Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Grilled Hoisin Pork

Grilled Hoisin Pork

Once again, we were trying to decide what to have for dinner when T1 mentioned we haven't had anything with hoisin sauce for a while. I have to admit, my Chinese recipe repertoire isn't very extensive. I guess I never really had to learn, growing up with a Mom who cooks fantastic Chinese food. I can manage to throw together all the westernized Chinese dishes like beef broccoli, sweet sour pork , walnut shrimp, and fried rice, but when it comes to really authentic stuff, my Mom's kitchen is the only place I know where to get it.

So this is what I came up with, grilled hoisin pork served with jasmine rice and stir fried veggies. Hoisin, often referred to as Chinese barbecue sauce is a complex, smokey, savory, slightly sweet sauce and like most Chinese flavor bases, contains many umami flavor compounds.

Thin sliced pork was marinated in hoisin for no more than thirty minutes before being thrown on the hot grill for just a few minutes on each side. The sugars present in the hoisin allows the pork to char nicely and like barbecue sauce, forms a nice sticky glaze. The end result tastes as if a lot of effort went into it when really, nothing could be quicker and easier. For the veggies, anything you have on hand will do. We happened to have broccoli florets so they were combined with some onion, celery and a couple of quartered tomatoes and seasoned with mirin, soy sauce, garlic, and cracked black pepper.

I've got a lot to learn about Chinese cooking There's an endless amount of ingredients to work with so I guess I better get to work! As they say in Cantonese, "Sic Fan!" (translation: Eat Rice or Dig In!)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Waste Not Want Not

Salmon Hash

This morning for breakfast I had salmon hash with a fried egg on it, a couple of slices of wheat toast and some orange juice. The hash was made with flaked fresh grilled salmon filet, potatoes, red onion and a bit of parsley for color. It tasted great and was filling to say the least.

Alright, I have a confession to make. You perceptive types may have picked up on the fact that the potatoes in the picture look suspiciously uniform. No, they're not the frozen type that are already cut into little cubes.

Last night, T1 and I decided to go out for dinner. We like to frequent Pann's, an authentic diner from the fifties because it's affordable there, we know all the waitresses on a first name basis and the food is just plain good. Not much has changed in this place except the menu which is pretty modern for a diner. In addition to great unpretentious burgers and all the usual diner faves, they also serve things like bouillabaisse and braised short ribs of beef. Their breakfasts are hearty and their pies and cakes are killer. I ordered a bacon cheddar burger with fries and T1 ordered the grilled salmon filet. (Okay now you might have figured out where this is going) We ate until we were stuffed but being the kitchen forager that I am, I couldn't not take a doggy bag home with me. In it were the fixin's of the breakfast to be, salmon hash. YES! Those are day old french fries!!! I know the concept of recycled leftovers may not seem palatable to some so to those who have trouble warming up to the idea, I'll euphamistically refer to it as "recontextualized cuisine". Well, it did the job and started my day so it was good for that purpose I suppose.

Once again, as with the old potato post, if you happen to be at my place for breakfast, I promise not to serve you a recontextualized breakfast-at least that you're aware of anyway.

One Man's Trash

Is Another Man's Hash

Attack of the Killer Chayote

Killer Chayote Vine

My next door neighbor has a chayote vine and all through the summer I observe it as it slowly creeps over the top of our fence and eventually cascades into a pile of lush foliage below. The vine almost seems intelligent by the way it's tendrils grope around for something to cling to. Any nearby plant is fair game but so is my car antenna, the handle of the bucket I use to wash my car with and the clay roof tiles on top of our garage. Once the tendrils are firmly anchored, tiny little yellow buds begin to pop up along the vine and shortly thereafter, miniature chayote appear.

The chayote grow quickly and around this time of year (early fall) the chayote finally get as big as they're going to get and they need to be harvested and put to good use. Wait too long and their skin gets tough, they develop hard pits and their flesh becomes fibrous. Left on the vine, some of them even begin to sprout leaves out of the bottom end. Chayote season happens to be great if you're a chayote lover or need to feed an army on a budget but the fact that they all mature at the same time means you'll be eating a lot of chayote all at once. At the going rate of a dollar to a dollar fifty a piece, I can't let them all go to waste.

I thumbed through our cookbook collection and searched the web looking for chayote recipes and found that just about every ethnicity has found a way to use this versatile vegetable. From Asia to Africa, the America's and Europe, this plant knows no boundaries. We must eat it before it takes over the planet!!!

With so many options at hand, I decided to make a Mexican style chicken chayote soup referencing a chicken tortilla soup recipe as a starting point. First, I peeled the chayote. The skin was just beginning to get tough and my trusty vegetable peeler wasn't up to the task so I resorted to cutting the skin off with my chef's knife. Right below the skin, the flesh was tender but still firm. If you've ever peeled a chayote before, you know it can be slippery business. I salted my hands while peeling the chayote, which seemed to help with the slime factor, it was then cubed up and thrown in a bowl of water. I browned some onion, added some leftover shredded roast chicken, chopped celery, sliced carrots, corn kernels, diced tomatoes and added enough chicken broth to cover. Next, I rinsed the cubed chayote well and into the pot it went. For seasoning, I used ground cumin, a little garlic powder, chili powder, some cayenne, a pinch of dried oregano, salt and pepper. I brought the pot to a boil then simmered the soup until the chayote was cooked through.

Mexican Style Chayote Chicken Soup

It turned out great. The chayote is mild and allows all the flavors to come through well. Although fresh cilantro isn't something we use a lot of, (T1 is allergic) it would be a nice addition lending a fresh, herby component. Served with hot corn tortillas, this hearty soup makes a filling meal.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Old Potato Post

Panko'd Crab Croquette with Asian Tartar Sauce

I almost chickened out and didn't publish this post, but it fit the spirit of the Kitchen Forager well and I thought someone might find it amusing.

What do you do when you look in your vegetable drawer and lo and behold, there's a potato plant growing? Toss it out right? On many an occasion, I have opened our drawer to reach for a potato and have either found them growing or too far gone to salvage. You are probably like us when it comes to buying potatoes. You'll pick up a bag of them with every intention of using them all, but there always seems to be the one that gets left behind, forgotten and in the dark. If it's starting to get soft, out it goes. If it doesn't resemble a potato anymore, out it goes. If it's starting to sprout, well..... As long as it's still firm and the sprouts pop off easily, it's still fair game in my book.

This particular potato passed all the requisite tests and was deemed still edible so it got peeled, cooked, mashed up and turned into croquettes with the addition of a can of crab meat waiting for just such an occasion. Why do I call them crab croquettes and not crab cakes? I think in order to fairly classify these as crab cakes they would have to contain more crab. These were mostly made of (old) potato. I know there are many who would disagree but I think you can improve upon the taste of almost anything by frying it in breadcrumbs or batter and the old potato was no exception. Imagine your favorite food battered and deep fried. Better right? Okay ... maybe not.

To all my friends and family that may eat a croquette at my house, don't worry, I promise not to use old potatoes.

These croquettes were topped with a Japanese tartar sauce made with mayo, mirin sweet cooking wine, and chives (Mom's recipe).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Going to the Dogs

Peanut Butter Dog Bones and Carrot Doggie Biscotti

We ran out of dog biscuits again today. Our two pups (I say pups but they're actually six and seven) love their dog biscuits. They used to get them as a special treat once or twice a day but as the years have gone by, they have managed to train me well. With persistence and repetition, they practice measured tactics that have reduced me to a dog biscuit ATM. I can't blame them for their efforts though, they look forward to their treats and much like me, having something tasty to eat has become a highlight of their day, almost as much as a visit from the mailman each afternoon.

T1 bakes dog biscuits for the pups (which they always love) so I decided to try my hand at it. After foraging in the kitchen for ingredients for a few seconds I came up with everything I needed to give it a try. I combined the whole wheat and all purpose flours, oats, water, milk and baking powder, needed the mixture into a stiff cookie dough and divided it into two balls. I folded some microwaved peanut butter in one and microwaved shredded carrots in the other. I rolled out the peanut butter mixture and cut them out with a bone shaped cookie cutter and threw them in the oven. For the shredded carrot mixture, I took a cue from a biscotti recipe and baked the whole thing in a log, took it out of the oven half way through, sliced it into individual biscotti (is biscotti singular or plural?) and returned them to the oven to finish baking.

So what did my critic's have to say? Don't know, they're dogs and they can't talk but judging from the number of withdrawals on their ATM statements, I'd say the biscuits were a huge success!

Update: Our six year old was up all night with an upset tummy. Luckily she's clever enough to wake us up when she's not feeling well so we can let her outside. She seemed to really enjoy the cookies but perhaps she enjoyed them a little too much (I should mention, as the enabler, I enjoyed giving her cookies a little too much as well) I guess there is such a thing as "too much of a good thing". From now on, when it comes to these cookies, we'll both have to practice a little moderation.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Fish Tale

Sesame Encrusted Turbot Filet with Ponzu Vinaigrette

Turbot (I've been told correctly pronounced "ter-bought") is our new favorite fish. Many years ago, I was lucky enough to do some fishing around Shelter Island off Juneau, Alaska and when we weren't trolling for king salmon, we would bottom fish. Bottom fishing involves maneuvering the boat up current of deep, underwater cliffs, cutting the motors and drifting. When in position, we cut leathery halibut skin into strips and fastened them securely to massive hooks, then with the aid of a ten pound cannon ball weight, the bait was thrown over the side to plummet down several hundred feet until hitting the bottom. Once there, we bounced the bait on the ocean floor in hopes of hitting a halibut on the head. Apparently, bottom feeding fish like halibut and turbot like to congregate at the base of these cliffs because this is where much of their food collects. When anything falls off the edge of the cliff and hits them on the head, they pounce on it and devour it. More often than not, we would pull up rock cod, or as we called them, "double uglies" because of the effect decompression had on them being brought to the surface so quickly. Once in a while, someone would celebrate the landing of a giant, hundred pound halibut. We pulled up way more turbot though. Turbot look like streamlined halibut; similar markings, same flat shape but not quite as proportionally wide. Flaky, rich and fatty turbot flesh is just as tasty as halibut and I think if someone told you it was indeed halibut, it would be hard to tell otherwise. The only difference between the two fish in my mind is the popularity and more importantly, the price. You can find wild caught turbot for about one half to two thirds the price of halibut. Notice you don't see it on menus much yet? With a little luck the turbot won't end up like the Patagonian tooth fish a.k.a. Chilean seabass; overpriced, over-fished and overrated.

For dinner last night, we had sesame encrusted turbot filet with a ponzu sauce, wild rice and wokked veggies. Give turbot a try.

The Sidecar

Artichoke, Grape Tomato and Red Onion Salad

Whenever we have a pasta dish, we usually accompany it with a side of sauteed fresh vegetables or a small salad of some sort.

Last night with our spaghetti bolognese, we had a quick, easy salad of marinated artichoke hearts, orange grape tomatoes and red onion (soak the red onion slices in some chilled water to remove the bite). I dressed it simply with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, a little sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. The acidity of the vinegar serves well to offset some of the richness of the bolognese sauce.

Always a Crowd Pleaser

I don't know of many people who'll turn their nose up at a simple spaghetti with meat sauce. In an effort to make our grocery purchases stretch, I used half of the ground beef I usually use in my quick and dirty recipe and supplemented it with lots of shredded carrots and chopped celery. This is actually closer to an authentic ragu bolognese recipe which starts out by sauteing a soffritto of diced carrot, onion and celery. You can also substitute ground turkey, veal, pork or sausage and add some pancetta or mushrooms if you like. Use your imagination. This one is hard to mess up.

Spaghetti Bolognese

Yum! food coma...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tuesdays Lunch

Herb Rubbed Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Tomato, Lima Bean Salad

Yesterday I grilled a pork tenderloin that had been marinating in the fridge for a day. I minced a few garlic cloves, stirred them into olive oil, added the juice of two limes and poured the mixture over the pork loin and placed it back in the fridge. When it was time to grill it, I rubbed the tenderloin with a dry herb blend and let it come back to room temperature. Pork tenderloin is a very lean cut but I've found, grills quickly over high heat without drying out.

T1 packed it for lunch accompanied with a simple tomato, lima bean salad dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar.

Ground Chicken Larb in Lettuce Leaves

I've always liked lettuce wrapped salads. You can usually find one version or another of a lettuce cup dish in any of the Chinese restaurant chains across the country. At Korean barbecues they often serve a plate of lettuce leaves to accompany your grilled meat.

This is my attempt at the Laotian/Thai version. I had some leftover lemongrass from last week that I used for lemongrass pork chops. Not wanting it to go to waste, the remaining stalk of lemon grass served as the inspiration for last nights dinner.

I browned ground chicken from our recent trip to the market, lemongrass, onions and red pepper, added a couple of tablespoons of Thai fish sauce, lime juice, a dash of soy sauce and a pinch of cane sugar and threw in chopped green onions at the last second. This was served with a side of red leaf lettuce leaves, mint leaves and a simple beansprout and tomato salad.

Ground Chicken Larb with Beansprout Tomato Salad

T1 mentioned that wrapping up the ingredients into little parcels before popping them into your mouth makes you feel like you've eaten quite a lot of food.

This is a perfect weeknight meal because it's made in a single pan or wok and the rest is just rinsed greens. Easy, quick, light and full of bold fresh flavor.

Monday, September 22, 2008

So what is a kitchen forager?

There are days when I feel really inspired to cook. Maybe I have all the right ingredients for a particular dish I've been craving, maybe I get a request from my girlfriend for something she hasn't eaten in a while or maybe I saw something on a great food blog or cooking show I want to give a go. On these days, cooking seems effortless. My timing is perfect, and the food looks and tastes exactly as I had intended.

At the other end of the spectrum are times when cooking is just another necessary chore. Nothing sounds remotely appealing. The refrigerator is empty, none of the cookbooks in our collection seem to stir my interest and the sink is full of last nights pots and pans. On these days perhaps it would be easier to just get take-out, or worse yet fast food, but what's the challenge in taking that route? Whether or not I feel like getting into the kitchen, one thing is certain, I, like you, am faced with the daily decision of what I'm going to eat.

I often turn to the internet for inspiration, food blogs in particular. A friend of mine once shared with me that when he and his wife are at a loss for what to make for dinner, they do a web search by typing in whatever ingredients they have on hand and sure enough, up pops a bunch of recipes and images. I've done it and even though the results may be for dishes I wouldn't even imagine making, it gives me a suggestion as to the full potential of those ingredients. Try it sometime. For example, type in beets, prosciutto and couscous and see what comes up. Here's a tip: for best results, limit your search to three ingredients.

I like to eat. I also like to cook, but as I mentioned earlier, what do you do when it seems like there's nothing to cook? I forage. Stare at your open refrigerator, rummage through the cabinets, look on-line for ideas. Something should come to mind. Can you make use of leftovers by turning them into another dish? Is there anything like sun-dried tomatoes that can be used up? If you use your imagination, you'll probably come up with something. Will it be good enough to replicate? Maybe not, but you never know, you may surprise yourself with a keeper, I have on occasion.

They say desperate times call for desperate measures but this is when creativity really takes place and improvisation yields the most successful results. Armed with the right staples, condiments, spices and herbs, I believe you can make a meal out of anything. If there is absolutely nothing in the kitchen to work with, well...... by all means, order in a good pizza!

Happy foraging!

How far does $200.00 go?

Yesterday we made an overdue trip to our local supermarket. The refrigerator and cupboards were looking pretty sparse and my girlfriend, Taster 1 (who I'll refer to as T1) and I were having trouble coming up with anything decent to eat, so off to Albertson's it was to stock up on some much needed groceries and supplies.

We usually like to shop at several markets for variety and value. There's Trader Joe's for good, fresh, organic produce, Von's for staples, Whole Foods for special but pricey ingredients, Santa Monica Seafood, Mitsuwa and Marukai Japanese markets and on the rare occasion when we feel like indulging, Bristol Farms. The Santa Monica farmer's market is also a favorite for their seasonal produce and unique offerings. This time however, it was Albertson's. I guess you can say I'm a creature of habit but once in a while, shopping at a different market get's the creativity flowing in the kitchen which is just what we needed.

So what did we spend $200.00 on? The cart was brimming full of much needed fresh fruit and veg, canned tomatoes, pasta, bread, you name it, we picked it up. We stayed away from anything overly processed or prepared opting to take the whole food approach to cooking. Not only do we feel this is a better, healthier way to eat, (we have control over salt, sugar and fat content) it's also more economical. It amazes me that even an innocent looking jar of peanut butter has so many additives, some of which I can't even pronounce on the first try. I should add that the $200.00 also got us paper goods, drinks, and some cleaning products as well.

Here's the plan. To kick-off the Kitchen Forager Blog, I will attempt to cook as many meals as I can before having to do another shop. Not all of them will be winners I'm sure, but it will be fun to see what I can come up with.

Here's the first dish. After coming back from shopping we were pretty wiped out. Not feeling like cooking anything fancy, T1 suggested a simple vegetable soup and an open face tuna melt. Perfect. Tomorrow is the first day of fall and although it still averages eighty five degrees here in sunny Southern California, we can at least start to think about cooler weather meals.

My Grandfather used to refer to this kind of soup as Musgo soup because everything that "musgo" ends up in the pot. It's a great way to use up all the leftover bits and pieces in the fridge. This version had cauliflower, kidney beans, diced tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion, leeks and beef broth. It's an easy to prepare, old standby and as with most stewey or soupy things, tastes even better the next day as all the flavors have time to come together.

Musgo Soup