finally went to Gloria Bley Miller's The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook. I can't even say I used a recipe; Miller's "Miscellaneous Stir-Fried Combinations for Chow Mein or Lo Mein" is really more like a serving suggestion. Anyway, one type of meat and one type of vegetable suited me just fine, since I had celery and thawed pork on hand.

I was so lazy I used flavored wok oil rather than chopping my own garlic, onion and ginger. I stir-fried one sliced celery stalk and some sliced pork tenderloin in the oil, then added a nest of precooked Chinese egg noodles. After stirring the ingredients together, I added a sauce composed of two tablespoons of Chinese light soy, two tablespoons of Shao Xing wine and a teaspoon of sesame oil. After heating it through, I plated the whole thing. It disappeared soon afterward. If lo mein can be this easy, I think I might cook it more often.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The sophisticate's dinner

Take one thick pork chop on the bone, a bottle of Zinfandel, some red miso and the right album on the stereo, and you too can have a sophisticated dinner. The night was Saturday and I had decided to cook "Pork Cutlet with Miso-Red Wine Sauce" from Mark Bittman's The Minimalist Cooks Dinner. Bittman speaks of this recipe's taste belying the effort involved and I have to concur, although I made it more effortful than Bittman does.

The issue was searing the pork chop in a hot skillet for four or five minutes on one side, then three or four minutes on the other side. Once I did this, there was still a healthy amount of pink in the middle of the chop, and I was hearing the word "trichinosis" muttering in my brain. So I put the chop on a baking tray and stuck it in the oven so I could finish it by baking. It eventually worked.

The sauce itself is comprised of a cup of red wine and two tablespoons of red miso (or akamiso). Once the pork chop is removed from the skillet, one adds the wine and cooks it down by half. Then one turns the heat to low and adds the miso, mixing it in well. I reserved some wine to mix with the miso beforehand, so I could add a miso-wine paste to the skillet (rather than two tablespoon-sized miso lumps, which can be time-consuming to mix in). I used Ravenswood's Vintner's Blend Zinfandel, which has been one of my favorite wines of late.

It was a great pork chop smothered in a great sauce. Enough sauce was left over that I was able to serve the rest over spaghettini last night and enjoy something that really was ridiculously easy and ridiculously good. On Saturday night, I paired it with Bittman's "Green Salad with Soy Vinaigrette." The salad dressing was quite hot, even though I thought the amount of cayenne called for was minimal (not that I'm complaining).

As for the album, it was Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane. Now that is some seriously sophisticated music, the perfect garnish for a great meal.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Pad Thai

Anybody who cooks Thai food has to grapple with this classic sooner or later. There seem to be as many recipes as cooks. I used Nancie McDermott's recipe from Quick and Easy Thai, which can be found here.

I cooked it with shrimp and pork. It made a tasty assemblance of varied ingredients; the fresh lime juice added a lot to it. The chore of chopping up peanuts with a regular knife made me wonder if maybe I should cave in and get a food processor.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Vintage noodles

Very vintage. Lala forwarded a link to this BBC story about the oldest noodles ever found; archaeologists found them in China, of course. If I weren't already planning to make pad Thai later, I'd whip up some lo mein to honor the occasion. Maybe tomorrow.

Stew: the gift that keeps giving

It's October. New Jersey is currently suffering under a coastal storm that refuses to leave (we had it last weekend, and now it's drifted back to us). It's gray, cold and gloomy. And soggy. I haven't been birding with The Lurker and Perfect Tommy for way too long. Bleah. So I made a pot of beef stew earlier this week and have been eating it ever since.

I started with Marnie Henricksson's recipe for red-cooked beef stew from Everyday Asian, but I made a few changes this time. I added chopped celery and carrots, as well as a bay leaf for the seasonings. Rather than using Chinese mushroom soy, I used leftover chashu broth. The stew juice ended up lighter is color as a result, so I really can't call it red-cooked this time. The result was a stew with a mild flavor dominated by the aroma of star anise.

In a belated note for music fans, WXPN is doing its countdown of 885 best/favorite albums as voted by its listeners. I submitted a hopelessly obscure top ten list and only two of my albums have made it in so far. It's fun listening in when I can and keeping track of the results.

Now back to your regularly scheduled food blog.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Happy birthday blog

That's right, today is this blog's first birthday. This lark has proved to be a cooking inspiration, a great way to keep track of things, and a fun excuse for writing. I hope the next year is at least as much fun.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Joy of chicken

On Sunday night, I took a foray into another cuisine. When I was little, I loved Greek mythology; a practical effect of that was eating at Greek restaurants as often as I could get my parents to go along with it. At some point, the fad for both myth and food ebbed, but lately I've started thinking about it again.

This was "Roast Chicken, Greek Style" from The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines. Marinate the chicken in half a cup of olive oil, the juice of two lemons, a tablespoon of oregano and salt and pepper to taste for an hour. Then roast it in a 375 F oven for an hour. About as simple as it gets.

I used a two-pound "baby chicken" from the Asian supermarket since I was just cooking for myself. It was a little bigger than their game hens, which seem larger than the game hens one finds in a typical supermarket. Anyway, the chicken cooked up very well, tender but not underdone. It was just small, maybe even a little small for one person.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Salty rice

Last week I made a Vietnamese stir-fry that required extended prep. The recipe comes from Ha Roda's A Vietnamese Kitchen and it calls for "Marinated Meat," so I marinated some sliced pork for a couple of days. The marinade combines a teaspoon each of fish sauce, light soy, oyster sauce and hoisin sauce, plus half a teaspoon of salt, two teaspoons chopped garlic, 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper and two tablespoons of chopped onion.

After I finished marinating, I threw together "Stir-Fried Green Beans." The beans are sliced in half lengthwise and stir-fried for three minutes. Then you add a mixture of two tablespoons light soy sauce, 1/8 teaspoon of salt and half a cup of water, and stir-fry for three more minutes. Turn out of the pan, and stir-fry the marinated meat in the pan until it changes color. Add the green beans back in, heat through and serve.

The first night I had this, I had it solo. It was very intense and assertive, almost smoky-tasting. The next night I had the leftovers with jasmine rice, which did a good job of soaking up the salty juices. Even with the bland rice to accompany the meat and beans, it was still a strongly-flavored dish. This would be best in an arrangement of dishes with varied tastes, rather than standing on its own.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Hedonistic seafood

If one looks at the index for this blog, one will discover an embarrassing paucity of seafood entries. My excuse, such as it is, is that seafood has been a luxury item for me for a while. Thankfully, that has changed for the moment, so tonight I cooked shrimp for the first time in what seems like forever.

I tried Mark Bittman's recipe for "Shrimp in 'Barbecue' Sauce" from The Minimalist Cooks Dinner. I know one of the most overused sentences in this blog has got to be, "This is a quick easy meal," but this really was (well, ok, other than the bit about peeling and deveining the shrimp).

Melt half a stick of butter in a pan over high heat. Add the shrimp and two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce. Cook until done, season with salt, pepper and lemon juice, and serve. This isn't brain surgery here. Bittman attributes this recipe to New Orleans.

I probably used too much butter, since my "barbecue" sauce ended up being more like drawn butter with a sweet undertone. The idea is to have a smoky, spicy flavor, which comes from the Worcestershire sauce and pepper. Of course, I forgot to add the pepper and lemon juice at the end, so I doubt my dinner was what Bittman had in mind, but damn, it was great to be cooking shrimp again. Better yet, I have enough extra shrimp stashed in the freezer for pad Thai in the not-too-distant future.

Another new used cookbook

Thursday's lunch was my first try from another recently purchased cookbook, Charmaine Solomon's The Complete Asian Cookbook. Completeness is always a dicey thing to claim, but this tome does at least include recipes from many Asian countries. The thing that caught my eye was the inclusion of countries not well covered in my library such as Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, etc. It even has a section on Indian and Pakistani recipes. The Singapore section focuses on Nonya cooking.

My first attempt was "Beef with Sesame Sauce" (Bo Xao Dau Me) from Vietnam. I picked it because the book randomly fell open to it and it looked good and simple. It was a success on both counts. Just stir-fry some garlic and beef in peanut oil, then add the sauce makings (beef broth, water blended with cornstarch, sesame paste and hot bean sauce). Cook through and serve with rice (though noodles would be equally good). Depending on what cut of beef you want to use, you might be advised to marinate first, but I used sirloin and skipped that step.

I was a little worried about the sauce consistency as I cooked the ingredients; the cornstarch, although mixed smoothly with water, started producing lumps as it was added to the broth and pan (incidentally, I used chashu broth rather than regular beef broth). As it cooked and more ingredients were added, the consistency improved, though it never became what I would call smooth. The final result was tender beef in a savory sauce. The fire from the hot bean sauce was present but understated; the same was true of the sesame paste. The whole thing reminded me of other beef dishes such as beef with oyster sauce or soy sauce noodles with beef and greens; they are also beef dishes with an assertive gravy-like sauce, food that runs toward the heavier end of the Asian food spectrum.

This was one of those auspicious-seeming first recipes that seems to get a new cookbook off on the right foot.