Sunday, December 21, 2008

Stew weather

Winter Solstice arrived today first thing in the morning, but winter has been making itself known for several weeks in the northeast already. This weekend has featured rain, sleet and snow, plus slush, ice and standing water on roadways. Ick. It was the perfect weekend to make a pot of stew.

Stew is a forgiving dish. I don't think I've ever made it the same way twice. This time, this is how I did it.

Take some cubed beef chuck (I bought about a pound from the local high-end supermarket) and brown it in a pot in some oil (I used vegetable oil but in retrospect, olive oil wouldn't have been bad, either). Add one large sliced onion, two chopped potatoes and two chopped carrots, two cups of vegetarian broth (I used The Spice Hunter's "Clear Seasoned Stock" mix), a dash of shoyu (a packet left over from some takeout sushi), a bay leaf, about a tablespoon of tomato paste, and several dashes of Worcestershire sauce and Outerbridge's pepper sherry. Season with salt and cracked black pepper, bring to a boil, cover and let simmer until, well, whenever. I think my stew went between an hour and a half and two hours before the beef cubes I fished out for tasting purposes were suitably tender (and I probably could have let it go longer). The key is to keep checking the stew until it suits your taste.

At the end, I had tender meat and veggies, plus a lot of tasty juices; when I have some of the leftovers today, I'll probably serve it over rice (the better to soak up the juice). You could also use bread to mop up. The said juices were lighter than I expect, with a more complex flavor; I bet adding some sliced ginger would clarify and brighten the flavor even more.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Roast chicken, veggies and ginger

It's still a few days away from Thanksgiving, but this weekend I decided to roast a chicken anyway. It was a 4 1/2 pound chicken (about 1 1/2 pounds more than I normally roast); I followed Mark Bittman's recipe from How to Cook Everything. Rather than using a rack, I piled the chicken on top of a bed of chopped potato and carrot chunks, plus a few unpeeled garlic cloves and some sliced ginger (a couple of inches worth of ginger, sliced thin); also two cups of homemade chicken stock to keep everything from burning.

The ginger was a last-minute inspiration, but it worked great. It gave a certain zing and clarity to the roasted veggies (possibly abetted by the chicken stock). You don't have to eat the ginger if you try this; it's intended to add flavor to the dish only (in the vein of adding a bay leaf to soup or stew).

Monday, November 24, 2008

A bit o' business

I've been remiss here, but I suppose you folks who visit the blog can notice the Foodbuzz banners and such (and yes, I know the top one is off-center, but rectifying that will require a heart-to-heart with the template, which I haven't had time for yet). Yes, I have signed on, and I have to say so far I've been enjoying it quite a bit. I haven't begun to dig into all the features it offers, but I look forward to it. Already, I've discovered that a blog I thought was inactive and had missed quite a bit is very much alive. I've also found new blogs.

Foodbuzz takes the model of social networking you might know from sites like Facebook and applies it to food. There are slots for blogs, restaurant reviews, chit-chat, recipes and more. Given that there are lots of foodies on the internet, and they're all passionate about food in various ways, it seems like a great idea for a social networking site.

Yes, there are ads, and I have to say that I gave this some serious soul-searching when I was first contacted by Foodbuzz, but I decided to gamble and try to get some sort of income stream from the blog. Call it an experiment.

More cooking coming soon.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Coq au vin

I can't believe that I haven't blogged about coq au vin before, but searching the blog archives indicates as much. The first foreign language I studied as a kid was French, and I have fond memories of dining at Pierre au Tunnel in NYC with my dad. Coq au vin was always one of my favorite French dishes.

It's also one of those dishes with five billion variations, and I think I have a lot of them in my food library (even though it's a small library by my standards). As a result, this is the way I did it this time, but I've done it differently before and probably will again (I was out of dried porcini mushrooms this time, which is usually a must-have ingredient). My basic recipe comes from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.

Take four bone-in skin-on chicken thighs, pat dry, roll in all-purpose flour seasoned with salt and cracked black pepper. Shake off the excess. Fry some chopped bacon (in this case, maple-honey bacon from the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market, but any bacon will do). Remove the bacon from the pan and saute the chicken thighs in the bacon fat until brown. Remove the chicken from the pan, pour the remaining oil into a pot, then saute one chopped onion, two chopped portobello mushroom caps and two chopped garlic cloves in the oil. When the onion starts sweating, add a cup each of red wine and chicken stock, a good squirt of tomato paste, a bay leaf, chicken blood if you have it, the bacon and its juices, the chicken thighs and their juices, a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme and another shot of salt and cracked black pepper. Cover, turn the heat to medium and let simmer for a while.

After at least an hour, uncover the pot and turn the heat up to reduce the sauce. Coq au vin works well with crusty bread, noodles, rice or potatoes.

About that chicken blood: it's a traditional ingredient of coq au vin, in the vein (sorry) of using everything for the dish (which was originally a peasant stew intended to use up an old played-out rooster). But just do a search online and find plenty of argument about it. I don't go looking for chicken blood, but just taking the juices out of a chicken package (particularly a whole chicken intended for roasting) will involve some blood. I've made coq au vin with and without blood, and both are good, but it does make a difference. Coq au vin with blood has a unique blackish tint and an extra something to the flavor that is difficult to describe, but you know it when you taste it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


It all started with empanadas, oddly enough. One of my co-workers made empanadas for another co-worker's birthday. My gut reaction was, "I've got to learn how to make those." This was quickly followed by the realization that there were all sorts of Asian dumplings, gyoza, shumai, spring rolls, summer rolls... that I had never tried making, so maybe I should start with them.

The thing that had scared me off making Asian dumplings in the past was the perception that it was a lot of work to assemble everything. "A lot of work" can jinx a lot of things, especially when you're cooking for one. In the end, all the work it took was salting some Napa cabbage and squeezing the water out afterward (which killed a kitchen towel, but that's another story), grating ginger and garlic, slicing scallions, and mixing all that with ground pork, shoyu, sugar and black pepper. Not such a big deal, in the end, and especially not so on a weekend.

The recipe I used came from Hiroko Shimbo's The Japanese Kitchen, and also included instructions for making gyoza wrappers. As a first-timer, I opted to buy some wonton wrappers from the Asian supermarket instead.

Ideally, one seals the dumplings with water and crimps the seams together, but I just threw the gyoza into the skillet and pan-fried them. Once the undersides were golden, I added enough of a combination of boiling water and sesame oil to reach "one-third the height of the dumplings." Then I covered the skillet and streamed the gyoza until the liquid was mostly gone. I only made one skilletful of gyoza, so the extras went right into the freezer for future reference.

You can make lots of fancy dipping sauces, but I just sprinkled the cooked gyoza with shoyu and tucked in. I was very impressed; they were easily the equal of any gyoza I'd had in a restaurant.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Vegetarian burritos

Last month, as is my usual wont, I headed up to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. The Dancer and I drove up on Friday night, since I couldn't take time off from work this year. Before we left, The Dancer made a quick dinner of vegetarian burritos. I was glad to see her method, particularly the assembly, since I've been getting curious about Mexican cooking lately.

First she heated up corn tortillas in the oven, then added refried beans, pre-cooked brown rice, salsa and grated cheddar cheese to the tortillas. After letting the burritos heat through in the oven, she brought them out, added fresh chopped lettuce and tomato for a garnish, and we went outside for dinner al fresco in her back yard. I was impressed with how quickly everything came together, and also with the fact that this would be a great use for leftovers.

A few days ago, I tried my own version of a burrito. The main difference was that I used a skillet on the stovetop, not the oven. I first toasted a flour tortilla on both sides in a little vegetable oil. Then I added refried beans, leftover salsa and grated cheddar cheese. Since I wasn't working from a recipe, this was cooking by guess and by gosh, but it turned out fine. The thing I liked most was the hot, crispy toasted tortilla. I'm sure to tinker with this in the future, but the initial results were quite promising. Since all my ingredients were out of jars, there's plenty of room for making my own refried beans and salsa, for example.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Housekeeping note

I've been shifting a few things around behind the scenes here. Please note that my new e-mail account is still sevensoy, but it happens to be located at , not as it was previously.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Summer Pasta

Well, it's been almost a year since I last blogged here. I'm still cooking, though much of my cooking these days isn't Asian (which is not to say I'm no longer cooking Asian food, far from it!). The garden has been more aggravation than success in the past couple of seasons. I've been very busy with work and school, which cuts down on blogging time (never mind discretionary income).

Having said all that, you might see me back here a little more often in future.

Tonight I made a simple summery pasta dish for dinner. I cooked some penne pasta, adorned it with a chopped tomato from the Red Top Market in Red Lion, NJ, then garnished all with salt, grated black pepper and grated parmesan cheese. Sometimes simple is the best way to go.