Saturday, June 28, 2008

Beef & Noodle Stir Fry - 6/27/2008

Beef & Noodle Stir Fry

It is so nice to be able to cook for myself again. I stocked up on groceries today to prepare for some friends who are visiting for about 5 days. Amongst all of that I did pick up some good food for today. Sliced beef is marinated in minced garlic and ginger as well as some oyster sauce and soy sauce for 30 minutes. After finding this out, I took the opportunity to step out to the local post office to pass the time. Next, I boiled some water and cooked wide egg noodles. The recipe actually calls for rice noodles, but I could not find any so I subbed out egg noodles which are admittedly not as delicate, but nontheless still delicious. I cooked the beef until it was almost to where I like it (medium to medium-rare), then added the drained noodles to coat them in the beef juices. Then I added long pieces of scallions and cooked the mixture until the scallions were a little wilted. To add a little extra flavor, you add more oyster sauce, soy sauce and a little sugar. Toss to mix everything well and serve. And don't think oyster sauce means it will taste fishy, because this dish did not have that at all. For as few ingredients that are in the dish, it tasted very nice. It had an Asian flare without tasting like take-out. It had a simple yet elegant flavor, so give it a shot if you like.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Post-Move Cooking - 6/25/2008

The move to North Carolina is finally over. All of the furniture and my items are in place and I've been cooking again too. I have about 3-4 posts worth of food that I'm going to post as a single entry, so get ready for marathon fooding.

Baked Cauliflower

My first meal in the house came after the Fathers' Day/Anniversary hooplah. I've been wanting to try this recipe for oven-baked cauliflower for a while, so I gave it a shot. You blanch the full head of cauliflower for about 6 minutes and let it cool. Then you place it in a pan, base-up, and pat in some breadcrumbs that have been cooked with olive oil and shallots. Bake this in the oven for about 25 minutes until it is fork tender. The sauce on the side is mostly plain yogurt with some Dijon mustard and fresh chives blended into it. Though just a side dish, this came out very nice and the cauliflower seemed very meaty, if that makes any sense. The other side was some oven-baked French fries with Italian spices. I made sure to use my mandolin this time so the fries were about the same size.

Oven-Fried Chicken

The main feature of this first meal is oven-fried chicken. I used the tenderloins instead of breasts for a more chicken finger-like presentation. First you crush some corn flakes and add to them whatever spices you want. I used salt, pepper, garlic powder, parsley, paprika, and smoked paprika (the last two gave it all a nice subtle kick of heat). You dip the chicken into some buttermilk and then (with a dry hand) roll it around in the corn flake mixture. Arrange them in a pan and bake them until they are just done. This was a nice alternative to frying or pan-frying the chicken and is pretty low in fat compared to other methods.

Fettuccine Geechee Rosa

Next meal is for my dad's birthday. The main dish is called fettuccine geechee rosa (I don't know why). It is spinach fettuccine with its healthy green color in a sauce of olive oil, garlic, clams, clam juice, lemon juice, and sun-dried tomatoes. The dish, in the end, needed a little extra punch of some sort. Next time, I would add a little more salt or some lemon zest to it to see if it helps.

Zucchini Gratin

The side dish of the meal is an Ina Garten recipe for zucchini gratin. This may sound familiar because of the similarities to potatoes au gratin, a deliciously cheesy and calorie-packed side. This version starts with cooking 2 sliced onions in copious amounts of butter until tender. Then 4 sliced zucchini are added to the pan and steamed a bit. Some flour, salt and nutmeg (surprise) are added and mixed thoroughly to make a bit of a roux. Then milk (I used 1%) is added and allowed to mix with the roux until the sauce thickens a bit. This is poured into a smaller baking dish and topped with a mixture of breadcrumbs and shredded havarti (or gruyere, if you prefer). Bake it for 20-25 minutes until bubbly and the top is browned. This came out very delicious and I will need to remember it for future occasions.

Bananas Foster

Dessert for dad's b-day is one of his favorites: bananas foster. They often make this dish in nice restaurants right next to your table for the theatrics of it. I actually had a little difficulty with the dish on getting the proper stove temperatures, so this will take a little while to perfect. You first melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium to medium high heat. Then you add in 1 cup of brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Stir this together until the sugar is fully melted. Add 4 bananas that have been sliced in half lengthwise and then cut in the middle. Stir them around until they are tender and brown. Here's a picture of what they should look like at this point:
Making Bananas Foster

Add 1/4 cup of banana liquer to thin out the sauce. Then add 1/2 cup of dark run, stir it around a bit and take the pan off the stove. Ignite the pan and let the fire burn off the stove until it goes out. Serve the bananas with some sauce over vanilla ice cream. Eat it fast before the ice cream melts, unless you like it that way. I had an idea of mashing the mixture at this point and then putting it into an ice cream maker to make bananas foster ice cream. Maybe I'll give it a shot one of these days.

Basa in Foil & Coconut Rice

Last, but not least, is this meal: Japanese basa and coconut rice. I've never seen, heard of or cooked basa before, but it looked very delicate, so I cooked it like orange roughy or some thinly filleted tilapia. I sliced some baby bok choy and cubed up some graffiti eggplant (it's mottled purple and white). I mixed together, in a bowl, mirin (sweetened sake), rice wine and rice vinegar. I don't normally taste test my sauces, but I figured if I'm cooking for other people, I should probably check to make sure it tastes good. Good thing I did cause it was way too vinegary. The final product had a slight Asian taste but it was mostly on the sweeter side. I tossed the veggies in this and then arranged the veggies in mounds in the center of large pieces of foil. On top of this, I placed the fish fillets. I minced some ginger and rubbed into the top, poured a little sauce on the fish and added some salt and pepper. After sealing the packets, I baked them in a 400 degree oven for about 16 minutes until they were done but still moist. In the mean time, I made some coconut rice. You basically make jasmine rice like you normally would, except you substitute half of the water for lite coconut milk. This makes the rice a little richer and slightly coconutty in flavor. I added the toasted coconut for garnish. This is probably one of my favorite ways to make an easy rice, which matched well with one of my favorite ways to cook fish. After the fish came out of the oven, I drizzled on some sesame oil and some sesame seeds, making a very delicious dish indeed. And clean-up is a snap!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Moving & Mussel Night - 6/10/08

I know I have not updated the blog in a little while. Truth is I am packing up everything I own for my big move to North Carolina. This means my schedule has been a little more full and some of my cooking equipment is being packed away. Also, I went on vacation recently, which means eating out every day. But I do want to put out one final entry before the move.

Salmon Farfalle

One goal I have is to eat all of the food in the house to lighten the load of the move. I had some salmon burgers left in the freezer, so I decided to use up those along with some farfalle pasta and a bottle of putanesca sauce to make this dish. It is very simple and not bad on flavor if you are in a pinch or, like me, moving. Not all of the food I am eating is this sad, though. I am being invited out by friends who want to get in the last few nights we'll have together for a while.

Moroccan Lamb Kabobs

I was invited to have dinner at a friend's family's home. I never like to show up to a dinner party empty handed, so I made these lamb kabob appetizers. The original recipe called for marinating the lamb in spices and buttermilk for at least 4 hours, which I'm sure makes the meat extra tender. I, however, wanted to optimize flavor and skip the dairy for one of the people in attendance. Hence, I used all of the spices in a rub: garlic powder, mint, parsley, cumin, salt, and pepper. I did not coat each piece, but I gave it a good amount of this spice mix. I then placed these on bamboo skewers (pre-soaked in water for about 30 minutes to prevent burning) alternatively with sliced red pepper, red onion, and a lemon wedge. I used my Foreman grill to cook these up with good grill marks in only about 2-3 minutes per batch.

Garlic Bread & Focaccia

Have you ever seen the pizza dough in the bakery area of Publix. Well, you can make an easy focaccia with it very quickly. First, make sure you let the dough come to room temperature. Sometimes I've been too impatient to take this step and the dough is very hard to work with when cold. Spread it out onto a greased pan of some sort. Here's a step you can omit if you want: push little dimples into your dough with your fingertips and spread some olive oil on top of the dough. The oil will well up into these pits for an extra burst of flavor. Now, you can put whatever you want on top of the dough. I usually use dried Italian herbs: garlic salt, basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, etc. But anything can work: sliced onions, fresh herbs, roasted peppers; cheese (mozzarella, feta, etc.), olives (hopefully pitted). Just remember that if you want a topping to be moist, put it on after you've baked the dough. Then just stick the dough into a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes until it is turning golden brown on the top. The garlic rolls in the picture are pre-made rolls with a little butter and fresh garlic on top. The garlic, since it is raw, adds some bite to the bread.


The main dish of the night: mussels. Mussels can be put into stews (see previous entry), paella, complex sauces from just about any type of cuisine and cultural background, but here's something I've learned: mussels are absolutely wonderful if you keep them simple. This is just the case. These mussels were steamed and then topped with melted butter and fresh garlic. Other small additions could be some white wine or a little saffron. The key is to have the seafood be the main feature. You want the fresh taste of the shellfish, almost tasting the ocean from which it came. When you are done with the mussels, feel free to mop up some of the sauce with your bread.

Passion Mango Drink

As a drink, they served a combination of passion fruit puree and mango juice blended with a little ice. This drink was simple in preparation, but wonderfully complex in flavor as the two fruits competed for your attention while still complementing each other. Lamentably, I was so ecstatic over the dessert that I forgot to take a picture before my plate was empty. One of my favorite foods, platanos maduros (ripe platains), was served with a warm, sweet mole. Before last night, I was used to mole being used only in more savory dishes as a part of the main course. But this was a combination of sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and a dried pepper (I'm not sure which one, it was dark and rather large). These are toasted and the placed in a food processor with a little bit (not much) of tomato. I think it is then heated with a special dark (not very sweet) chocolate to make a delicious sauce for the platanos. It was not overly sweet and only had the faintest hint of spice. This dish was probably the most unexpected pleasures of the night.