Saturday, May 27, 2006

Nasi goreng

The Asian fried rice tour of 2006 continues here at SevenSoy Central. A few nights ago, I turned my hand to Indonesian fried rice, or nasi goreng. Parenthetical note: I'm typing this post in MS Word before posting it on Blogger, and MS Word insists on automatically changing "goreng" to "goring." Me, I like to type words and have them stay the way I typed them. I guess it's a control thing.

Anyway, back to nasi goreng. Nasi goreng is the Indonesian method of using leftover rice to create a meal. It seems as though all Asian countries have their own versions of fried rice, i.e., a meal reusing previously-cooked rice. Thai fried rice has really captured my affection because the use of fish sauce adds a bracing quality to the dish. It ends up being very clean and simple, and puts the emphasis on the ingredients. On the other hand, if there's a Japanese version of fried rice, please enlighten me! I can't remember coming across such a recipe during my Japanese cooking excursions. The closest thing I can think of is salmon tea rice, which is not the same thing at all.

There's a recipe for nasi goreng here at Indochef, but I used a recipe from Ken Hom's Hot Wok. This presented the interesting proposition of an Indonesian dish being adapted by a Chinese-American chef for his book (UK edition), then being further adapted by a Swedish-Scottish-German-English-American who had some Indonesian ingredients on hand. Hom recommends hot bean paste to supply the spicy heat for this dish; Indochef goes for fresh chilis or sambal. The soy sauce component of the meal is Indonesia's ketjap manis, a thick sweet soy sauce; Hom substitutes a tablespoon of oyster sauce and two teaspoons of Chinese mushroom soy sauce. I just used one tablespoon plus two teaspoons of ketjap manis.

The meat for this version was a combination of chopped chicken thigh meat and shrimp; one thing I like about Hot Wok is its tendency to use chicken thigh meat in stir-fries, rather than breast meat. Breast meat is an obvious choice that I've opted for many times, but thigh meat adds more flavor to the dish. My default chicken stir-fry meat has changed from supermarket breast meat (well, ok, I am a Bell and Evans partisan) to chicken thigh meat fresh from the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market.

Enough backstory; the recipe is roughly as follows. In some peanut oil, stir-fry some chopped garlic and ginger, a chopped small onion, chopped shrimp, a tablespoon of shrimp paste, and salt and pepper to taste. After two minutes, add the chopped chicken and stir-fry for another two minutes. Add the rice and cook for three more minutes. Add the ketjap manis and a tablespoon of hot bean sauce and stir-fry for two more minutes. Finally, add two beaten eggs mixed with two teaspoons of sesame oil. Stir-fry for a minute, plate and garnish with scallions and fresh cilantro.

The consistency of this version of fried rice was thicker than Thai fried rice; you could almost shape it into patties by the time it was done. The hot bean paste got lost in the final dish; the chopped ginger was more successful at spreading some heat throughout the food. Since the shrimp was one of the first ingredients added to the pan, it was leaning toward being overcooked by the time the meal was ready for eating. As expected, it was even better as leftovers for lunch (and dinner) for the following day. I finally got to use some cilantro out of the garden, too, which was nice.

Speaking of the garden, I planted some Black-seeded Blue Lake green beans (courtesy of mom) about a week ago. They popped out of the dirt Thursday and since then have seemed intent on world domination.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Garden update 05.19.06

The lemon thyme has died, but there are two seedlings in the pot. Time (sorry) will tell what they are. The sage looks a bit peaked, but new green leaves are sprouting along the stems and from the roots. A cluster of new mitsuba seedlings has popped up in a pot where I planted seeds from last year's mitsuba plant (which is still going strong). There's also a mysterious something else in the mitsuba pot. Last year's lettuce seeds have less germination power this year (no surprise) but a few seedlings are growing. Last year's spinach seeds seem to have more oomph, with no fewer than four seedlings putting out small spinach leaves. Two pea plants are quite feisty, looking for a foothold on anything available. The supermarket cilantro is starting to bolt, but it still hanging on; I planted some more cilantro seeds from last year in that pot in an attempt to keep cilantro coming on. I planted the green bean seeds in an indoor pot today; they'll go outside in a week or so. I also planted some shiso and holy basil in indoor pots today.

In other news, last weekend's World Series of Birding taught me that whenever I was getting tired (I was awake for close to 48 hours straight this year), a hit of chicken fried rice or donburi did the trick of rebalancing the blood sugar levels and waking me up.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Homemade ramen

Ah, ramen. It's the epitome of a fast, cheap meal. Like every other impoverished student, I ate plenty of it during my college years; I've eaten plenty of it in the years since, as well. These days, I tend to prefer the Westbrae flavors that can be found at health food stores, but sometimes you can't say no to Nissin's version; it's right there in the supermarket. Of course, the Asian supermarket has a whole aisle of ramen and ramen-like products; the variety is so staggering that I've never truly explored that section of the store (although once I bought a Vietnamese instant pho bowl that tasted great but gave me major indigestion).

The funny thing is that ramen is a quick, convenient meal even if you don't resort to a prepackaged version; just take some chukasoba noodles, broth of some sort and some toppings, and you're set. You can even make the broth from scratch if you're really into it; I've got a recipe for that but haven't tried it yet because it requires hacking up meat bones, something for which I lack the equipment.

Yesterday I was perusing one of my cookbooks. I'm tempted to call it new, but I bought it a few months ago; I just hadn't cooked from it yet. It's called Masterclass in Japanese Cooking and was written by Emi Kazuko. Masterclass is essentially an anthology of recipes from different chefs (most but not all Japanese) which ranges from traditional dishes to cutting-edge gourmet fare. Some dishes have photos showing the cooking process step by step; these are the so-called "masterclass" recipes. There is also a long introductory section which introduces Japanese cooking, describes Japan's regional culinary specialties and defines commonly-used ingredients. It's a big coffee-table sort of book illustrated with lovely photographs of appetizing food. I find it intriguing because of the variety of dishes included in the book.

I decided to make "Ramen with Mushrooms" or Kinoko Ramen for this cookbook's maiden voyage in my kitchen. First off was soaking some dried mushrooms for an hour to reconsistute them; I used shiitake and oyster mushrooms soaked in two cups of water each. Towards the end of the soaking time, I also soaked some dried wakame seaweed. Then it was time to cook the chukasoba noodles, drain them and run cold water over them to stop the cooking process.

Stage two was making the ramen broth. This required putting the mushroom soaking liquid in the big skillet along with two cloves of peeled and crushed garlic and a 3/4 inch piece of peeled ginger, which I quartered rather than crushing. These ingredients were simmered for five minutes; then the aromatics were removed and six tablespoons of shoyu were added to the pan. I stirred a bit to combine the ingredients, then added the noodles and cooked them through. When it was hot, I removed broth and noodles to a serving bowl.

After cleaning out the pan, it was time to stir-fry the mushrooms (shiitake, oyster and fresh button mushrooms, all sliced) in a bit of peanut oil for a couple of minutes. Once they were done, I added them and the wakame to the bowl of ramen. Lunch was served.

I made a few minor alterations to the recipe (four cups of soaking liquid rather than five, a different assortment of mushroom types, did not season with salt and pepper at any point). The result was a substantial bowl of food which happened to be vegetarian and also used ingredients I had on hand. I have no doubt it was healthier than buying prepackaged ramen with who knows what additives included. It tasted better, too.

If you're hungry for more ramen content, check out The Official Ramen Homepage and

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Not a mint julep

I'm not as involved with horse sports as I used to be (maybe I should make that "obsessed by") but I do at least try to make room for Kentucky Derby Day. This is a challenge because Derby Day is generally a week or two before the World Series of Birding, when birds are starting to arrive in earnest and scouting time is at an ever-increasing premium. This year, however, I managed to do my scouting in the morning and headed home afterward for the race and a good meal. Both race and meal turned out better than I could have hoped.

The meal was "Roasted Cornish Hens" (or hen in this case) from Ha Roda's A Vietnamese Kitchen (see my book review for Food, Bound) here. This was a simple marinate-and-roast recipe; the main quirk was covering the hen with foil during the roasting process in order to keep it moist and to contain the marinade flavor.

I took a small roasting pan, lined it with foil and put the thawed hen inside. The hen was marinated in the pan for three hours, with a turn of the fowl every hour. The marinade was composed of three tablespoons Chinese light soy sauce, two tablespoons hoisin sauce, a tablespoon of chopped ginger, two tablespoons Japanese rice vinegar, a tablespoon of Vietnamese fish sauce, a teaspoon of chopped garlic, quarter of a cup of water and a sprinkling of cracked black pepper.

After the marination was done, I pulled the hen out of the fridge to sit at room temperature for half an hour. Then it was time to set the oven to 350 degrees F, add the hen and roast for 40 minutes. After baking for 40 minutes, I pulled the hen out, brushed it with a solution of one teaspoon honey and one tablespoon water, turned the oven to broil and returned the hen to the oven for 20 minutes, uncovered.

I've roasted Cornish game hens before, but this was by far the best result (not that the others were chopped liver, either). Maybe it was because the hen was covered with foil for the roasting part of the program. The meat was moist but not underdone; the skin was brown but not too crisp. The extra marinade pooled around the hen but did not burn during the baking process; I poured it off and saved it. This was very tasty and I'm sure I'll be making it again. Actually, I think "delectable" is really the word. It was one of those meals that works out so well it earns a place in the gallery of red-letter meals.

Enhancing my enjoyment of the meal was the result of the race. As I said above, I haven't been paying as much attention to horse sports in recent years. As a result, I hadn't realized that Michael Matz was now training racehorses. I remember Michael Matz as an Olympic show jumper and member of the U. S. Equestrian Team. He was a favorite, partly because he started riding relatively late and did not come from the stereotypical horsey family with tons of money. He gained further note by his actions in the wake of a plane crash in 1989, when he helped three unaccompanied children from the plane, then went back in to pull out a baby. Most of the country didn't know who he was before the crash, but it was nice to learn that he was a good human being, as well as being a good rider. You can read more about Matz's history in this article from The Blood-Horse.

Life went on and I became a birder (albeit a birder who casts lingering looks at any horses we may pass while on birding trips). I hadn't thought about Michael Matz recently, but that changed when I turned on the Derby broadcast and discovered that he was Barbaro's trainer. Normally, I wait for the post parade to pick a favorite. Not this time. If Michael Matz had a horse in the race, his horse was my rooting interest.

Barbaro went on to win the race in decisive and downright elegant fashion. The field was widely considered to be very strong, so that made his victory even sweeter. In the wake of that, probably the skimpiest TV dinner would've tasted like dinner at a gourmet restaurant. Luckily enough, I had a meal that was far better than that.

I love it when life comes together that way, even if for a brief shining moment only.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A stir-frying series to watch

I haven't blogged this week yet because I haven 't done much cooking worthy of note. Money is going to be tight again, so I'm half-seriously contemplating a series on "Cooking Asian on a Budget." And no, that doesn't mean stocking up on ramen.

But I didn't post to complain about my life, I posted to draw your attention to the second installment in a series worth watching on another blog. Barbara Fisher's blog Tigers and Strawberries is always worth reading for her knowledgeable and often opinionated posts on food and related topics. Barbara has just posted the second in her series on stir-frying technique, a post on stir-frying chicken in a wok. The first post, a more general overview of stir-frying in a wok, can be found here. When I read this sort of post, I feel like I should be doing more with my blog than just chronicling what I cook and what's growing in the garden, but it's hard to imagine outdoing quality work like this. I guess all bloggers have their own niches and that's what gives the blogosphere (even a focused section of the blogosphere like the food blog universe) its variety and interest. But it still makes me want to do more with this blog. Oh well, I suppose I'll add that to the list of things to ponder.