Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Last night I added another notch to the culinary belt by attempting another cuisine - Filipino. I used the recipe for "Filipino-style Potatoes Adobo" from From Bangkok to Bali in Thirty Minutes. Bruce Cost's Asian Ingredients also has an adobo recipe which involves marinating, which the Laursens' recipe does not. After surfing the web and looking at various adobo recipes, I concluded that marination is not compulsory for adobo.

Adobo sauce blends vinegar, light soy sauce and garlic for a tangy flavor; it was originally a way of preserving food. I bought a bottle of Filipino palm vinegar for this dish at the Asian supermarket. It may be milder than some other vinegars, but still packs a decent bite.

This recipe calls for stir-frying garlic and a sliced onion in olive oil, then adding the sliced potatoes. After about five minutes, in go the sauce ingredients (vinegar, light soy and palm sugar). An interval of covering the pan and simmering follows. I never got all the potatoes to be equally tender; those that cooked in the sauce ended up as desired, while those piled on top were harder. The tart sauce was different from anything I've encountered before, and may be tinkered with somewhat, but I enjoyed it. I look forward to cooking other adobo meals in the future, using meat and marinating it.

An enjoyable musing on adobo can be found here.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The cult of Krispy Kreme

By rights, I should be blogging about last night's Thai-style sweet pork, which made a good dinner and even better brunch this morning, once the flavors melded. But no, this will be a brief foray into fast food land with my usual companions on such occasions, The Lurker and Perfect Tommy.

Our excuse for an outing today was the beluga whale that has gained notoriety by swimming up the Delaware River to the Trenton area. We did not see the whale and spent much of the day in wandering mode. To make a long story short, we ended up in the mall-verse known as Langhorne, Pennsylvania. There is a Cheeburger Cheeburger located there, and Perfect Tommy has been itching for a visit.

Passing quickly over dinner (good burgers, nice spicy fries and a generous root beer float), we continued on our way. As we tried to find our way out of the mall zone, The Lurker directed Perfect Tommy (who was driving). As we paused at an intersection, Perfect Tommy suddenly cried, "Krispy Kreme!" and executed a Dukes of Hazzard-style turn to follow the Krispy Kreme pointer. Perfect Tommy has a strong affinity (some might say fixation, but we're trying to be diplomatic here) for certain eateries and chains; Krispy Kreme is one of them.

We followed the road around the side of a building and found no Krispy Kreme. We continued, thinking that maybe it had gone out of business and the sign hadn't been updated. Then, around another turn, there it was, and the "Hot and Fresh" sign was lit up.

Perfect Tommy and The Lurker went in; I demurred because I was stuffed from dinner. They soon returned, Perfect Tommy with a box of a dozen steaming fresh doughnuts. He insisted on having one before driving away, and before long it was evident that Perfect Tommy had attained nirvana. He had never had a Krispy Kreme doughnut so fresh and hot before, and he said, "Now I understand why people go crazy about these things." That was when he wasn't saying, "Oh, my god," or similar expressions of awe. Swayed by his enthusiasm, I even had one. The doughnuts are at their lightest when they're fresh-made, after all.

After another futile try at whale-watching, we headed home, with Perfect Tommy ready to form a new cult around Krispy Kreme. Since the doughnuts are light, airy and sweet, apparently what the worshipper does is to become one with the doughnuts by ingesting them; then the lightness, airiness and sweetness becomes part of the worshipper's personality. Since Perfect Tommy had been out of sorts for most of the day, this was quite an accomplishment. When they dropped me off at my place, Perfect Tommy was trying to figure out how he could get his medical insurance to cover fresh Krispy Kremes. I always suspected they ought to be a controlled substance.

In other (non-food) cultic news, I have to note that we saw a car with a Cthulhu fish magnet on it. It's always nice to see there are other H. P. Lovecraft fans out there.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Intense baked chicken

There are a pile of recipes for roast chicken that I want to try, but since I'm usually cooking for one person, roasting a whole chicken is generally not in the cards (unless it's a Cornish game hen). Last night I compromised by baking some pieces of a cut-up kosher chicken.

I used the recipe for "Chicken Baked with Honey and Soy Sauce" from The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines. It's a Chinese recipe The Frug got from a Roman prince (well, that's what the cookbook says). It's pretty simple. First you marinate the chicken in two tablespoons each of dark soy sauce, honey and sesame oil. (The hardest part of the whole exercise was getting the crystallized honey out of its squeeze bottle.) Then you bake it, starting at 350 for 15 minutes, then 325 for 20 minutes and finally 300 for a half-hour, basting periodically. I mistakenly turned the oven up to 375 rather than down (yikes!), but it seemed to not matter in the final analysis.

The chicken probably could've baked a tad longer to remove the bits of pink at the bone, but it wasn't what I'd call underdone, either. The meat was juicy and tender, thanks to the marinade. The skin was crisp, and flavored intensely with the dark soy sauce. The next time I try this, I might use regular soy sauce to lighten it up just a bit.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Homemade noodles

The brand of udon I usually buy is Shirakiku's inaka udon. "Inaka" means "rustic" or "country-style" in Japanese. If that udon is rustic, then the egg noodles I made today hailed from way out in the boonies.

I've been craving egg noodles for a while, but I'm trying not to spend too much money right now. That means the usual shopping trips where I buy lots of intriguing things are out for the moment. It dawned on me that rather than buying a bag of egg noodles at the store, I could try making my own. It would be a culinary adventure.

I used the recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (the same cookbook that gave me my first stir-fry recipe, but that's another story). I had to add a little water to get the dough to the right consistency for effective kneading, but after that, things went fine. I divided the dough into quarters; two of them got rolled into noodles while the other two got stashed in the freezer. I used one batch of noodles for dinner tonight, and the other batch got frozen as well.

When I realized I was using two egg yolks without the egg whites, I remembered that velveting meat in the Chinese manner requires egg whites but not yolks. There was the inspiration for a stir-fry. I decided to velvet some Quorn tenders, cook them in the sauce from wrong noodle stir-fry and pour them over the homemade noodles. Of course, the velveting solution calls for one egg white, so I just doubled the proportions of the other ingredients.

The Quorn tenders velveted adequately, though doubling the velveting solution was decidedly overkill. The sauce, possibly from the added infusion of cornstarch, ended up strongly resembling the sauce from cold Sichuan chicken; clearly a case of convergent evolution despite the different ingredients of oyster sauce and Worcestershire sauce. And the noodles looked frayed and irregular around the edges; some had not wanted to be picked up off the counter, so they were a little bunchy into the bargain. Some were thicker than others. It was not a polished collection of pasta pulchritude.

It was a great moment when I bit into a test noodle steaming from the pot and discovered that it tasted like a real noodle, however. Not only that, it had the right consistency. Somehow those little pieces of floury dough had been transformed into real pasta. None of the world's great pasta empires need tremble in fear, but my world is a somewhat brighter place. I love pasta, and today I made a batch all by myself.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Chicken hijiki noodles

I froze some of my chicken stock in an ice cube tray so I could use it in future stir-fries, but that still left a generous amount of chicken stock hanging around. I ended up using it to help cobble together dinner last night.

I heated the stock in the big skillet, and added some shoyu and sugar. Then I put in some hijiki and somen noodles (somen are very thin Japanese noodles often used in soups). The combination of the straw-colored somen (ok, so at least some of the straw color came from the chicken stock, not the noodles) and the inky curls of the hijiki was reminiscent of some abstract Japanese print. I tore myself away to sit on the deck and enjoy the sunset.

When I came back, the liquid was all gone and the noodles were hydrated. The final result was a little bland, perhaps, but it was a great way to use up some random ingredients.

In other news, today I found a new sprout sticking up in one of the pots. The Chinese celery has decided to join the garden population.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Chicken stock

I get the impression that every proper cook has homemade from scratch stock of various kinds. At least, many cookbooks give that impression. You're just not a real cook if you don't make your own stock.

I've had this pile of chicken bones and giblets accumulating in the freezer for quite a while, so yesterday I finally decided that it was high time to make some stock. I used Bruce Cost's recipe from Asian Ingredients. The big attraction of that recipe was that it isn't as specific as some other stock recipes. It's all very well to call for three pounds of chicken bones, but I don't have a scale, and I'm not getting one any time soon.

I tossed the bones, necks, feet, heads and thighs into my pot and covered with water. I added some ginger slices, brought to a boil, then simmered for four hours. The aroma of the simmering stock was maddening. Somehow I managed to survive without going completely nuts.

Today I used some of the stock for chicken noodle soup (with wide Chinese noodles). For some reason, I frequently get indigestion from normal (i.e., store-bought) chicken broth. This soup, however, was fine, and gave me no digestive difficulties at all. It needed some seasonings to liven it up, perhaps, but apart from that it was fine.

One thing I wonder about is the cloudy appearance of the stock. I know that Chinese banquet-style stock is clear, and I wasn't trying for that. But the cloudiness bothers me. I suspect that means there's a problem with the broth, or maybe I'm just being paranoid. Further research is definitely needed.

In other news, yesterday I noticed some green threadlike sprouts in the spinach pot. It looks like the scallions are beginning to make themselves known.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The realm of the senses

Today's culinary experiment is to make Chinese chicken stock. It isn't done yet, but all I can say is that the wonderful aroma is already driving me crazy, and it still has over an hour to go. Humans may be visually-oriented creatures, but the other senses can cause all kinds of mayhem.

More later.