Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lobster Roll and Fried Clams at Kennebunk, ME

My husband and I recently took a road trip over a long weekend and I finally got a taste of real Maine lobster roll! I did a ton of research on where to eat, since that was our primary goal for the trip (eating our way through Maine), and came up with the Clam Shack in Kennebunk. The fried clams are definitely the thing to get there, and the lobster rolls aren't bad at all.

I've never tasted such flavorful and sizable whole bellied clams before. The batter was perfectly seasoned, and I didn't mind the Ken's tartar sauce. The only drawbacks are 1) the price...half a pint cost about $15 2) aggressive sea gulls that would steal your lunch. We literally lost 3 pieces of fried clams when a sea gull came over our heads and stole them while in flight. They weren't kidding with those sea gull warnings, so pay attention!

At first, I didn't think much of their lobster roll until I had one from another joint days later. At first bite, I was blown away by the lobster meat in the bun. It was so very tasty (because they cooked the lobster in sea water) and so very meaty. There was no celery or mayo in the filling, so it was pure lobster goodness. We ordered one roll with mayo and another with butter, and both were smeared onto the bun, not on the meat. I preferred the butter version better from the Clam Shack - it just went better with the lobster meat and the roll, which I will definitely talk about later.

Unlike lobster rolls I've had in the past, the lobster meat at the Clam Shack was not chopped up into smaller pieces. Instead, the tail meat was sliced in half. I felt like I was eating lobster in a bun. Pure. Lobster. Goodness.

Sadly, the bun dragged down my lobster roll experience. It's not the usual sweet potato bun that most lobster rolls use, which I think matches better with the saltiness of the lobster meat. On top of that, the texture of the roll didn't work for me. Add to it that although the inside of the bun was nicely toasted, it was not warm at all. However, it wasn't a bad lobster roll. In fact, I learned to appreciate Clam Shack's lobster roll package after having one from another joint. I just wished the lunch didn't put a hole in our wallet...Maine eats really add up!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Chinese Cooking Basics: No Work Meal

Summer is sadly over, but I'm looking forward to the cold weather so I can have shabu shabu (Japanese term), or hot pot (what we Chinese call 火鍋). This brings back such warm memories of my time in Hong Kong enjoying this with my family. Hot pot is as traditional and basic as it gets and it's super easy. It's a no fuss, intimate meal that can be fun for two or a large family. Your guests do their own cooking in a boiling pot of broth (or two pots for a large family). All you need to do is wash the veggies ahead of time!

What you'll need at least are:
  • equipment: an electric soup pot (I imagine a slow cooker set on high might work), chopsticks and small chinese spiders
  • soup base (chicken broth would suffice)
  • mushrooms
  • vegetables (Chinese leafy greens or nappa cabbage will do)
  • rice vermicelli
  • tofu
  • dipping sauce: soy sauce or any other concoction
After you've got your basics figured out, it's pretty much up to you. You can have some thinly sliced meat (so it cooks faster), seafood...the sky is the limit. Cook whatever you want in the pot, dip it in some soy sauce, and enjoy. We were lucky enough to have king crab and wagyu beef when we attended a soft opening of my friend's shabu shabu joint in Flushing, Queens a while ago. It was yummy!

I absolutely loved their broth, and you can make your own dipping sauce at their bar. The service was attentive - they came around a few times to add more liquid to our pots when it got cooked down. They have beer, all types of appetizers, sides, bubble tea, shaved name it. Try shabu shabu at home, or go out and try it at a shabu shabu joint
above are photos from our meal at Minni's Shabu Shabu). Either way, it will definitely warm you up.

Friday, September 10, 2010

New England Menu for Housewarming

I mentioned in a previous post that I had my family (in-laws included) over for our housewarming lunch. Preparing a menu for the occasion was a headache, given the dietary restrictions and preferences in the family. On one hand, my mom is a vegetarian. On the other hand, one father prefers fresh, simple, quality seafood, and doesn't eat chicken or beef. Meanwhile, the other father (my in-law) is a huge carnivore and prefers quantity. How do I please every one?

Given that we have moved further into the heart of New England, I thought a New England menu was appropriate and could work for the crowd - fresh seafood, potatoes, dairy. After much thought, I came up with this menu:
  • lump crab cakes (Cook's Illustrated recipe)
  • lobster rolls
  • hearty salad (similar to a nicoise, with hard boiled egg, heirloom tomatoes, green beans and potatoes, but vegetarian of course)
  • carb dish for the vegetarian (roasted tomato pasta)
  • steamed sweet corn
  • chocolate cookies, and
  • home made vanilla bean ice cream (Alton Brown recipe)

I would've made New England Clam Chowder, bu
t my husband forbid me from making it in the high 70s temperature. With the exception to the crab cakes, cookies and ice cream, everything else I've made before (I know, it's a no no to try new recipes for a party). Sadly, the crab cakes didn't turn out as I had hoped (the recipe was a tad too salty and used more scallions than I would've liked) and the ice cream was a bit too sweet for my family's taste. Oh well, you can't please every one, especially when it comes to a family of food critics like my parents and my brother.

The lobster rolls turned out well, with the exception of the buns that my husband toasted, which needed more toasting according to my brother. I think we'll use top split buns next time because my sister wanted the outside of the bun toasted as well. And then I had my father complaining that the lobster meat may have been undercooked, but I thought it was perfectly silky and not chewy like overcooked lobster that you get almost everywhere. My sister second that. Here they are while the buns were getting filled.

This was the order of things for the day. Pretty much everything was made that morning (ice cream and pasta were made night before), starting at 7:30am:
  • form the crab cakes so they can chill in the fridge for at least an hour before cooking; very time consuming process (all this while my husband went out to get fresh lobsters)
  • bake cookies and set them up
  • make salad dressing and other ingredients
  • cook the lobsters an hour ahead of the event and make the lobster roll filling
  • cook the crab cakes and steam the corn 15 minutes ahead of the event
  • toast the buns and fill with the lobster filling
  • assemble the salad and drizzle with dressing when guests arrive
I find it really helpful to come up with a check list of things to do for a party ahead of time, so I make sure I always have one to keep me sane. The result: I got all the food out and was able to enjoy my family's company!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What's in Martha's Fridge?

I had my family over a couple of weeks ago for a small housewarming. We're not 100% furnished, but I think we've gone pretty far within 9 months considering that we renovated, moved in, and got the place functional, clean & furnished with the basic furniture we need (not mention that my head was buried in books for a few months). My sister, who is also my plant doctor, is a bit of a snoop, so I wasn't surprised that she looked around, especially inside my fridge, took photos and sent them to me in an email entitled "What's in Martha's Fridge?" Very funny.

What exactly is in my fridge? Well, to start off, I don't have an expensive gourmet fridge (our condo-sized apartment simply doesn't have enough space), so things may not be as organized as I'd like them to be, especially in the freezer. What you see isn't a true representation of our fridge since we were in party mode. For example, I don't store a huge container of homemade crab cakes at all times (as if my husband and I feast on them for breakfast every day). Nevertheless, you can get a sense of how we live.

We have at all times butter, orange juice, jarred sauces & condiments (oyster sauce, black bean sauce, chili sauce, mustard, ketchup, hot sauce), wine for cooking and beer (a must for my husband) on the door of the fridge, grouped by category. Inside, we keep the other juice and milk on the upper level (we used to store our milk on the fridge door but switched since the temperature could be higher on the fridge door). On the middle level are containers of various things (stored in containers to cut down on using plastic wrap), eggs, herbs (wrapped in paper towels to prolong freshness in the bin), vegetables and salad. On the lower level are heavy items like potatoes, corn and a whole chicken that's been sorta dry-brined for dinner another night. In the bottom bins, we have onions in one bin and fruits in the other. Yes, we put everything in the fridge, including potatoes, garlic and onion, to avoid a return of the roaches from the days of the previous dirty owners.

As for the freezer, you'll see that this is different and more packed than the one my husband (then fiance) had in was stocked for one person. On the freezer door, I have various things in containers - left over egg yolks, homemade vanilla ice cream, frozen peas, left over homemade duck stock, jalapeno in chipotle sauce, vegetable scraps to be used in stock later on and vodka. Inside, you can't miss the smiley face bag, which blocked the ice tray and housed 2 lobster heads that my sister brought to me that day; she had thoughtfully saved them for me to be used in lobster stock (thanks sis!). On the same level, you'll see ice cream (we wanted to check out if Blue Bunny, on sale that week, was what it was cracked up to be in the Cook's Illustrated magazine taste test), dumpling wrappers, chicken drumsticks in the back, lobster stock and a container of homemade dumplings.

On the lower level are various cuts of red meat, which I don't usually touch since they're for the carnivore who lives with me. There are also pork chops and various cuts of pork for making Chinese soup. I find that chops and steaks are best stored in such a height-challenged area of the freezer.

That's my cold closet, in all its glory and most importantly, unstyled! It took me a while to get to what works for us in terms of organizing the fridge, so I'm kinda proud of how far we've come from those frozen entree days when we first bought the place and had nothing to cook with because we were renovating. Well, what do you think of my fridge?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Chinese Cooking Basics: Eggs over Easy

It's Labor Day weekend, and I have a perfect simple dish on your day off. It's my favorite and as basic as it gets - eggs over easy with soy sauce on rice. My mom would make this for me for dinner when she was feeling lazy. I love breaking the creamy egg yolk that mixes with the saltiness of the soy sauce, and combining all of that with rice in one bite. In another bite, I'd get the crispy edge of the egg white...what a perfect contrast in textures. Anyways, other than the obvious soy sauce, the Chinese part of this dish is cooking the egg in a wok. I know you must be thinking "it should be easy." Not so much if you don't have the right equipment or technique.

The wok is actually a perfect vehicle to cook your egg over easy or sunny side up because the sloped bottom of the wok means that you'll have the same shaped cooked egg every time, as opposed to cooking it in a flat pan where the egg white can spread out before getting cooked.

The secret to a perfectly cooked egg (over easy or sunny side up) is a very hot wok. Your egg shouldn't stick as long as your pan and oil are hot, so it doesn't matter if you don't have a non-stick wok (I have an old stainless steel one). When you see wisps of smoke coming out of your wok, that means it's time to add the oil. Add the egg when your oil gets hot, stand back quickly as the hot oil will splatter when it comes in contact with the egg, and flip when the edges brown if you're making an over easy egg.

Put the cooked egg over warm rice, drizzle as much soy sauce as you like on top of the egg, and enjoy! It makes a nice quick lunch with left over rice or dinner.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Adding a Little Bit of Spice to My Life

Contrary to what my husband thinks, I don't have everything in the kitchen. I don't have a lot of space in my kitchen, so I only have what I need. Spices is one of them. I loved buying the spices I use most often in bulk at Whole Foods - it was very economical. Sadly, they don't have them anymore...I've searched the location I originally got it from and others in the tri-state area. Where do I turn to now for trusted spices? Penzeys.

I discovered Penzeys when I was watching America's Test Kitchen. They did a taste test of cinnamon and had recommended that brand due to its quality and most of all its lovely fragrance that's different (but still familiar) than your regular supermarket brands. Penzeys has a small outpost in Grand Central in NYC. Thankfully, there's a store not far from me in Norwalk, CT! I prefer the store much better as you can treat your nose to a nice whiff or two to their endless jars of spice samples. I can spend hours doing that if my husband weren't there.

I did not get their ground cinnamon yet, but I did get a chance to experience the wonderful aroma of it. I was shocked at how fragrant it was! Their price is higher than the supermarket brands, but this is how I rationalize purchasing a higher quality product:
  • it's not a huge purchase that you have to make often, so cost is rather negligible
  • you may need to use less of their spices in recipes because they're rather potent (for example, they recommend doing so with their cumin because it's very strong...and it is)
  • buy the larger size, which costs less per ounce
  • it makes your ending product taste better, so isn't it worth it?
Instead of cinnamon, which I don't need at the moment but hopefully will in the future, I brought home some cumin, coriander, sweet paprika, ginger and thyme. They all smelled soooo good, and that made me very happy. :-)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Chinese Cooking Basics: Stuffed Fried Tofu

My mom's Stuffed Green Peppers is one of my favorite dishes. You can find versions of it (shrimped stuffed pepper or eggplant, or fish stuffed pepper or eggplant) when you have dim sum. Sometimes my mom would stuff soft fried tofu with the same mixture she uses for green peppers, and that's exactly what I did after cracking her recipe. Below is what it looks like prior to mixing it in sauce.

I bought some soft jumbo fried tofu from the Chinese supermarket, sliced them in half and applied the shrimp stuffing with a dinner knife on the cut side of the soft fried tofu. The cooking method is the same as the green pepper version, except for a shorter cooking time as the fried tofu is cooked already. The soft fried tofu adds a different texture to the stuffed green peppers. They can work as an appetizer or a dish for dinner. Yum!

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Week of Asian Cooking

I felt a need to get close to my roots, so I thought it would be nice to cook Chinese every (business) day one week. After all, I did vow to cook more Chinese food. Since I do not have an arsenal of Chinese recipes yet, I thought I would get by with cooking Asian cuisine.
  • Monday - Ma Po Daofu (麻婆豆腐). This is a somewhat spicy Chinese dish (in particular, Sichuan) that is traditionally made with a spicy bean sauce (豆板醬), tofu and ground pork. I made some adjustments based on what I had in the fridge by using ground turkey instead of pork and adding diced eggplant.

  • Tuesday - Chicken Adobo. I thought it was about time to pay tribute to my husband's heritage by making what can be considered the national dish of the Philippines. It is basically a rustic and easy dish made of chicken simmered in a combination of soy sauce and vinegar.

  • Wednesday - Chicken Adobo. I cheated. I made a big batch of this and ate it over two nights. Truthfully, even with marinating the chicken before cooking, the dish always tastes better the following nights as the chicken has more of an opportunity to absorb the tasty sauce.
  • Thursday - Seafood with Broccoli. While this may sound Chinese, it's actually Japanese (fusion, to be correct). I simply followed Nobu's recipe for Squid Pasta and substituted the squid with shrimp and scallops. Given that Nobu is known for its new-style Japanese cuisine (Peruvian + Japanese), the sauce has a rather unique taste thanks to a combination of butter, soy sauce and sake. Yes, butter with soy sauce!
  • Friday - Fried Rice (炒飯). I made sure I cooked more rice than usual the night before so I would have enough to make fried rice the day after. I didn't have any left overs to toss in, but I certainly made good use of the tough broccoli stems in the fried rice.

There it is! I took a trip to China, Philippines, Japan and China all in 5 days. I hope this has inspired both me and you to keep closer to our roots via food.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An Almost Tuna Nicoise

When I think of salad most of the time, the image that comes to my head is a tossed salad...until I watched Ina Garten put together a beautiful platter of tuna nicoise. She grouped each ingredient freely on a plate, and together they make such an impact. It's similar to decorating - if you group objects in vignettes, they make a larger impact and look less like clutter. Anyways, I had most of the ingredients in my pantry and fridge, minus the olives and capers, so I thought I'd give it a try. It was a nice hearty lunch for two.

I used just your normal supermarket grade canned tuna but put in some nice, deliciously sweet and flavorful Campari tomatoes. Admittedly, my eggs were a tad undercooked, but the plate turned out beautiful. It also tasted great with my usual homemade vinaigrette. I imagine this would be a nice presentation for a party.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chinese Cooking Basics: Ma Po Dofu

I was looking for new dumpling recipes one day and stumbled upon a recipe for Turkey-Stuffed Tofu Dumplings from Anita Lo. While I wasn't wowed by her restaurant, Annisa, when we were there over 5 years ago, I decided to give the recipe a try since it was an interesting adaptation of Ma Po Dofu (or Tofu), a spicy dish from the Sichuan Province of China.

I used this recipe twice - made it as is (tofu topped with meat) and as Ma Po Dofu with eggplant. Both turned out equally great even without the use of fermented black beans, which my husband forbid me to buy & store in our pantry due to its strong aroma. The recipe as it is definitely had a wow factor for my husband, and rightfully so as it required diligently putting the meat onto delicate tofu. With the traditional stir fry version, I made it heartier with eggplant - the key is to add the tofu last and toss lightly so it won't break. With both versions, I served them with Jasmine rice and Chinese greens.

This recipe is definitely a must have in your repertoire. Ma Po Dofu is an authentic dish with flavorful results.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Chicken Adobo

I thought after 10+ years of being together, it was about time I pay tribute to my husband's heritage by making what can be considered the national dish of the Philippines - Chicken Adobo. It is a delicious, rustic and very easy dish made of chicken simmered in a combination of soy sauce and vinegar. It's got a little bit of the salty, sweet and sour. Make a big pot of this, and it tastes even better the next day!

I've done a lot of research on which recipe to use...some marinated the chicken ahead of time, others strangely used Sprite, which I don't believe is authentic. What I found most recipes that claimed to be traditional used soy sauce, vinegar, black peppercorn, garlic, chicken and bay leaf. My father-in-law adds onions, which is what most Americanized versions use for added flavor.

The only Chicken
Adobo I've ever had was made by my father-in-law, so I asked my husband how mine was compared to his, to which my husband responded "yours is really good, but it's different than my father's." The only reason ingredient-wise I can think of is the soy father-in-law does not like plain sauce soy and thinks toyomansi, a soy sauce made sour with the addition of kalamansi juice made from Filipino limes, is superior. Perhaps the use of toyomansi adds a special kind of tang to the Chicken Adobo.

I don't claim to make the traditional version, just whatever is a close representation of it, convenient to me and is flavorful. This is what I used to make mine, without the use of toyomansi:

Serves 4

6 chicken drumsticks
6 chicken thighs
1/2 C + 1 tbs white vinegar
1/2 C soy sauce
1/2 of a large onion, diced
3 bay leaf
3-4 garlic cloves, smashed
fresh ground pepper

Marinate everything except for the onion for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator and rest at room temperature prior to cooking. In a large pot or wok over medium-high heat, add oil and saute onions until fragrant. Add the marinated chicken along with everything and bring to a boil. Lower to medium heat, cover and cook for about 30-40 minutes, tossing the mixture and skimming
off the fat and impurities on the surface in between.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sauce has thickened somewhat, about 20 minutes. If the sauce becomes too salty, add water. Serve with rice.

I made my Chicken Adobo in a wok for added flavor
("鍋氣") and served it with jasmine rice and Chinese greens. Every one has their own version of Chicken Adobo, so feel free to use this recipe and personalize it to make it your own!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Green Cleaning for Your Stainless Steel Sink

I've been scrubbing a lot lately to get our place in tip top shape for our housewarming, ten months after we closed on our new (and first) home. Needless to say, we've used a lot of elbow grease on this place since the prior owners were not the cleanest people. My last big job was the windows, and they're done (thank god). Now, it's the minor things like maintaining the cleanliness. Getting our stainless steel sink has been a once every 2-3 week job, and I haven't been happy with the results...until now.

Believe me, I've tried scrubbing with dish washing liquid and household cleaners, but wasn't quite satisfied with the dull finish. Thinking back, I should have tried green cleaning like we did for our tile grout, but now I realize that it was just so much easier to reach to the left for the dish washing liquid or under the sink for the household cleaner, as opposed to walk over to the pantry to grab the baking soda. All I did was sprinkle about a tablespoon of baking soda onto my already wet stainless steel sink, rub it in with a paper towel and rinse. I wish I have some before & after photos, but I was so impressed with the results, I only have the after photo.

The baking soda and water formed a paste that, when rubbed into the surface, gently took out any dirt and dark spots from the sink. I did this twice to make sure the sink was really clean. Our stainless steel sink now looks as shiny as the day we bought it! Now, if only I can get my hands to where they were before they got sandpaper-like from the endless cleaning...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chinese Cooking Basics: The Wok

The wok is the one most important kitchen equipment when it comes to Chinese cooking. It is used for stir frying, steaming, braising, you name it. They key to making most Chinese dishes in a wok is high heat. There's a term we use in Chinese called "鍋氣" - it literally translates into "wok air," and roughly translates to the fragrant aroma or flavor made from cooking in a wok. You can taste it when something has been cooked correctly in a hot wok.

To achieve
"鍋氣," start with a hot wok then add oil. If that is done correctly, whatever you are cooking will not stick to the wok and will be flavorful.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hope Pizza (CT)

My husband and I made a pact that we'd try out our neighborhood restaurants in CT at least once a month. We haven't really followed it, but I must say that we've tried a good handful of pizza joints so far: Remo's Brick Oven Pizza, Coalhouse Pizzaria, Colony Grill and now, Hope Pizza.

In our research, my husband stumbled upon this blog where the authors sample the pizza joints in Stamford and around the tri-state area. They ranked these establishments on a scale of 1 to 30, 1 being the worst, 30 being the best. I found it most interesting that the authors described their mission was to benchmark all pizzas against those from Stamford. Why? Stamford is not a culinary capital, as far as I can understand, that it can serve as a benchmark. I had my doubts, but was curious to check out exactly what was behind Hope Pizza's packed parking lot on most nights and what was worthy of its high 24 rating, way above Coalhouse, which I thought was quite good for Stamford.

Hope Pizza had the appearance and the menu of a diner, except with the name that implies a pizza joint. It is mostly a Greek diner that serves diner food and pizza of course, with one of the pizza toppings being gyro. My husband and I ordered a large pie, split between mushroom on one half and sausage & pepperoncini on the other half. When our server brought our pie to the table, my first impression from the buttery, fresh out of the oven aroma and the appearance of the pie was reminiscent of Pizza Hut.

On the plus side, the pie came piping hot and had a crunchy (not soggy) bottom. On the huge minus side, the pizza was topped with canned mushroom, a generous amount of cheese, and an even more generous amount of pepperoncini.

My husband felt adventurous and had ordered buffalo wings that he later regretted. All in all, I can see why families go to Hope Pizza. It's a place where you can bring your screaming kids, make a mess, and have a night off from the kitchen. Its mediocre food serves as a somewhat passable substitute to ordinary week night dinners, canned ingredients and all. I understand that there are different kinds of pizza out there that people prefer, but after having the good fortune of having pizza from many of NYC's finest, the Pizza Hut style simply isn't my cup of tea.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Light & Easy Eggplant Milanese

I wanted to make crunchy chicken without frying one day. I'm not a fan of deep frying anything in my kitchen and make a mess of it. If I want fry food, I'd rather go out to a restaurant. So I went on a hunt for an oven fried chicken recipe and found the most delicious, flavorful and crunchy Oven-Fried Chicken Milanese. I liked it so much that I used the same method for making eggplant milanese.

The recipe calls for making a coating of parmesan and egg, and panko (Japanese bread crumbs), parsley and lemon zest. Instead of dipping chicken in it, I dipped half inch rounds of sliced eggplant (like an eggplant steak).

It worked just as well. The panko made the eggplant so crunchy. The parmesan added a salty bite, while the fresh parsley and lemon zest added a much needed brightness. I topped the finished product with some home-made tomato sauce I had ready in the freezer, and it was so satisfying. If I had mozzarella cheese, I'd take it further by sprinkling some on the eggplant and putting it under the broiler before adding the sauce. Yum!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Chinese Cooking Basics: Vegetables, Part II

It's Monday again, and that means another Chinese Cooking Basics! The third post in the series is a continuation to the introduction last week to the Chinese leafy greens. There is one method of cooking that can be applied to practically all types of Chinese greens, whether they be Choy Sum (菜心), Gai Lan (蓋蘭), Bok Choy (白菜) or Pea Shoots (豆苗), and that is a basically a cross between sautéing and braising.

The following are the steps to the cooking method I use for Chinese leafy greens for two. What you'll need ahead of time are 1 tbs oil, 2 smashed garlic gloves, thoroughly washed and drained greens, salt and 1 tbs water.
  • Heat up oil in a wok over medium-high heat, then add in garlic gloves. Let them sit until fragrant. This step basically makes an aromatic garlic oil.
  • Add the greens to the wok. Make sure to stand back as the oil will splatter when in contact with the wet greens. Add salt and toss the greens around to ensure that they have been coated by the oil.
  • Add water, and immediately put a cover over the wok. The steam and liquid will braise the greens.
  • The greens should be cooked within 5 minutes, depending on your desired texture. I like my greens with a bit of snap to the tooth.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Chicken with Thai Sweet Chili Sauce

Thai sweet chili sauce is one of my husband's favorite sauces. It's sweet, slightly sour, garlicky and has just a tiny hint of heat. He liked it so much that he made a dish with it - Chicken with Thai Sweet Chili Sauce. This was his dish until I took over and made it my own. I make it at least a couple of times a month - it's that easy. Pretty much all the time is spent on prepping, as the cooking happens very fast. Dinner can be on the table in way less an hour.

I used to make this dish with chicken cubes like my husband did, but I found the texture to be too tough when met by the high heat of the wok, so I switched to using chicken slices. If you slice the chicken on the bias and against the grain, it's easier to chew. It also takes less time to cook. Another thing I did differently than my husband was to thicken the sauce using the classic Chinese combination of water and a little bit of corn starch. The last thing I did differently was to add scallions for a bit of bite.

Chicken with Thai Sweet Chili Sauce
Serves 2

1 large chicken breast, sliced thin on the bias
1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 scallion, cut into 2 inch pieces
2 1/2 to 3 tbs Thai sweet chili sauce (we have the brand with the chicken on the packaging)
big handful of basil (Thai, preferably, but sweet basil will also do)
1/4 tsp cornstarch, mixed with 2 tsp water
2 tsp water
vegetable oil
salt & pepper to taste

Season the chicken slices with salt and pepper. In a hot wok with oil over medium-high heat, saute the chicken in batches until it's no longer pink but not completely cooked through. Set the chicken aside in a bowl. Add peppers to the wok and saute until slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute.

Add the chicken back to the wok, followed by the Thai sweet chili sauce. Add the scallions and saute until soft. Add about 2 teaspoons water and toss. Make a well in the bottom of the wok and add the cornstarch mixture. Mix the cornstarch mixture with any liquid in the bottom of the wok. Toss until the liquid is evenly distributed with the chicken and peppers. Finish by adding the basil leaves. Turn off heat. Viola! Dinner is served.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Stuffed Peppers

My husband and I have been eating a lot of quinoa, so much that we don't even eat couscous anymore. I had even used quinoa as a substitute for couscous in a Stuffed Peppers recipe from Martha Stewart.

It turned out just as well. The recipe was good, but I may try another homemade sausage recipe I found on Food Network next time...the oregano was too strong for our taste.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Chinese Cooking Basics: Vegetables, Part I

It's Monday again, and that means another Chinese Cooking Basics! For the second post in the series, let's go over the second most consumed item next to rice: green leafy vegetables. The preparation of these are simple and fast. There are many types out there, and here are some of the more common ones.
  • Choy Sum (菜心) - This is by far the most basic and probably the most widely consumed Chinese leafy greens. They come in all sizes. Usually, the smaller they are, the more tender. I gravitate towards the smaller ones. They are great sauteed or chopped up in fried rice. Below is the medium variety.
  • Gai Lan (蓋蘭) - These are also known as Chinese broccoli. They have thicker stems and a stronger, slightly bitter taste that makes them distinctly different than Choy Sum (菜心). They come in all sizes. Usually, the smaller they are, the more tender. They are also great sauteed or chopped up in fried rice. Below is the small variety.

  • Bok Choy (白菜) - These are by far the most well known Chinese greens in the States. They have wider stems than other leafy greens, and are very tender and moist when cooked. Their stems are white, but the newer varieties have pale green stems. They come in all sizes. Below is the small variety.

  • Pea Shoots (豆苗) - These are one of the most expensive varieties of Chinese leafy greens. They are delicate in taste, with a tad of nuttiness. I love it sauteed with lots of garlic.

Now that we went over the basics, we can go over the cooking methods next week!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Chinese Cooking Basics: Fried Rice

It's Monday again, and that means another Chinese Cooking Basics! For the second post in the series, let's go what you can do with left over rice - fried rice. It is traditionally a dish you make with left overs..rice, meat, whatever you have in your fridge. I almost never have left overs because I eat them for lunch, so I toss in whatever I have around like mushroom, Chinese greens and shrimp, in another words, mommy-style. My favorite type of my mother's fried rice has one extra ingredient, and it's preserved vegetable, which adds a spicy bite to the mix.

I usually cook a cup more rice than usual if I want to make fried rice in a few days. So below is a recipe enough for two with the left over rice that is at least a day old. Here
's how I like to make mine:

Fried Rice
Serves 2

left over Jasmine rice, about 1C dry measure before cooking
1C dried shiitake mushroom, reconstituted and diced
5 stalks of Chinese leafy greens (gai lan "
蓋蘭" or choi sum "菜心", stems diced and leaves cut into ¼-inch-thick chiffonade
5-10 medium shrimp (U25), diced
1 egg
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp sesame seed oil
salt & pepper
vegetable or canola oil

In a hot work over medium-high heat, add oil and saute shrimp with salt and pepper for about 2 minutes. Set aside shrimp. Add mushroom to the wok with salt & pepper and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the leafy greens with some more salt & pepper and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add rice, making sure to break it up while tossing in the wok. Add the soy sauce and continue tossing for about 3-5 minutes.

Make a well in the middle of the wok and break in the egg. Stir the egg to break the yolk and combine with the egg white. Toss the rice on top of the egg until the egg is well distributed. Return the shrimp into the wok. Give it a final toss and finish with sesame seed oil. Serve hot.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Bar Room at the Modern

My siblings and I recently managed to snap up one of the hottest tables at the Bar Room at the Modern during NYC restaurant week. The tables are hard to come by due to its large restaurant week menu (limitless, really). On top of that, it's a relatively new restaurant from Danny Meyer, the great restaurateur of big names like the Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern.

I was happy to return to the Bar Room after having been there last year for restaurant week. Unfortunately, the law of diminishing return applied here. Lucky for you, I have plenty of photos to share, thanks to my sister, the photography lover.

Like last year, I started off with the Upside Down Tuna Tarte. I remembered how tasty and inventive it was, but had forgotten that I didn't like the relatively large dice of fennel, cucumber and most of all, raw onion. I found the size of the onion dices packed too much of an unpleasant punch.

My siblings kicked off their meal with Fresh Grilled Shrimp and Tarte Flambée. When our server placed the shrimp dish onto the table, I noticed a slight bounce that was a sign of perfectly cooked shrimp. And they were! The with green cabbage and gruyère salad that accompanied the shrimp was refreshing and tasty. As for the Tarte Flambée, it was very much like a large, thin crust pizza. The smoky aroma of the bacon on the tarte was so very enticing.

For my entree, I had the Crispy Atlantic Cod, which was deceiving because I had expected the fish to have a crispy skin from being pan seared. I would not have imagined from the name of the dish that it was an upscale fish and chips (without the chips). That aside, it was a very fine fish and chips. The batter was fried to a perfect golden brown.

My sister had a "taste" of literally 3 pieces of Pan Roasted Hanger Steak cut from a larger steak. Size aside, she thoroughly enjoyed the dish, especially the young garlic flan. The flan was delicate and rich, with a sweet garlic aroma. The fried bits on top of the flan provided a perfect contrast in texture.

We ended the meal with the Pistachio Dark Chocolate Dome and Strawberry Soup. I had expected a hard chocolate shell on the dome, but I realized that it was a coating of chocolate sauce when my fork sunk right into the delicate and creamy dome. The dome was rich and airy at the same time. The only item on the plate that didn't work for me was the amaretto gelée, which I felt didn't go with the dome. As for the Strawberry Soup with buttermilk panna cotta, I have never seen my brother leave his dessert unfinished. In all honesty, I don't know why he ordered that item since he's not a fan of panna cotta.

All in all, it was a very fine meal. I just wish the portions were more consistent - the Tarte Flambée was an oversized appetizer while the Hanger Steak was more of an appetizer size.

To avoid the law of diminishing return, I should return to the restaurant in another couple of years, or order something different next time.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chinese Cooking Basics: Rice

It's been difficult to cook Chinese food at home due to my lack of access to ingredients, time, and my husband's aversion to certain ingredients. I truly want to retain my culture and push myself to cook more Chinese food, so I'm starting a weekly series on the basics in Chinese cooking on Mondays, from ingredients, equipment to recipes. I am far from being a master in Chinese cooking, but I picked up a thing or two many years ago when I was in charge of cooking for the family while my mother took night classes. I have much more to learn, and I'm taking you along on the ride!

To kick off this series, let's start with the most basic and most widely consumed ingredient, which helps keep most Asians staying trim - rice. Contrary to what most Americans think, you don't have to cut out carbs. My grandparents have rice as much as three times a day, and have no problems with a growing waistband. It's all about practicing moderation and having a healthy lifestyle.

The rice of choice in my family is Jasmine rice (in particular, the brand from Thailand with three elephants on the package). It's a long-grain rice that is fragrant, fluffy and not too sticky. I usually cook the amount that is needed for a meal, and if I plan on making fried rice in the next couple of days, I make more.

To make rice for two in a rice cooker:
  • measure 1 cup of rice
  • rinse rice once and repeat to get rid of the impurities
  • for each cup of rice, add about 1 1/2C of water, depending on the desired consistency (I prefer a tad less than that for a less mushy/sticky texture)
I usually don't measure the liquid needed if I'm making enough for two for one meal, but if I make more than that, I usually measure.

Making rice is as basic as it gets. It's one of the few things I've mastered in Chinese cooking. Stay tuned next week for more on Chinese Cooking Basics!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Minted Pea Soup

I'm not a big fan of mint gum, but I am a fan of fresh mint. Perhaps I just dislike artificial flavors. Anyways, I had some mint that my husband bought for making mojitos (thanks to him buying much more limes than we needed), and I remembered watching an episode of Barefoot Contessa where Ina made a Minted Pea Soup. I had doubts at first about the recipe because I've never cooked with mint before, but I ended up loving it, and my husband did too.

Making the soup was super fast and easy - well within 30 minutes from start to finish. On top of that, I had the ingredients already, all except for the fresh peas. Since frozen peas are one of the staples in my freezer, I substituted fresh for frozen. It worked just as well because the mint added such a pleasant fresh flavor to the soup. All in all, it was perfect, especially on a hot summer night.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sour Cream Blueberry Muffins

My sister is gonna love me for this post since she has nothing but hate for sour cream! So I still had sour cream sitting in my fridge after making Banana Sour Cream pancakes. I had some blueberries as well, so I searched for a recipe. Lucky for me, I found another Ina recipe, and it was a muffin recipe! If you can't tell already, I love muffins. I sooo remember the days when my husband and I used to go up the block to Connecticut Muffin on Prince St. in NYC (sadly now it's closed).

The muffins were good. As usual, I didn't follow the recipe fully - I added some much needed lemon zest this time, which lightened up the rich batter. The muffins were very tender and very moist. In fact, they were so moist that the muffins that were left over the next day were to the point of soggy.

Overall, I would make them again because they were tasty, but not to keep for more than a day.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Stuffed Eggplant

I love eggplant, but it's not the easiest vegetable to handle. Eggplants can either turn into mush (because they love to absorb moisture) or get dried out if over cooked/baked. Despite being intimidated, it didn't stop me from buying it. I needed help, so I turned to Martha Stewart for a recipe. Martha's recipe search engine returned Stuffed Eggplant and used exactly what I had in my pantry and fridge, not to mention that it's tasty too!

Besides eggplant, all the recipe needs are onion, tomato, bell peppers, ricotta, parsley and couscous. I did some adjustments by skipping the peppers and replacing the couscous with quinoa. What I love about this recipe is that it uses what I had in the pantry and fridge and that the ricotta adds richness to an otherwise fatless dish. I served it with a side salad, and it was the perfect light but filling summer meal. I will definitely save this one for our next family cookout for my vegetarian mom.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Banana Sour Cream Pancake

I like bananas. The problem is, you can never buy just 1 or 2 bananas, you have to buy the whole bunch, which most likely has more than 5 bananas. I surely would not eat one banana almost every day, so I had to make a way to incorporate it into our meals. I also had some sour cream I wanted to use from our fridge, so I went hunting for a recipe. Luckily, Ina's got one for me - Banana Sour Cream Pancakes.

It was my first time ever eating either sour cream or bananas in my pancakes, so I wanted to make sure that it's extra good by using great vanilla extract. At first, I thought it sounded strange to put sour cream and bananas in pancakes, but it wasn't bad at all. The sour cream made it moist, and the bananas seemed to have melt right into the pancake. The lemon zest added a much needed lightness.

Among the fruits out there though, I still prefer berries rather than banana in my pancake. That's just me.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Chikalicious Dessert Club for Chikalicious Rejects?

I've always thought of Chikalicious Dessert Club (the dessert to go outpost straight across from Chikalicious) as the place for Chikalicious rejects, you know, those who either can't get in or don't want to go on the long line. But I've heard so much about Dessert Club's cupcakes and eclairs that my husband and I decided to give it a try one night. It was so very tempting to stand in line at Chikalicious for their three course dessert...the line wasn't that long! I practiced a lot of self restraint that night.

Image from New York Times

We ended up getting a red velvet cupcake, a smores cupcake and a chocolate sorbet macaron (it's macaron, of course we had to get it!). The cupcakes were definitely on the small side compared to others I've had in NYC, but I didn't mind as long as they taste good, not to mention less guilt factor.

The red velvet cake itself was texturally perfect, but I found the taste of the cream cheese icing to be overpowering. My husband didn't like the taste of the smores cupcake - I don't have an opinion on that, since I'm not a smores lover in general. As for the macaron, I had really high expectations since it was inventive and looked so good. Sadly, the texture of the sandwich halves were not like the classic macarons like I had expected - it was sticky on the teeth and gummy, sorta like a baked meringue. As for the sorbet, it reminded me of ice cream that sat in the freezer for such a long time that you can taste small ice particles in each bite.

I sorta felt like a Chikalicious reject (probably because I want to go there all the time). While Chikalicious will always be my first choice, I won't mind going across to
Chikalicious Dessert Club to try out other items in the future.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Pinnacle of American Chinese Food?

I admit, I'm a Chinese food snob. I accept American Chinese food, but just when I thought I've seen it all when it comes to American Chinese food, I come across this.

Now, this is a real first. What's fried plantains doing on the Chinese take out menu? I guess you have to cater to what your customers want!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Special 4th of July Stock

Happy 4th of July! For those of you who have lobster bake for the celebration, save your shells and the liquid to make stock! I saved mine from a previous meal and made lobster stock with several heads.

It was relatively easy since I just tossed in whatever I had. Here's what I put in mine:
  • 7 lobster heads (and 2 shells from the tail)
  • 1/2 of a large onion cut into large dice
  • 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot cut into large dice
  • 1 celery stalk cut into large dice
  • handful of fennel stalks (I always have this in the freezer since I don't like to waste my fennel)
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tbs peppercorns
  • bunch of fresh thyme
  • 1/2C brandy
  • 2 quarts of liquid from a shrimp & lobster boil
First, I saved just a tiny bit of lobster meat from a previous meal so that I can make lobster risotto with the stock and reserved meat. Then, I put the heads in a stock pot with some oil and let them brown a bit to coax more flavor out of them. I added onions and garlic and let them soften a bit before adding the tomato paste. After about 2 minutes, I added the brandy, and scraped the bottom of the pan to loosen all the flavorful brown bits. The rest of the ingredients went in, followed by water enough to cover the lobster heads.

I boiled the mixture until I thought the liquid was at the right flavor and consistency and was left with about 2 quarts of stock. It took about an hour and a half to two hours in total. I had enough of this flavorful stock full of
crustacean goodness to make lobster risotto and a bit less than a cup left to make something else! What else will I make with the remaining stock? Don't worry, I'll be sure to share with you!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Easy Luxurious Meal

Last Sunday, on a very late afternoon, my husband and I went grocery shopping at Stew's. We wanted something for a quick dinner that night, and Maine lobster was on sale for $4.99/lb. Since we had boiled lobster the week before for father's day, we decided to make lobster rolls for our dinner. I wonder who first thought of pairing something so inexpensive and ordinary like a hot dog bun with with something so special and luxurious like lobster?

It was pretty easy. All we did was boil the lobster (10 minutes for roughly a 1lb lobster), remove the meat, chop them into pieces. The lobsters were soft shell, so it was extra easy to remove the meat, but I prefer hard shell since they retain less water after they're cooked (an enormous amount of water gushed out of ours).

To the lobster meat, we added diced celery, a little bit of old bay, pepper and mayo, and finished the mixture off with a squeeze of lemon juice for freshness. For the buns, we dropped a pat of butter into a pan and added the hot dog buns (sliced side down) to toast them. I served the lobster rolls with some healthy oven baked fries.

It might not be as good as enjoying the lobster roll with shoestring fries at Mary's Fish Camp in NYC, but our dinner was good - the lobsters were fresh and the buns were warm and toasty. To top it off, it was a big bang for our buck since I was able to save the heads for lobster stock!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Meet the Latest Addition to Our Family

No, it's not another basil plant. As much as I miss my basil plant, I'm not sure if I want to nurture another one again. We bought this thyme plant two months ago.

It is relatively low maintenance - all it needs is direct sun light and just a little bit of water. Thyme is a perfect complement to mushrooms, which I make quite often, especially my Mushroom Pasta. It has an earthy and a slight citrus aroma. I've also used it in making chicken stock. Sadly, two weeks after I brought it home, it became sick. Hoping for a cure, I sprinkled some plant treatment/food that my sister, the avid gardener (aka my plant doctor), gave me.

It has recovered since then, but the plant isn't as full as it was before. Let's hope this herb plant lives longer than my basil.