Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Minted Peas & Leeks

For Christmas dinner this year, I made a ham. It was a giant, bulky beast and I relished the idea of ham leftovers for many days after. The recipe for the ham comes from Saveur and it’s one I’ve made before. It couldn’t be any easier and more delicious: roast the ham in the oven for a couple hours and then baste it for another hour with an outrageously good glaze consisting of brown sugar, Dijon mustard, and orange marmalade. It comes out of the oven bronzed, the outer layer caramelizing into ham candy.
While plotting the rest of the menu, I thought of the classic combination of ham and peas. I’ve got some beautiful mint growing on the balcony and liked the idea of livening up some standard frozen peas with the fresh herb. I love leeks and thought their tender, buttery flavor would blend well with the other ingredients.
I really love this easy side dish because it can be made year round with simple, available ingredients but tastes decidedly bright and spring-like. This recipe also gussies up the humble frozen pea enough that it seems fancy and a definite departure from the boiled (or canned) peas I grew up with.

To serve 4:
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 large leeks
  • 16 ounces (500 grams) frozen baby peas, thawed slightly
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
  • Fine sea salt, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Cut off the dark green ends of the leeks. Cut them in half lengthwise and then thinly slice the leeks into half-moons. You should have about 1½ cups.
In a large skillet, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently until soft, about 15 minutes. If the leeks start to brown, turn the heat down.
Turn the heat up to medium and add the peas. Stir to mix well with the leeks and butter/oil. Cook until the peas are heated through, about 5 minutes. Add the mint and cook for a minute more. Remove from the heat and season with the sea salt. Transfer the peas to a serving dish and garnish with the lemon zest.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Chocolate Whiskey Cake

Imagine ordering yourself a strong coffee – no, make it a mocha – and since you’re feeling festive and all, you pour a nip of whiskey in there. Now put those elements in cake form and that’s what we’ve got here. Deeply flavored with rich cocoa + coffee notes, the cake is infused with the warm essence of whiskey.

I love a boozy cake this time of year and this one didn’t disappoint. The method is unique too as no mixer is required. Instead, coffee, butter, whiskey and sugar are combined in a saucepan and warmed through. The other ingredients are stirred in by hand and before you know it, the cake is in the oven.

I used my cathedral cake pan I got from Williams Sonoma years ago. I have a love/hate relationship with it. When the cake comes out clean, gothic and beautiful things are good. When pieces of cake remain in the pan and the rest of it pours out like a devastating cake avalanche, well, things are not so good. I liberally sprayed the interior with cooking spray and then dusted it with cocoa powder. Once it cooled in the pan for about 15 minutes, I flipped it onto the wire rack with no dramas whatsoever. A dusting of powdered sugar finished off my little cathedral snow scene.

This recipe came from Gourmet and I didn’t change a thing. The link is here and really, I can’t recommend it enough. Warm wishes this holiday season. I hope all of you are participating in much merriment.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Green Tea Soba Noodles with Fragrant Soy Broth

At this time of year, it's nice to take a break from the constant stream of unhealthy (but supremely delicious) holiday edibles and eat something that makes you feel good afterwards. I've had my share of Christmastime binges in the past where I honestly felt as if my main food group was...well...cookies. Speaking of, if you're still looking for some cookie recipes, check out the index at the top of the page. I've got a bunch of my favorites on there.

This recipe is the perfect antidote to the December madness. Green tea soba noodles with their moss-tinged earthiness are fantastic steeped in a highly flavorful broth that's been infused with notes of orange, chile and ginger. It's comforting and healthy all at once and makes for a substantial meal when topped with shrimp, silken tofu and some crisp broccolini.

Don't be put off by the long ingredients list. The first eight are for the broth which doesn't take much effort - it will be simmering in no time. The last three ingredients are garnishes which I don't recommend skipping. A generous squeeze of lemon juice amplifies the other flavors while the toasty sesame seeds and oil provide an appealing nuttiness.

If the broth is made in advance and the other ingredients are prepped, this can be a quick weeknight dinner.

For 4 servings:
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup shao sing (Chinese wine) or sake
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 3 scallions sliced into 3-inch lengths
  • A 4-inch slice of orange rind with no or very little pith attached
  • 5 thin slices of peeled fresh ginger
  • 1-2 Thai chiles, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • 7 ounces (200 grams) green tea soba noodles (cha soba)
  • 1 bunch brocollini
  • 12 large cooked shrimp
  • 3.5 ounces (100 grams) firm silken tofu, cubed
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • 4 teaspoons sesame oil
In a large saucepan combine the water, soy sauce, shao sing or sake, mirin, scallions, orange rind, ginger, and chiles. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Pour the broth through a strainer into a bowl, discarding the solids. Return the broth to the saucepan and keep warm until ready to use. The broth can be made a day or so ahead and kept in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, cook the soba according to package directions. Blanch the broccolini in boiling salted water until just tender, about 3-4 minutes. Drain and set aside.

To assemble: divide the soba amongst 4 bowls. Pour a 1/2 cup of the broth over the noodles. Place the broccolini, shrimp and tofu in each bowl. Garnish with a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a sprinkling of sesame seeds, and a teaspoon of the sesame oil. Serve additional broth on the side to add to the noodles if desired.

Adapted, a whole lot, from On-the-Fly Noodles with Shrimp in the Best American Recipes 2000 book.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ginger Pistachio Cookies

It's easy to gain inspiration from all the weighty cookbooks I own, not to mention the bevy of food magazines, blogs, websites, and TV shows that are out there. What is even more satisfying is getting that inspiration from a good friend. Last year I cajoled my pal Scott into guestblogging a cookie recipe of his that I love: Cream of Tartar Cookies. A couple of months ago he gussied them up with some orange frosting and crunchy, colorful pistachios, thus transforming them into Pistachio-Orange Cookies which recently won the Minneapolis Star Tribune Holiday Cookie Contest. So proud! Out of 268 entries his won which was not surprising as I have often been on the receiving end of his exemplary cooking skills.

I loved the idea of orange + pistachios together so I made these cookies incorporating zingy Australian candied ginger, candied mixed peel (lemon and orange), and some chopped pistachios. The result is a crunchy exterior with a rich, chewy interior. Each bite yields varying flavors of spice, citrus and toasted nuts - such a great combination of holiday flavors.

A note about the candied ginger: the ginger I used here isn't the thin slices of crystallized ginger I was familiar with in the U.S. Instead, these are cubes of ginger with no exterior sugar visible, quite similar to dried fruit. I'm sure the crystallized ginger would work just fine.

For about 3 dozen cookies:
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup raw (or white) superfine (caster) sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped toasted pistachios
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger
  • 1/4 cup chopped candied citrus peel
  • 1/3 cup coarse sugar
Heat the oven to 350f (180c). In the bowl of a mixer, beat the butter and raw sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat again.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, ground ginger, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined. Add the pistachios, candied ginger and citrus peel and mix again.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a shallow bowl. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and then roll in the sugar. Place on the baking sheet, spacing the dough 3 inches apart. Bake in the center of the oven for 12-14 minutes until the tops crack and are slightly golden. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container for a week or freeze for up to a month.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Curried Chicken Satay

When M & I were eating our way through Singapore back in June, we sought out a hawker stand that apparently served the best Roti John anywhere around. Roti John is this incredibly simple, decadent sort of omelet sandwich which essentially consists of a French baguette coated in butter and then fried in onions and scrambled eggs. It was hot, eggy, crusty and just plain good. Served with sweet chili sauce and a few slices of cucumber, we ate it up quick. Even though we wanted to, the idea of getting another Roti John seemed a bit over the top so we surveyed the other food vendors and spotted some tasty looking satay.

This satay was slightly different from any version I had eaten in the U.S. and I detected that the subtle Indian curry flavor was what set it apart. There was less emphasis on the typical peanut flavors and more of a vibrant sweet curry essence that was really wonderful and aromatic.

This is my attempt at recreating those flavors and I think I did a pretty good job. I love the turmeric yellow the curry powder gives the chicken and the underlying hints of coconut, crunchy peanut butter and soy come together nicely. I let this marinate for a full 24 hours and it was fantastic. There's no doubt that this sauce would compliment tofu, pork, beef, or prawns as well. I didn't do it this go around but I can see saving a little of the marinade before the meat was added to dip the skewers in after they're grilled.

For 8 skewers:
  • 2 tablespoons chunky peanut butter
  • 3 ounces (80 ml) coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon sweet curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound (.5 kg) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
In a medium bowl stir together all the ingredients except the chicken. Set aside. Cut the chicken into bite-sized cubes and toss with the curry mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.

Thread the chicken onto about 8 skewers. Grill, turning occasionally over a medium-hot grill until evenly cooked and charred in some spots, about 7-8 minutes. Alternatively, the skewers can be cooked in batches in a hot non-stick skillet until browned on all sides and cooked through.

Serve the skewers with steamed jasmine rice, grilled asparagus, lime wedges, chopped chiles, and some fresh herbs such as mint, basil or --if you must--cilantro (but not near me, because I can smell it from here).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rhubarb Apple Crumble

When I was packing my things to move to Australia, I had to be judicious in what I chose to pack and ship because a journey halfway around the world is not cheap. This meant that I had to narrow down my cookbook collection to only those deemed absolutely essential. My friends eventually took pity on me and volunteered to spread out my "non-essential" (but still deeply loved) books amongst my friendship circle to mail to me later.

I opened my VIP cookbook box after it traveled by sea with my other things for nearly 3 months and pulled out The Country Cooking of Ireland by Colman Andrews which won the James Beard Award for cookbooks. I got it as a gift from my good friends E&B and I think it may be the most beautiful cookbook in my collection. It is one of those books that inspires with its beautiful photography capturing rustic meals, gorgeous landscapes and various Irish folks and food.

I plan on cooking my way through it and have already made several recipes including a Lettuce & Pea Soup, Salmon with Bacon, Cabbage and Cream, and Soda Bread. They were all delicious and used simple but excellent ingredients. The Rhubarb Ginger Crumble caught my eye and I revised it to include apples. I cut back on the sugar by a cup because it seemed like a scary amount and also added chopped walnuts to the topping.

The result was incredibly good. The ginger is the winning element here. It adds a great zing to the tart rhubarb, sweet apples, and buttery upper crust. Baked fruit desserts always smell so amazing as they cook and this recipe did just that. I ate it warm for dessert, cold for breakfast the next day, sneaked spoonfuls until it was gone and loved it every time.

For 8 servings:
  • 5 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 Fuji apples, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
  • 1½ cups + 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1½ cups flour
  • 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ½ cup finely chopped walnuts
  • Pinch of salt
Heat the oven to 375f (190c). In a large bowl combine the rhubarb, apple, ginger, and the 1½ cups sugar. Butter a large glass baking dish and spread the fruit evenly in it.

In another bowl, combine the flour and butter. With a pastry cutter, blend them together until pea-sized crumbs form. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, the walnuts and the salt. Distribute evenly over the fruit, pressing down slightly.

Place in the center of the oven and bake, until the fruit is bubbling and the top is golden - about 60-75 minutes. Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or plain in all its glory.

Adapted from the Rhubarb Ginger Crumble recipe in The Country Cooking of Ireland by Colman Andrews