Monday, April 30, 2007

Cold Noodles with Sesame or Peanut Sauce

From How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.

Noodles with peanut sauce are much more commonly found these days than when I first discovered them right after college. It is hard to deny their versatility since you can use them for an appetizer, for a main dish (whether vegetarian or with something like shredded chicken added). Have chopped garnishes such as cucumber, romaine, or radishes to toss with the noodles and add textural contrast. I also serve these hot much of the time.

And they are much simpler than many people would credit.

12 ounces fresh egg noodles, or any dried noodles, such as spaghetti
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1/2 cup sesame paste (tahini) or natural peanut butter (I use Jiff, the variation with less sugar)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice or wine vinegar
Hot sesame oil, chili-garlic sauce, Tabasco, or other hot sauce to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
At least 1/2 cup minced scallions for garnish

Cook the noodles in boiling salted water until tender but not mushy. Drain, then rinse in cold water for a minute or two. Toss with half the sesame oil and refrigerate up to 2 hours, or proceed with the recipe.

Beat together the tahini or peanut butter, sugar, soy sauce, and vinegar. Add a little hot sauce and salt and pepper; taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Thin the sauce with hot water, so that it is about the consistency of heavy cream (I usually make this while the noodles are cooking so I just dip the hot water out of the pasta pot).

Toss together the noodles and the sauce, and add more of any seasoning if necessary. Drizzle with the remaining sesame oil, garnish, and serve.

Noodles with Bean-Paste Meat Sauce

From "The Key to Chinese Cooking" by Irene Kuo

As with most Asian recipes, the ingredients list can be intimidatingly long but this does not mean the recipe is complicated. It is simply a matter of preparing a meat sauce, cooking noodles and cutting vegetables, all of which can be done ahead of time.

"The Key to Chinese Cooking" is the cookbook I used to learn Chinese cooking. Despite the plethora of Chinese cookbooks that followed this one remains my favorite both for technique and recipes. If you are at all interested in Chinese cooking I strongly urge you to seek it out at used bookstores.

1 pound noodles, boiled

Garnish:
1 large firm, slender cucumber
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
2 cups shredded* romaine lettuce
1-1/2 cups shredded* celery
4 large cloves garlic, minced or mashed
1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 pound ground pork (I often use ground beef instead)
4 tablespoons oil (I often omit this and just cook the meat alone)
1 large scallion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dry sherry

Sauce:
5 tablespoons bean paste (I use black bean sauce which is widely available and add a pinch of sugar as Kuo suggests for a substitution)
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup water

To Make Noodles:
Cook fresh noodles or spaghetti or linguine according to the instructions. Rinse, drain, and set aside. Toss with a little sesame oil to keep them from sticking together. When ready to serve, either reheat in microwave or plunge them into a pot of boiling water to boil briefly till hot and drain well.

To Prepare Garnishes:
Cut off the ends and peel the cucumber; halve and deseed it. Cut the halves diagonally into 1-1/2-inch-long slices, then shred* them. Rinse and drain the bean sprouts. Parboil them in boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain into a colander and spray with cold water. Drain well.

Separate lettuce leaves; rinse and shake dry. Cut the larger leaves in half lengthwise; then shred them crosswise thin. Cut the tender core diagonally into thin slices and then shred* these.

Wash, scrape, then cut the celery stalks diagonally into thin slices, shred the slices thin. rinse in cold water and drain well.

Crush and peel the garlic; then either mince it or mash it in a garlic press. Mix with the sesame oil in a small dish.

Put each vegetable in a separate serving dish. If doing this step in advance, cover the dishes and refrigerate. Bring out just before serving.

To Make Meat Sauce:
March-chop** the pork a few times to loosen its formation. Place it with the finely chopped scallions on a platter. Combine the sauce ingredients and stir well.

Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot; add the 4 tablespoons oil, swirl and heat for 30 seconds. Turn heat to medium and add the meat, stirring briskly in poking and pressing motions until the meat separates. Scatter in the scallions and stir a few times; then add the sherry and stir rapidly to mingle. Give the sauce ingredients a big stir, pour over the meat and stir to even out the contents.

Turn heat to low to maintain a gentle simmering, and simmer for 10 minutes or until the sauce has thickened, stirring now and then. At this point, add a little sugar if the sauce needs it -- it should be on the salty side with a subtle sweet aftertaste.

Turn the heat high, add the sesame oil, and give a few fast folds before pouring into a serving dish. The sauce may be made ahead of time, covered and chilled. Reheat over very low heat just before serving.

To Serve:
Place the vegetable garnishes in a circle in the center of the table with the hot meat sauce in the middle. Pile the hot noodles on a platter or in a deep bowl. Serve the noodles to each person and let him or her spoon on a little sauce and a sprinkling of vegetable garnishes. The mixture should be tossed well before being eaten. Serves 6-8 generously.

*"Shredding" is cutting ingredients into uniform strips about the size of wooden matchsticks.

** "March-chop" is a polishing finish for refining hand-minced meats or loosening the tight formation of machine-ground meats. Gather minced or ground meat into a flat pile; chop with a cleaver or big knife, straight up and down from one end of the pile to the other a few times. Then flip the pile over with the side of the cleaver and chop now at 90 degrees to the first row a few times.

Friday, April 27, 2007

When Kosher Kitchens are Updated

In kosher Jewish homes, milk and meat products are never eaten, served or prepared together. That edict requires two sets of dishes and utensils – one for food that includes milk as an ingredient, one for meat – and separate cabinet storage.

There's more than one way to keep that separation. The simplest: Install a double sink and dedicate one side for milk, the other for meat. Countertops can be covered with a sheet of foil when preparing food, replacing the foil when the cook switches from dairy to meat. When space and budget allow, however, there are a number of products and strategies that add a great look and save time.
The whole story is at the Dallas Morning News (free registration required). I never would have thought of all the little things that must be taken into account or all the modern conveniences available to make it possible. I mean, not being able to let the refrigerator light go on when you open it up?

Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?

I love New Orleans and nothing is more evocative of it to me than wandering down on in the morning to Cafe du Monde for some beignets and chicory coffee.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thought for Food

Thanks to Tim. I love this quote!
Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.
Alice May Brock, author

Potato Chowder

It isn't cold enough here in Texas for this delicious looking chowder from my friend Marcia, but I bet there are some cold spells going through further north. If so, give this a try
Here is the recipe....I should say list of ingredients. Everything is according to how much you make and how much seasoning you prefer. I had forgotten it was this way.

Potato Chowder

(approximate measurements)
potatoes - peeled and diced, 5 lbs.
onion diced, 2 medium
celery chopped, 4 stalks w/chopped leaves
carrots sliced in small pieces, 1 lb.
butter, 1 stick
parsley chopped as a condiment w/serving
grated cheese, 1-1/2 cups
cream style corn, 1 can
milk, 16 ozs.or more w/ some cream
bacon, 1/2 to 1lb., fried crisp and crumbled

Cover potatoes, onion, carrots, celery, salt and pepper with water and cook until tender(really falling apart) add butter, milk, cheese and simmer until cheese and butter melt and flavors blend. (Stirring periodically.) Add bacon and parsley, after blending all the other ingredients with electric stirring stick or hand mixer. This is a very hearty soup. Enjoy!

Travel and Food ... the Perfect Match

Justin sent me this heads up about Food Tours which makes it all too easy to eat your way through some great destinations. At least they're walking tours ... so you have a way to work it off at the same time.

We do all too little traveling but if Rose winds up in Chicago for college, I can see a walking tour in my future...
I realized that you - and your readers - might appreciate our Food Tours page, which profiles five terrific culinary walking tours from around the country. From the page, you can click to read thousands of unedited reviews written by people who have been on the tours.

Every tour is owned and operated by an individual who shares your passion for great food. Kelly, Michele, Shane, Shirley, and Todd are experts on the culinary specialties of their respective cities, and each is dedicated to sharing that knowledge with others. These tours and individuals also represent what we at Zerve are all about: connecting customers searching for great ways to spend their time with providers of unique, high quality, local activities, such as food tours, sailing trips, and interactive theater, among others.

Three of the tours were recently featured in an AP article that ran in a variety of news outlets, including USA Today, MSNBC and CNN.com. As you can see, USA Today included a link to this page, titled "U.S. food tours", in this article.

Guess What Happens ...

... when you make a special folder for your "blogging" emails to go into?

First, you put all sorts of interesting things in there "for later" and then you forget it existed.

I found all sorts of good things there when I rediscovered it today ... which I am going to share ASAP!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Coconut Crunchies


This cookie recipe from Janet Sheppard in Plano, Texas, won second place in the bar cookies category last December in the Dallas Morning News annual cookie contest.

I had been waiting for a good excuse to try them out so I made them for our book club meeting last night. They were greeted with cries of delight and second ... and third ... helpings.

They are really easy. Give them a try.

Coconut Crunchies

1-1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar (divided use)
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons flour (divided use)
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1-1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup chopped blanched almonds
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a bowl with a fork, stir together 1/2 cup of the brown sugar, 1 cup of the flour and the butter until the mixture is combined well.

Press the mixture evenly onto the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking pan, and bake in the middle of the oven to 10 minutes.

In the same bowl, with a fork, combine the remaining 1 cup brown sugar, the remaining 3 tablespoons flour, coconut, almonds, eggs, vanilla and salt; blend well.

Spread the coconut mixture evenly over the crust and bake for 20 minutes, or until it is pale golden. Cut the mixture into 48 bars and let the bars cool completely in the pan on a rack. Makes 48 bars.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

April is Grilled Cheese Month


Or so says Monkey. Take a look at the detailed instructions to get the perfect grilled cheese sandwich (though being a traditionalist, I go with American cheese).

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Take a Ride on the Lardwagon

... Despite their very different appearances at room temperature, some of them are not all that different, chemically, from liquid oils.

Lard, for example, contains less than 50 percent saturated fat and has nearly as much monounsaturated fat as canola oil. And it tastes infinitely better than canola oil.
As I've been saying for some time.

Culinate gives us the skinny (pardon the expression) on solid fats. (Liquid oils were discussed previously here.)

Deep in the Heart of Texas: Homesick Texan

When I moved to Texas, oh so long ago, and began exploring the traditional cooking I discovered that I really had my work cut out for me. The state is so large that there are numerous microcosms for food styles. Traditional Southern cooking, coastal specialties, cowboy cooking, barbecue, Tex-Mex, German and Czech (yes, you read that right ... where do you think that chicken fried steak probably came from? Not to mention Elgin sausages.).

Therefore, it is a real pleasure to find cookbooks that understand the various facets of all the things that make Texas cooking unique. I'm going to be sharing a few of my favorite resources with y'all, beginning with Homesick Texan.

She's living in New York but dreams of finding the perfect refried beans and flour tortillas. As she perfects her recipes she shares them along with a generous heaping of food history and Texiana. If you want to know more about the myriad foodways of Texas, her most recent visit home will give you a sampling.

Monday, April 09, 2007

I Need to Make Fruit Salad More Often

I did a lot of cooking for Easter.

I baked a Kuby's double smoked ham (butt end) on the bone. With this I also served:
And then I set out various mustards and some sweet-hot pickles.

Everything disappeared at a good rate, except the fruit salad. I was surprised at that. I thought it looked pretty and tempting. Ah well. Their loss.

I brought some for lunch and I almost couldn't quit eating in time to save Tom's share.

My method for fruit salad is always the same.
  1. Choose your fruit. (I picked a fresh pineapple and some tart but sweet purple seedless grapes.)
  2. Cut it up. I cut the pineapple in chunks and halved the grapes (thinking that some grape juice would make a nice flavoring).
  3. Mix in the juice of half a tart orange, some sugar to taste and a little orange liqueur (we had Cointreau on hand).
This is probably the most off-the-cuff thing that I make and based on my lunch experience I definitely have to get back in the habit. There is something about the variety and contrasts that is so much more appealing than an apple by itself.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Great Spaghetti Harvest

"The spaghetti harvest here in Switzerland is not, of course, carried out on anything like the tremendous scale of the Italian industry," Dimbleby informed the audience. "Many of you, I'm sure," he continued, "will have seen pictures of the vast spaghetti plantations in the Po valley. For the Swiss, however, it tends to be more of a family affair."

"Another reason why this may be a bumper year lies in the virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil, the tiny creature whose depredations have caused much concern in the past."
Probably the best April Fool's joke ever pulled, courtesy of a BBC "documentary" in 1957 which showed a Swiss family harvesting their spaghetti from trees. This joke was so successful that callers were eager to learn how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this the BBC reportedly replied that they should "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."Read more here.