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Archive for July, 2010

I was at the store the other day unsure of what I wanted to make for dinner. I saw some beautiful fresh lemongrass stalks I immediately knew that dinner was going to be lemongrass chicken. I’ve made lemongrass chicken a hundred different ways before, and the possibilities to make it are endless, so I just kept looking at what looked fresh and built my dinner from there.

I grabbed a yellow bell pepper, just shy of 1 pound of skinless/boneless chicken thighs, a jalapeno, 4 garlic cloves, a piece of ginger, two lemongrass stalks, some shiitake mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, a carrot, and some green onions. The pepper got chopped up, the chicken thighs cut down into bite sized pieces, the jalapeno diced, the ginger and garlic minced, I removed the outer layers of the lemongrass and sliced up the soft white inner part, I sliced up 6 of the shiitake, halved 12 tomatoes, and chopped up the carrot and 6 green onions.

In a hot pan I poured in 1 tablespoon each of soy oil and sesame oil and then tossed in the ginger, garlic, and lemongrass. I let the go for about a minute until they became very fragrant. Then I added the green onions and carrots. About 3 minutes later I tossed in the bell pepper and jalapeno. I let that all cook for about 6 minutes before adding some salt and pepper. Then I added the chicken. That took about 6 minutes to cook almost completely. About 1 tablespoon of fish sauce went in to add that distinctive Southeast Asian aroma and flavor. After the fish sauce cooked for a couple of minutes I added the shiitake. About 4 minutes later the tomatoes went in. I let everything come together for about 3 minutes and turned off the heat.

To serve, I put some white rice on one corner of the plate and then fanned out a half avocado on the other half. I put the lemongrass chicken down the middle. For garnish I tore up some cilantro. There was enough leftovers for Yuki’s lunch yesterday, so this was a 3 portion recipe.

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I just got the new Saveur issue the other day and it was all about Greek cuisine. This inspired me to make my own little Greek dinner last night. Since Yuki mentioned that I haven’t made pork tenderloin in a while and it was great weather to grill I put 2 and 2 together and came up with a delicious meal.

I got a beautiful 1.3 pound tenderloin. To marinade it I mixed together 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1/4 cup of red wine, the juice from 1/2 lemon, 1 tablespoon of dried oregano, 4 garlic cloves minced and mashed into a paste, 1 bay leaf that I crumbled, and a decent amount of black pepper. I let it marinate in the fridge for about 3 hours and then at room temperature for another 2 hours. Every hour or so I flipped it around so that the marinade would penetrate evenly.

I made some spanakopita for a side. I melted 1 tablespoon of butter in a pan, sautéed 1/2 diced onion for about 6 minutes, then wilted down a 5 ounce package of baby spinach. I put that in a bowl, let it cool, then seasoned it with salt and pepper, 1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, and 4 ounces of feta cheese.

Instead of the usual triangles I decided to make them into cigars. I cut some phyllo dough into about 5.5-6 inch strips. At one end I placed some of the spinach mix. Then I folded in the edges, rolled them up, and brushed them with olive oil. I got 5 cigars out of them. So I guess you can figure about 1 ounce of spinach for each one. I put them in a 375 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes. They burst open a little while cooking, I must have rolled them a little too tight. I guess I’m used to rolling other things. If you make these, don’t make them too tight.

While the spanakopita was cooking I grilled up the tenderloin along with a zucchini that I thinly sliced. I brushed the zucchini with olive oil prior to grilling. I did it over a medium heat for about 10 minutes on each side. I don’t like cooking tenderloin all the way through like a chop, that kills the soft texture. If you have a good fresh piece of meat there should be no worry about trichinosis with a tenderloin as there isn’t much fat for the little buggers to hide in. Also, drinking alcohol helps (it helps a lot of things!). Oh, I also sprinkled some salt on both sides of the tenderloin before grilling as well. I don’t like salting marinades because that draws the moisture out of the meat. It’s best to salt just before cooking.

While the meat was grilling I boiled down the marinade to make a quick sauce. I also made some orzo with cherry tomatoes and rosemary. I simply boiled 3/4 cup of orzo in salted water according to package instructions. After draining it, I tossed it in a bowl with a handful of halved cherry tomatoes and one sprig of rosemary that was given the once-over with my knife. A little salt, pepper, and olive oil and my starch was good to go.

Last thing, I let the meat rest for 10 minutes before slicing it. That gave it time for the juice to chill out and redistribute. If meat doesn’t rest after cooking the juice will run out and your meat will go dry. No one wants dry meat. A little juice goes a long way!

PS- This came out to 3 portions instead of my usual 4. I had lunch plans today, so I didn’t need lunch for myself.

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Meatless Monday last night ended up being Yakisoba. Yakisoba is a traditional noodle dish (even though it’s origins are from China, it has become a staple of Japanese cuisine much like Ramen) that is typically served with various vegetables and pork. I omitted the pork to accommodate Meatless Monday.

First thing I did was get the protein ready. I made a thin omelet of two eggs and a little cream. In my heated large skillet I poured a tablespoon each of soy oil and sesame oil. I swirled that around to coat the entire pan and then poured in the scrambled eggs. I swirled the eggs around to make a thin omelet, much like a crepe in appearance. I turned the heat down so it wouldn’t burn. Once the bottom was cooked and the top set I carefully flipped it over to get a little crust on both sides. Then I slid it out of the pan and onto a cutting board, cut it in half, then made thin “noodles” out of it. I set this aside because this was my garnish.

For my vegetables I used 6 green onions, 1 carrot, some haricots vert, 6 ounces of bean sprouts, 1 red bell pepper, 6 cremini mushrooms (I wanted to use shiitake, but I had cremini in my fridge already), some ginger and a few cloves of garlic. I sliced everything thinly so that they would mix in well with the noodles.

The noodles I used are called Chuka Soba, which translates to Chinese Noodles. They’re wheat noodles, but honestly, you could use a chow mein or ramen noodle if you wanted and get the same results. I cooked the noodles according to package instructions.

Using the same skillet I used for the egg I heated another tablespoon each of soy and sesame oils. I threw the garlic and ginger in for about a minute and then added the haricots vert, carrot, bell pepper, and green onions. I let those cook for about 6 minutes before adding the mushrooms. I let the mushrooms cook for about 4 minutes and then seasoned with a little salt and pepper. Then I poured in about 2 tablespoons of sake and let that boil off. After that I added the sprouts and then about 1/3 cup of Bull-Dog Sauce. I don’t know if you can get Bull-Dog Sauce at many places. We get ours at Mitsuwa, but you may be able to find it in ChinaTown or some other Asian Grocers.  

Once the sauce was mixed in well with the vegetables I tossed the noodles in and let them fry a little while mixing everything together. It’s important to keep the heat on to dry the sauce up a little while the noodles absorb it. This gives a nice texture to the noodles.

To serve I simply used my tongs and put a big pile of everything on a plate. Then I topped it with some of the sliced eggs and drank a cold beer. For the leftovers today I sliced some Black Forest Ham and added it to the mix. Since it’s not Meatless Tuesday I’m cool with that.

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Alright, so I’ve been working on perfecting a hamburger that tastes like a bowl of Pho for a while now so that I could enter it into a contest that has a nice payout for the winner (wish me luck everyone!). I think I finally nailed it Saturday night. Here’s how it all goes down.

Instead of using regular old ground chuck I picked up a 2 pound brisket. Pho commonly uses brisket or rump, so I wanted to get that type of beefy flavor for these burgers. You could have your butcher grind it up for you, but what’s the fun in that? I don’t have a meat grinder (anyone seeking to get me a gift for whatever reason take note, I would gladly accept a meat grinder) but that didn’t stop me from giving it a go.

First thing I did was cut the brisket up into 1 inch cubes. I threw all of the meat into my food processor and pulsed it until it turned in the consistency I was looking for. I had to be careful not to over process it as that would start to melt the fat and ruin the texture. Then I put the meat in a bowl and prepared all of the seasonings.

The spice mix included ground cloves, cardamom, ground cinnamon, star anise, and coriander seeds.

With my pestle and mortar I first had to grind up the whole seeds. I took enough seeds out of the star anise to measure about 1/4 teaspoon (cracking out the seeds is a pain!). Then I cracked open enough cardamom pods to get me 1/4 teaspoon of its seeds. I also measured about 3/4 teaspoon of coriander seeds. I ground those up into a fine powder and then added 1/2 teaspoon each of the ground cinnamon and ground cloves. I also mixed in there 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper and 1 teaspoon of pure cane sugar.

Once my dry spices were mixed together I zested a lime to get about 1 tablespoon, and I minced up 1 tablespoon of ginger and 1 tablespoon of garlic.

I also sliced up 4 green onions, just the white and pale green parts.

I put all of my seasonings in the bowl with the meat and then added 2 tablespoons each of fish sauce and sesame oil. With a metal spoon I mixed it all together until the flavors were evenly distributed. It’s important to use a metal spoon when mixing things into burger meat. When you use your hands the body heat can melt the fat, you don’t want that. You want the fat to mix in just like the other ingredients so that it melts properly when cooking keeping the meat nice and juicy.

After the meat was mixed nicely I let it rest for about 10 minutes to let the flavors settle in. Then, I wetted my hands and formed 6 patties.

I heated the grill up to a medium-high heat, brushed it off, and oiled it. Just before putting the burgers on I lightly salted both sides of the patties. With the fish sauce there’s no need for a lot of salt, but sprinkling a little on just before grilling helps get a nice crust on the outside of the meat. I let the cook for about 6 minutes or so on each side.

When the burgers were cooked to my liking I put some sesame seed buns on the grill to lightly toast them. That only took a minute.

To assemble the burgers I placed one grilled patty on each bottom bun and squeezed one wedge of lime on each patty. On top of each patty placed 1 ounce bean sprouts, then 3 basil leaves and 3 cilantro sprigs. 1 tablespoon of Sriracha got squeezed on the underside of each top half of bun and they were ready to go.

For the side Yuki wanted to make Japanese-style potato salad. She skinned and diced two large russet potatoes and then tossed them into boiling water. She let them boil for about 15 minutes until they were cooked through. Then she mashed them up with enough mayonnaise to keep them nice and moist and a little mustard for flavor. She mixed in a cucumber that she skinned and chopped up, a carrot that she also chopped up, and some black forest ham that she cut into short slivers. That all got mixed together well and provided a nice cool counterpoint to the spicy burgers.

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I had some angel hair pasta that I wanted to use up last night. Combine that with all of the Japanese ingredients I had in my fridge that needed to be eaten I whipped up a bolognese sauce with Japanese flavors. Note, I usually cook for 4 so that we have lunch the next day, but since it was Friday and we don’t need to take a lunch anywhere on Saturday this recipe was for 2.

My ingredient list for the bolognese was a package of enoki mushrooms, 1 negi thinly sliced (I had two but decided only to use one), some ginger and garlic minced, 1/2 carrot cut into quarter moon slices, 1 rib of celery cut down the middle lengthwise and then sliced, 10 cherry tomatoes halved, some wakame seaweed, 1/4 pound of ground beef, and 1/4 pound ground pork. What I didn’t get in the photo was some cooking sake, mirin, and soy sauce.

In my pot I heated up about 2 tablespoons of soy oil and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and then let the garlic and ginger go for about a minute. Then I tossed in the carrot, negi, and celery for about 5 minutes until they just started to soften a little. After that I added the ground meats. They took about 5 minutes or so to cook and break up, I added just a touch of salt (not too much since I was about to add some soy sauce) and some black pepper. Once the meat was broken down I poured in about 3 tablespoons of sake and let that boil off for a couple of minutes before adding about 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of mirin. Once all the liquid was almost completely boiled off, about 2 more minutes, I added the cherry tomatoes and enoki. A couple of minutes later I mixed in the wakame and then turned off the heat. The wakame doesn’t need to be cooked, so I just wanted its flavor to incorporate into the meat.

While that was all going on I cooked some angel hair pasta and drained it thoroughly.

To serve, I piled the pasta on the plate and then topped it with the bolognese. On top of that I put some katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). Some Asahi to wash it all down and we were good for the night.

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Last night was the final performance of Millenium Park’s world music series. They had two different accordion players, and I have to say, that is one bad ass instrument! Now I need to work on my air accordion skills. It’s a lot of fun packing a picnic and hanging out at the park for free music (I say free, but let’s be honest, we already paid for it with our tax dollars). At any rate, I had to make a dinner that would taste good cold. I thought that poached salmon on corn salad would do the trick. As usual, I was right.

The first thing I did was roast some cherry tomatoes. I simply drizzled them with olive oil and then put them in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes. I set them aside to cool down before packing it all up.

For the corn salad I used two medium-sized zucchini, one red bell pepper, and three ears of corn. I grated the zucchini into a mesh sieve, sprinkled a little salt on it, and let the juices drain for about 20 minutes. Then I squeezed it as dry as I could and set it aside for cooking. For the bell pepper, I just diced it up.

After cleaning all of the silk off the corn I separated the kernels from the ears. This can be a little messy as kernels have been known to fly around the kitchen as you slice them off, in my kitchen at least. I find the easiest way to do this is to cut the ears in half first. Then, I take my cutting board and lay it over a large baking dish. This way, when I slice the kernels off they fall right into the baking dish instead of all over my counter and floor.

Save the cleaned ears, they have tons of flavorful juice in them. I used these to help flavor the poaching liquid for the salmon.

To make the salad I first sautéed about three tablespoons of diced shallots in some olive oil for about 5 minutes. Then I poured in 1/4 cup of white wine (I used the same White Burgundy that I planned on drinking with dinner) and let that boil away for about 3 minutes. Once the wine was boiled off I dumped in the corn, bell pepper, and 1/2 cup of water. I covered the skillet and let it go until the corn was softened a little, about 5 more minutes. After that I seasoned with salt and pepper and then threw in the zucchini. I stirred it all around to separate the zucchini (it will become a zucchini ball when squeezing out the liquid), let it cook for another 5 minutes, then turned off the heat and moved on to the salmon while it cooled down.

I picked up about 24 oz’s of really nice wild caught salmon, center cut so that it was uniform in thickness. I had the fishmonger skin it for me. Fishmongers have better knives for that job than I do, plus I didn’t want my garbage can to stink like rotting fish. It’s always a good idea to let the fishmonger skin and gut for you. I cut the salmon into 4 equal filets. Before putting the salmon in the poaching liquid I lightly seasoned it with salt.

For the poaching liquid I used 1 cup of the white wine, 1/4 cup of soy sauce, 3 cups of water, 1 bay leaf, about 2 tablespoons of diced shallot, and the naked corn cobs. I brought that all up to a boil and let it go for about 5 minutes or so to let all of the corn juice mix into the liquid.

Once the corn juice was incorporated I took the cobs out, gently laid the salmon in, and turned the heat down so that the liquid was at a simmer instead of a vigorous boil. It should only take about 6 or 7 minutes for the salmon to cook all the way through.

After I took the salmon out I seasoned it lightly with salt again, and a little pepper. Then I drizzled just a little olive oil on top.

I got out my little Rubbermaid TakeAlongs and scooped a bunch of the corn salad in, topped it with a piece of salmon, laid in a few of the tomatoes, and garnished with some cilantro. I also brought some dinner rolls along. It was absolutely delicious! It also would have been tasty if I served it hot right off the stove top.

The only thing I did wrong was a miscalculation on the amount of corn salad. When I cook dinner during the week I try to make 4 portions so that Yuki and I have lunch for the next day as well. I came up one portion short on the corn. So, if you try this recipe and want 4 portions use 3 zucchini and 4 ears of corn. That should do the trick.

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Last night I did a riff on one of Yuki’s recipes. She commonly makes ground chicken dumplings similar to these patties in the winter when we eat nabe (Japanese hot-pot). So, I took her idea and made my own Japanese flavored dinner.

The ingredient list for the patties were 3/4’s pound of ground chicken thigh, 1 block of tofu that I had pressed the water out of, one egg scrambled with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 carrot cut into a small dice, 3 garlic cloves and 1 inch of ginger that I minced, and 1 tablespoon of hijiki seaweed. The hijiki comes dried and is available in most Asian sections of your grocer. I put 1 tablespoon of dried hijiki in a couple of cups of cold water and let it sit for about a half hour. Then I strained it, reserving the liquid for the miso soup.

I mixed it all together, with about a tablespoon of nanami togarashi (a Japanese red pepper spice mix, there are various kinds of togarashi that are also usually available in the Asian section) until the tofu was completely broken down and everything was mixed well. Then, on a lightly oiled baking sheet, I laid 8 patties (two patties per serving, leftovers for lunch). I let it cook in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

Before cooking the patties I got my miso soup ingredients ready to go. I cut 2 negi (Japanese green onions, larger than regular green onions, not as big as leeks) into 1 inch pieces, hiratake (oyster mushrooms), and wakame seaweed. Wakame can be bought dried or fresh. Fresh comes heavily salted to preserve it. You need to soak it really well in water and cut it into smaller pieces as it expands once the salt is rinsed off.

I also chopped up a small head of napa cabbage to cook as a side.

Once I put the patties in the oven I melted 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet and heated up the hijiki liquid in a pan along with one more cup of water, 1 teaspoon of dashi-no-moto (instant dashi), the negi, and the mushrooms. I let the soup simmer while working on the cabbage. Once the butter was melted I added 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and then the cabbage. I let the cabbage wilt in the soy butter for about 10 minutes and then turned off the heat.

After the cabbage was ready I added the wakame to the soup and then the miso. The best way to add the miso is to take a heaping spoonful and swirl it around in a ladle that is just slightly in the soup. This allows the miso to incorporate slowly keeping it from being lumpy.

I served everything with some white rice. I poured just a little ponzu on top of the patties to add a touch of acidity and help keep them moist. To keep with the Japanese flavors it only seemed right to drink Asahi.

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