Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My birthday dinner. :-)

My birthday was actually earlier this month, but I'm just now getting around to posting about it. Sorry that some of the photos are blurry. Dark restaurant, evening, no flash, etc.

This year, I chose to go to Ethan Stowell's Staple & Fancy Mercantile, specifically wanting to order their "Fancy" chef's choice meal. All this means is that you hand your menu back to the server and the kitchen decides what you will eat that night, based, of course, on their best dishes. This obviously doesn't work for people who have food issues, but it's great for me!

It was the second time I'd been there and was very good. The only criticism I had was that the starters all seemed to come out in a rush (I would have liked some time to savor each dish), so we felt like we had to devour it all quickly because it seemed like the food was coming out really fast. However, after we ate the starters in a hurry, we then had to wait...and wait...and wait... for the next course! That was kind of WTF. It would have even been fine for it to come out that way had we been told by the server that it was perfectly OK to linger over the food, that we could take our time with it. But anyway, the food itself was superb. I would definitely do the "Fancy" meal again in a heartbeat.


Sliced baguette with olive oil and vinegar for dipping.
Bread and Green Olives

Rich and buttery green olives. I wish gourmet olives weren't so salty, but these were better than most.
Green Olives

Ahi tuna crostini. The perfect amount of flavor, creaminess, and crunch.
Ahi Tuna Crostini

Thinly sliced beef tongue with a bit of salad garnish. Yummy.
Sliced Beef Tongue with Garnish

Deep-fried oysters with chili aioli. There are few things I enjoy more than a deep-fried oyster. Mmmmmm.
Deep-Fried Oysters with Chili Aioli

A steaming bowl of clams in a wine broth and plenty of parsley.
Steamed Clams

Radicchio salad. I liked it initially, then it got too bitter. This was probably the dish that was liked least by our table, because none of us are big fans of radicchio.
Radicchio Salad

Not pictured -- argh, I thought I had gotten photos of everything -- soft-cooked egg with white anchovy draped over the top. Delicious.

Pasta Course

Squash ravioli with little bits of squash and seasoned with brown butter and some cinnamon.
Squash Ravioli

Seafood Entree

Grilled opah. This is the first time I've had this fish, which was a firm, white fish like cod.
Grilled Opah

Meat Entree

Roasted chicken breasts on a bed of pureed parsnip. Really tender and full of flavor.
Roasted Chicken Breasts


Chocolate boudino with whipped cream. Much lighter than regular pudding. Really wonderful.
Chocolate Boudino

Ricotta cheesecake with figs and saba. This is the best plain cheesecake I've ever had. So light and creamy, without the denseness that cream cheese gives, nor the sometimes unpleasant (at least to me) after flavor. The photo doesn't do it justice at all (it's a creamy white in reality), but then cheesecake doesn't really look fancy anyway. If all cheesecakes were like this, I wouldn't be iffy about them.
Ricotta Cheesecake

Friday, November 25, 2011


I took the opportunity of Thanksgiving in the U.S. to make baklava for the first time. It was as many had told me -- much easier to make than it looks. I love the crispy phyllo dough and honey-drenched walnuts inside. The only true challenge was in not finishing the entire pan myself. Better still, baklava freezes well, so you can make a batch and enjoy it at your leisure. Or, I suppose, share it with others.


Simple though it is to make, there are a few things you can do to ensure a successful, not-soggy baklava. First, it's unnecessary to saturate the layers of phyllo with butter. A thin layer of butter suffices (but don't skimp, either). Toast the walnuts, or whatever combination of nuts you choose to use, beforehand. I've never encountered nuts in a recipe that wasn't greatly improved by toasting them first. Be sure to make the sauce first, so that it can be cooled while you're assembling the the baklava -- while you can certainly pour the sauce hot over the baklava, a cool sauce will help ensure that the phyllo stays crisp. Chop the nuts as fine as you can without turning them into powder. Finally, when you're cutting the baklava into triangles/squares, don't cut all the way down to the bottom, so the sauce soaks into more top layers. And yes, it is best to pre-cut the baklava. Once it's baked the phyllo will shatter at the slightest resistance, which makes for a much less attractive finish.

Just out of the oven.

After sauce as been poured over the top.

Full disclosure: This recipe was a bit sweet for me. I tend to like my sweets very easy on the sugar. Next time I'd probably make half the amount of syrup, or cut the sugar at least by that amount. I'd leave the honey as it is -- baklava should taste richly of honey.


  • 1 8oz package phyllo dough
  • 1/2 lb chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 tbsp honey
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the bottoms and sides of an 8x8-inch square pan.
  2. Toast the walnuts for 10 minutes.
  3. Make the sauce by boiling the sugar and water until the sugar is melted. Add the vanilla and honey, bring it to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Place this mixture directly into the refrigerator and get it cooling.
  4. Toss the chopped walnuts with the cinnamon and set aside.
  5. Unroll the phyllo dough. Cut the stack of sheets to fit your pan, or keep them intact and use the "fold over" method when layering (leaving the overhanging dough where it is, then folding over when a new layer is required).
  6. Layer two sheets of dough into the pan, then brush with the melted butter. Make sure you get the edges. You may need to occasionally reheat the butter in the microwave to ensure a liquid consistency. Repeat this layering until 8-10 sheets are layered.
  7. As evenly as possible, sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of the walnut mixture onto a buttered layer of phyllo. Top this with two sheets of dough, brush with butter, then repeat with the nuts and keep layering. The top layer should be 8-10 sheets.
  8. Use a sharp knife to cut the baklava into triangles or squares, nearly to the bottom of the pan.
  9. Bake for about 60 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
  10. Remove the baklava from the oven and pour the cooled sauce over it, getting it into every nook and cranny.
  11. Serve when completely cool.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Seastack Cheese

I recently bought a small wheel of my favorite cheese: Seastack, made by Mt. Townsend Creamery in Port Townsend, Washington, a great little place about 40 miles from Seattle.

Seastack Cheese

This is very indulgent of me, because eating a whole round of this cheese by myself is so decadent! Usually it's part of a cheese platter meant to be consumed by many more people.

Seastack Cheese

Seastack is a soft-ripened cheese, such as Brie or Camembert, but much more strongly flavored. It almost has hints of a bleu.

Seastack Cheese

In terms of texture, the cheese is semi-lactic, so it almost resembles velvety goat cheese.

Seastack Cheese and Sesame Melba

See how it's melty at the edges and firmer in the middle? This means it's at the perfect temperature to eat. I let it sit out for about 45 min after taking it from the fridge.

Serious Eats wrote about this cheese, and according to the writer, a New Yorker, Seastack is "one of the best American cheeses available." Because it's a small-batch local cheese, only those of us lucky enough to live in the Pacific Northwest get to eat it. :D "The flavor is mushroomy and even almost nutty -- seriously delicious." Needless to say... I agree!

Seastack Cheese and Sesame Melba

I'd love to hear about cheeses you enjoy, both local cheese and ones that are nationally available!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chicken Stew

This is a perfect stew to make during the in-between time of summer and autumn, when it's getting cold enough that you want to sit down in a pair of warm pajama bottoms with a bowl of hot stew, but still have the last of the fresh basil to finish from the garden. It's that time in Seattle already.

Chicken Stew

I love stew. Just saying the word can sometimes make me hungry. It connotes something warm, filling, and delicious, a concoction of all the things I like to eat. This is the first time I've ever tried making chicken stew, as I usually go for beef stew, but something about chicken stew called out to me, so I had to make it.


In my mind, I wasn't thinking the stew would have a tomatoey base, but this was a very highly rated recipe by Giada De Laurentiis -- and now I know why. It's fantastic, and hit just the right spot. I used chicken leg quarters instead of breasts as the original recipe called for, and I wasn't sorry at all. The only thing about the recipe is that it calls for fresh basil, which is a bit odd for a stew. Not that it's not good, but basil is a summer herb for most people and stew isn't usually something people crave when the sun's beating down on them during those hot summer months. In the wintertime, unless you have an indoor herb garden you'll probably have to make do with store-bought basil, or simply leave it out.

Chicken Stew (recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentiis)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 stalks celery, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 large carrot, or 2 small, peeled, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 14.5oz can chopped tomatoes and diced green chilies
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 3 chicken leg quarters, skin on
  • 1 15oz can organic kidney beans, drained (rinsed if not organic)


  1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven (or other heavy pot) over medium heat. Add the celery, carrot, and onion and saute the vegetables until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  2. Stir in the tomatoes with their juices, chicken broth, basil, tomato paste, bay leaf, and thyme. Add the chicken; press to submerge.
  3. Bring the cooking liquid to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently uncovered until the chicken is almost cooked through, turning the chicken over and stirring the mixture occasionally, about 25 minutes.
  4. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a work surface and cool for 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.
  5. Add the kidney beans to the pot and simmer until the liquid has reduced into a stew consistency, about 10 minutes.
  6. Discard the skin and bones from the chicken legs. Shred or cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Return the chicken meat to the stew, then bring the stew just to a simmer. Ladle in bowls and serve.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Strawberry Freezer Jam

Well, it's that time. Time to say goodbye to summer and all its wonderful produce. Like many, I want to preserve what I can, so that I can get a taste of summer in the long autumn and winter months to come. To that end, I've made a big batch of pesto (using walnuts instead of pine nuts, and without cheese) to freeze, and now also, strawberry jam.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

What's the difference between freezer jam and regular jam? Essentially, cooking. The former isn't cooked, so it tastes more like fresh fruit, but it also needs to be stored in the fridge or freezer due to its highly perishable nature (whereas properly cooked jam can be stored at room temperature in a cupboard).

Crushed Strawberries

If you have the room in your freezer, freezer jam is definitely the way to go. It not only tastes more like fresh fruit, but is much simpler to prepare. No canning equipment necessary. All you need is the fruit, pectin, sugar, and some clean jars. Because freezer jam is more perishable than its cooked counterpart, you want to store them in small jars, so they can be finished in a reasonable time.

Sure Jell - No Sugar Necessary

In order to control the sugar in your final jam, use "no sugar necessary" pectin, such as the Sure Jell kind I used. There may also be "freezer jam" pectins out there, but this one works for that purpose (the instructions include ones to make freezer jam). Using regular pectin would probably work, too, but if you're like me and don't like things to be overly sweet, you don't want to have to use a lot of sugar in order to activate the pectin. In fact, I actually used less than the instructions call for, which it explicitly warns not to do (so as not to compromise the jam setting). It worked fine for me -- I used just under 2 cups of sugar, though the instructions say to use 3 cups -- but your mileage may vary.

Sure Jell and Sugar

In order to make strawberry freezer jam, all you have to do is crush the fruit, heat up a sugar/pectin/water mixture, add one to the other, then ladle into clean jars. Couldn't be simpler. When you're heating up the pectin mixture, be sure to constantly stir. After it reaches a boil, you should let it boil for one full minute. It's considered boiling when you can't stir away the bubbles anymore.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

Let the filled jars sit on the counter at room temperature for 24 hours to let the jam set, then viola! Delicious, homemade jam. The jam can be stored in the freezer for 1 year (thaw in the fridge) or refrigerated for up to 3 weeks. Once you've opened a jar, use it up within a week. (That's why smaller jars are better.)

Strawberry Freezer Jam

The recipe that follows is specifically for strawberry jam -- and it's my reduced sugar version. Follow the instructions that come with the pectin for other fruit and best results.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

Makes about six 8oz jars of jam.

  • 4 cups (about a quart) strawberries, washed, hulled and crushed
  • 1 3/4 cup organic sugar
  • 1 package fruit pectin
  • 1 cup water
  1. Using a potato masher, crush the strawberries in a large bowl. Leave it as chunky as you like -- depends on if you like large pieces of fruit in your jam. Do NOT use a food processor; this will liquefy the fruit.
  2. In a large pot, mix the sugar together with the pectin until well combined. Add the water and stir. Heat over medium-high, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a FULL boil. Let it boil, stirring, for one full minute, then remove from heat.
  3. Carefully and quickly pour the crushed fruit into the pectin mixture and stir for one minute, until well combined.
  4. Ladle the jam into clean jars, leaving about 1/2-inch room at the top, then set the jars on a counter at room temperature for 24 hours. Store in freezer for 1 year (thaw in the fridge) or refrigerate for up to 3 weeks. Once you've opened a jar, use it up within a week.
Strawberry Freezer Jam

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I was introduced to this Jewish cookie this summer by my best friend. It hasn't been an easy summer for me, as my mom was going through some serious health issues (though she's thankfully a lot better now). One of the things my friend did to help keep me sane, other than just be there for me, was bring me treats. One of these treats was rugelach from a bakery near where she lives.

Raspberry Rugelach

I fell in love with them, especially the raspberry ones, and was determined to make my own. First, they were rather pricey. Second, they seemed pretty simple. And third, I needed to find a sure-fire way to be able to have them any time I wanted, once I left southern California.

Raspberry Rugelach Dough

I found plenty of recipes for rugelach online, but none of them seemed to fit the bill. Then, I was browsing a bookstore one day after returning to Seattle, and found The World of Jewish Cooking, by Gil Marks. In it was a recipe that I felt sounded very similar to the rugelach that I'd fallen in love with. And the pastry crust used cream cheese, which I already knew I was a fan of, from previous pie-making experiences.

Raspberry Rugelach

I am pleased -- and amazed -- to tell you that these homemade versions are even better than the ones from the bakery. I wish that happened more often! The only difference is in appearance -- rugelach are traditionally crescent shaped, while the bakery version sold them in squares. I followed the instructions to shape them into crescents, though it would be very easy to roll them into squares, instead. In fact, it would be a lot less time consuming.

Chocolate Rugelach

You can also shape the rugelach into small, medium, and large sizes -- I chose to make small, bite-sized ones; the recipe makes 64 bite-sized cookies, 48 medium-sized cookies, and 32 large cookies. Because you're working with four balls of dough, it's also easy to play around with fillings. I decided to make half raspberry and half chocolate (though to be honest, I still love the raspberry ones best). Also, for the filling, I used walnuts and granulated sugar, and omitted the optional raisins.

Rugelach (recipe from The World of Jewish Cooking by Gil Marks)


For the dough

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1/2 cup dried currants or raisins (optional)
  • 1/2 granulated sugar or brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • About 1 cup apricot jam, raspberry jam, strawberry jam, orange marmalade, or 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine, melted

  1. To make the dough: Beat together the butter, cream cheese, and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the salt. Gradually beat in the flour.
  2. Divide into 4 equal portions, form into balls, wrap, and refrigerate overnight. (For quicker use, place in the freezer for about 1 hour. The dough can be frozen for up to 4 months.) Let the dough stand at room temperature until workable.
  3. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  4. On a lightly floured surface or piece of waxed paper, roll out each piece of the dough into a 1/8-inch-thick round about 15 inches in diameter.
  5. To make the filling: Combine the nuts, currants or raisins, if desired, sugar, and cinnamon. Brush the dough rounds lightly with the jam, marmalade, butter, or margarine, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle evenly with the nut mixture.
  6. For large rugelach, cut each round into 8 wedges; for medium, cut into 12 wedges; for small, cut into 16 wedges. Roll up the wedges from the wide end toward the point, pinching the point to seal. Gently bend to form crescents. (The rugelach can be prepared ahead to this point and frozen for several months. Defrost before baking.)
  7. Place the rugelach on ungreased baking sheets. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let the cookies stand until firm, about 1 minute, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the freezer.
Variation: Chocolate rugelach: Substitute 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder for the cinnamon and brush the dough rounds with the 1/4 cup butter or margarine (not the jam).

Friday, September 9, 2011

Oven-Fried Paprika Chicken

Some might say that I'm obsessed with finding the perfect oven-fried chicken recipe. It comes from loving fried chicken ... like, a lot. The last time I tried this was in January, with Pat and Gina's Oven-Fried Chicken.

Oven-Fried Paprika Chicken

I'm back with another recipe, this time from Tomatilla. This one uses seasoned breadcrumbs instead of panko, and uses buttermilk to keep the chicken moist (which is also Alton Brown's method of making traditional fried chicken). It's definitely one of the best oven-fried chicken I've eaten.

Seasoned Breadcrumbs

Making seasoned breadcrumbs is quick and easy, and helps you use the last of that old bread that's not much good for anything else -- but you can also use prepared breadcrumbs if you like. But it should be noted that for the purpose of making oven-fried chicken it never tastes as good as fresh breadcrumbs, partly because the prepared kind is usually too evenly ground and pulverized to be interesting.

Oven-Fried Paprika Chicken

As with the Pat and Gina recipe, this one calls for removing the skin from the chicken. I (reluctantly) did so -- and was pleasantly surprised that the buttermilk did, in fact, help keep the chicken moist. The chicken is scored and seasoned, so that when you bite into it, your mouth is full of flavor.

Oven-Fried Paprika Chicken

Coat each chicken piece generously. Do it as quickly as you can, because you don't want the breadcrumbs to get too soggy. Be sure you oil both the pan and the tops of the chicken, to help it attain a crispy texture in the oven.

Oven-Fried Paprika Chicken (adapted from Tomatilla)

  • 1/4 of a loaf of dried-out old bread
  • 2 tbsp herbs de provence
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp ground pepper
  • 1 chicken (3-4lbs), cut into 8 pieces, or 8 pieces of assorted chicken parts
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 cup buttermilk

  1. Tear the bread into chunks, then pulverize in a food processor to get coarse breadcrumbs. Mix in the herbs de provence, garlic powder, salt, and pepper and pulse a few times to get it all evenly distributed.
  2. Remove the skin from the chicken and cut deep slashes to the bone in each piece.
  3. Put the chicken into a bowl and sprinkle the paprika over them. Rub thoroughly, making sure each piece gets some paprika, until it's evenly distributed. Pour in the buttermilk, making sure that each piece gets coated, and rub the buttermilk into the slashes. Let the chicken sit in the fridge for about an hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  5. Spray or otherwise oil a large baking sheet with canola or olive oil.
  6. Take each piece of chicken and coat it thoroughly in the crumb mixture. Place them in a single layer on the baking sheet.
  7. Drizzle or spray some oil onto each piece of chicken.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes, until the bottom starts to turn brown. Flip each piece over and bake another 15-20 minutes until the chicken is a golden brown all around. Check for doneness -- when you cut into a piece near the bone, the juices should run clear. If they're tinged pink, turn the pieces again and bake for another 5-10 minutes.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tomato-Braised Oxtail Pasta

Oxtail is one of my favorite cuts of beef. It's still called oxtail, though it no longer refers specifically to the tail of an ox, but all cattle. When you slow cook it, in soup or by braising, the meat becomes extremely tender (and flavorful, being so bony), with delicious melty gelatin.

Braised Ox Tail Pasta

If you've never had oxtail, give it a try. If you've only had it in soup, try braising it. Typically I braise oxtail Chinese style, with soy sauce as the base. But it's equally delicious using a more Mediterranean method, such as the one I'm sharing here.

When you purchase oxtail at the grocery store, it'll usually come pre-cut into several chunks, in roughly 2-pound packages. Select packages that have meatier chunks, with fewer small-boned pieces. The muscle should look as all good beef cuts look -- a nice red, not pink or dark or spotted. If you're in an Asian grocery store, the oxtail will sometimes be available whole; have the butcher cut one tail into pieces for you.

Braised Ox Tail Pasta

This is a good dish to prepare ahead of time, because the flavors only improve with time, and keeping it in the fridge overnight makes fat removal easier.

Tomato-Braised Oxtail Pasta (a variation on Pioneer Woman's Short Ribs in Tomato Sauce recipe)

  • 2 lbs ox tail, cut into pieces
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 28oz can whole tomatoes
  • 1 14oz can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
  2. Generously season the oxtail pieces with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the oxtail, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
  3. Toss the garlic and onions into the pot. Cook, stirring, for two minutes, then add tomatoes, tomato sauce, sugar, wine, red pepper flakes, and thyme. Combine.
  4. Carefully place the oxtail back into the pot, covering the pieces with as much of the sauce as possible. Cover the pot and place it onto the middle rack in the oven. Cook for about 4 hours, at which time the meat should be very tender and will separate from the bone at the slightest provocation.  Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.
  5. If you're ready to serve, use a spoon to remove as much of the accumulated oil as possible (one of those fat separators might also work). Or you can remove the oxtail from the pot, place them in a separate container, and refrigerate. Do the same with the pot of sauce, though you can keep the sauce in the same pot. After a few hours, the fat will be hardened and easily removed. Then reheat the sauce with the saved oxtail in it.
  6. Serve over your favorite long pasta, with chopped fresh parsley to garnish if you desire, and parmesan cheese.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Chinese-Style Sweet Pork Jerky

I never thought the day would come when I'd make my own sweet pork jerky, a favorite treat of mine growing up. Well, my friends, that day has come. And once again, it was SO MUCH EASIER than I thought it would be.

Sweet Pork Jerky

Sweet pork jerky, made in thin sheets, is a popular snack food in Chinese culture. In Cantonese my parents called it "ju yok gon" (literally, "pig meat dried"). In Hokkien, it's known as "bak kwa." There's also a beef version, but I like pork better. And with pork, there are two variations, one made from slicing off solid blocks of meat, and one made from minced meat. I like them both, though the latter is easier to prepare at home, and is also easier on your teeth.

Sweet Pork Jerky

The recipe calls for finely ground granulated sugar, which I grind up in a coffee bean grinder (but not for too long, or the heat will make the sugar melt!) that I reserve for such use. You can also use Baker's Sugar if you have that lying around or don't mind buying it. This ultra-fine sugar dissolves easily.

Sweet Pork Jerky

One thing I've found with homemade pork jerky is that once I've stored it in the fridge (which I have to do, because I can't and shouldn't eat an entire batch in one go), a very slight layer of fat from the meat appears on the jerky, hardening in the cold and making it lose its customary shine. This is solved by reheating, either in the microwave or the toaster oven. Commercial pork jerky doesn't seem to have this problem, but I assume it's due to additives/preservatives. It helps to pat down the jerky with some paper towels after it's done to soak up excess grease (as you would pizza), but it's not foolproof.

Obviously the solution is to have your family and friends enjoy the jerky fresh. They'll be amazed!

Sweet Pork Jerky

Chinese-Style Sweet Pork Jerky

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1/2 cup finely ground granulated sugar (Baker's Sugar)
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice wine
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
  • 4 drops of red food coloring (optional)
  1. Combine marinade ingredients (all except the pork) in a medium bowl or large freezer bag and mix well.
  2. Add the ground pork, mix it well with your hands or a wooden spoon, and let it marinate overnight (or at least 4 hours).
  3. Preheat the oven to 200°F.
  4. Using canola oil spray, lightly grease an 11 x 17" baking sheet.
  5. Spread the pork mixture onto the sheet as thinly as possible. You should be able to cover the entire sheet.
  6. Place the sheet in the oven on the middle rack. Close the oven door, but leave it slightly ajar -- you can close the door on a wooden spoon, for example. This will allow the steam from the meat to escape, drying it out. Cook for an hour.
  7. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and prep your broiler -- set it to "high" or about 450°F.
  8. Meanwhile, carefully lift the pork up off the sheet and flip it over -- the top of the jerky will appear drier than the bottom, so we want to give the bottom a chance to dry out as well.
  9. Place the sheet under the broiler and broil for about 4 minutes, until the meat just starts to blacken around the edges (or if you don't like the char, as I do, watch it carefully after every minute). The meat should look shiny.
  10. Remove the sheet from the broiler, carefully flip the jerky over again, then broil another 4 minutes (or to your preference) on the other side.
  11. Using tongs, place the jerky onto a wire rack to cool, using a pan or towels below it to catch drippings. If you desire, you can use paper towels to blot out extra grease.
  12. When completely cool, use kitchen shears to cut the jerky into desired shapes. Keep uneaten portion in the fridge.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lovely Lemon Cakes (Game of Thrones)

I'm a huge fan of HBO's Game of Thrones ... and an even bigger fan of the original book series by George R. R. Martin. If you've read the series, you know that food is sort of a "recurring character." Many times, GRRM's descriptions of the lavish feasts that the characters partake in have caused some near-drooling experiences. In fact, a couple of fans have gone so far as to create a food blog based on the series!

Lemon Cakes

I am not quite that ambitious. But when I saw that HBO had actually released a recipe for lemon cakes (based on a recipe by Tom Colicchio), a favorite treat throughout Westeros, particularly enjoyed by Sansa Stark, well... I had to give it a try.

Guess what? They're delish. Light, sweet, and creamy. Though the recipe seems to indicate that they should be served warm, I actually preferred them once they'd chilled in the fridge over night.

I used slightly larger ramekins than was called for, so my lemon cakes look shorter and flatter. They're actually quite small. What I love about them is that after baking, they layer themselves. When you unmold, you should see that a cake layer has formed at the "bottom," with a creamy middle, topped by an almost jelly-like top. These layers are more visible when you use a small ramekin, so that they're given some height. Still, even in my shorter versions you can see that there are layers. I garnished mine for aesthetic purposes, but they don't really need it.

"Gods be true, Arya, sometimes you act like such a child," Sansa said. "I'll go by myself then. It will be ever so much nicer that way. Lady and I will eat all the lemon cakes and just have the best time without you."

The HBO recipe is extremely concise and isn't big on detail. I sort of muddled through it, hoping the right things were happening, but it wasn't until the end that I knew I'd done it correctly. I've tried to make their recipe clearer with my adaptation below.

Lovely Lemon Cakes (adapted from HBO's recipe)

  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus more for dusting ramekins
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 3 tbsp plus 1 tsp all-purpose flour
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Finely chopped zest of 1 1/2 lemons
  • 1 kettle hot water
  1. Heat the oven to 300°F. Butter and lightly sugar 6 4-ounce ramekins. Also, set a kettle of water to boil.
  2. Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks, then set them aside. Make sure you've caught all the whites that may have settled to the bottom of the bowl.
  3. Sift the sugar with the flour and salt.
  4. In a mixer, using the whisk attachment, combine the buttermilk, lemon juice, egg yolks and lemon zest.
  5. Gradually add the flour mixture, until combined.
  6. Fold in the egg whites. The resulting mixture may not look fully homogeneous; that's OK.
  7. Divide the batter between the prepared ramekins.
  8. Pour the kettle of hot water into a large pan with raised sides (be careful!).
  9. Place the ramekins into the hot water bath, making sure that the water comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the whole thing with aluminum foil and carefully place the pan into the oven.
  10. Bake until the cakes rise and are almost firm, about 25 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking until the tops are lightly golden and the cakes spring back when touched, about 15 minutes more.
  11. Unmold and serve immediately, or unmold and chill in the fridge until ready to eat.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New York Steak and Quick-Roasted Potatoes

It's been a busy time at work for me, so cooking elaborate (or even not-so-elaborate) meals for myself has definitely not been a possibility. That's why I'm here to tell you about one of my favorite "quick" meals, which can be prepared in about 30 minutes. I know, I know, Jamie Oliver can prepare a 4-course meal in that amount of time, but I'm no Jamie Oliver. I do, however, take advantage of his trick with quick-roasted potatoes to make this meal!

New York Steak and Quick-Roasted Potatoes

First, I want to share my favorite way of preparing great steak in your oven. It's actually my dad's method, and if grilling's out, this is the next-best thing, especially because it's not fussy at all. First, marinate your steak. I basically rub sugar, seasoned salt, pepper, and soy sauce over both sides, then let it sit in a baggie or on a plate. When you're ready, stick the steak on a pan -- I used cast iron this time -- and place it directly under your broiler. Turn it up to about 450°F, or "high." You do not need to preheat (I know, isn't it awesome?). For a steak about an inch thick, cook for about 8 minutes. Flip the steak over, then cook for another 6 minutes for medium rare steak, or until the meat is how you'd like it. Note that cooking times will also vary depending on the thickness of your steak and if you use cast iron. If you do use cast iron, it may cook a lot faster, so you'll want to adjust times accordingly. Once the steak is out of the oven, transfer it to a plate and let it sit for 5 minutes to allow the juices to settle.

New York Steak

While the steak is marinating, make the quick-roasted potatoes a la Jamie Oliver. Quarter 6-8 red potatoes. If the potatoes are large, cut them into sixths or even eighths. Place them in a deep pan and cover with water. Turn the heat up to high and get the water boiling. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender enough for a fork to pierce them easily. Drain the water. Return the potatoes in the pan back to the stove over medium heat. Add some canola or olive oil, salt to taste, and about a tablespoon of butter. Cook for 2 minutes. Use a metal turner and stir up the potatoes without breaking them. They may stick a bit; that's good, it means they'll be turning nice and brown. Turn them every 2 minutes. Depending on your heat, this will take 20-25 minutes. If you've timed things right, they should be done about the same time as the steak.

Quick-Roasted Potatoes

You can also fancy things up a bit, if you like ... for instance, I had some homemade herb butter, so I placed a dab of that on top of the steak when it was having its rest. I also had some cherry tomatoes I needed to use up and some caramelized onions I'd made the other day, so I threw those in with the potatoes in the last 5 minutes or so.

And don't let those steak drippings go to waste; that would be a crime! Transfer them to a small pan (or if you used a cast-iron pan, just use that) and set over medium heat. Add a tablespoon or two of flour and cook for a minute or two, stirring. Gradually add about a cup and a half of beef stock (in my case, made in 30 seconds with Better than Bouillon beef base), stirring constantly, for a wonderfully rich brown gravy. Serve with steak and potatoes or reserve for another use!

A very quick, delicious, and satisfying meal.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Restaurant-Style Cha-Siew

You may or may not remember that I was not thrilled with my first attempt at "cha-siew," Cantonese-style BBQ pork. My primary issue with the recipe was that the sauce, while good, caused the meat to have more of a soy-sauce flavor, when more authentic cha-siew has more of a sweet flavor. I also wanted to create acceptable results with an oven (rather than a grill).

Cha Siew - Chinese BBQ Pork

To that end, I adapted a few recipes I found online and made various adjustments to achieve the results I wanted -- with great success! I'm happy to say that this attempt resulted in cha-siew that is very close to version you'd get in a Cantonese BBQ restaurant.

Cha Siew - Chinese BBQ Pork

Proper cha-siew is traditionally made with maltose, which is malt sugar. According to Wikipedia, it's half as sweet as glucose and one-sixth as sweet as fructose. If you only needed sweetness, maltose might not be necessary, but it also adds a very specific sheen and gloss that substitutes like honey just can't duplicate. The texture of maltose is extremely thick -- it's about ten times thicker than honey; it's hard to get a spoon into it, and when you pull it out, it peaks and hardens very quickly. So if you can find it, I'd recommend using it over a substitute. I found a small tub of maltose next to the honey at my local 99 Ranch.

Cha Siew - Chinese BBQ Pork

The first time I made cha-siew, I used pork leg. This time, I used pork butt (which is a cut from the shoulder... yeah, I don't know how these names happen). They both worked fine, though if pushed I'd say I liked the leg better. Maybe. Anyway, either works fine. Just don't use pork loin, which is less tender and flavorful, and less forgiving when you cook it.

Restaurant-Style Cha-Siew

  • 1lb pork butt or leg, sliced horizontally into 1 1/2-inch hunks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2½ tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp maltose (or honey if you must)
  • 1 tbsp Chinese rose wine ("mui guay lo")
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp 5 spice powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 6 drops red food coloring (optional)

  1. Wash the pork and remove skin and really large chunks of fat.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients except for the pork and the food coloring. Heat the marinade only until the sugar (and maltose, if using) dissolves. If it gets too hot, cool it to room temperature. Add food coloring, if using.
  3. Put the pork in a container that fits it snugly (I just used the plastic bag that it came in from the butcher's), then pour the marinade on top. Let this marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Try to ensure that all the surface areas get some marinade.
  4. Remove the pork from the fridge about 40 minutes before cooking, to allow it to return to room temperature.
  5. Preheat the oven to 410°F.
  6. Line a roasting pan with foil (for easy clean up). Place a wire rack on top of the foil. Lay the pork on the rack. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes.
  7. Pour the marinade into a medium saucepan, remove the chunks of garlic and heat to boiling, then keep simmering at a low heat to reduce the sauce. It's been sitting with raw pork so you want to make sure to kill all the microbes. Dirty foam will float to the top; skim this off and discard.
  8. After roasting for 15 minutes, baste the pork with the marinade and turn it over. Reduce the heat to 360°F and roast for another 15 minutes. (If you chose to use tenderloin despite my dire warning not to, it might be done now.)
  9. Baste the pork without turning and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. In the last 4 minutes, put the pork under the broiler, 2 minutes for each side, basting each time. That will give it a nice, pretty charred look that's characteristic of cha-siew.
  10. Remove the pork from the oven. By now the foil will be covered with raised black bits and you'll be very glad you used it. Baste both sides of the meat again with the reduced sauce, and let it sit on the wire rack for 10 minutes undisturbed before slicing. Serve with the sauce.