Friday, January 31, 2014

Sweet Sour Spicy Quickled Baby Bok Choy

Invariably when I use the word "quickle," someone will comment on how brilliant a portmanteau (<--- new word for me) it is. Alas, I cannot take credit. I heard it on an episode of Chopped and also thought it brilliant. ;)

Yesterday when I was making carnitas for dinner, I took the other half of the pork butt and made Vietnamese Caramelized Pork of it in a tagine in the oven, which is a great low maintenance way to stew or braise meats to a melty tenderness. That Vietnamese Caramelized Pork, along with steamed jasmine rice, will be our dinner tonight.

To cut some of the fattiness of the pork and to provide a flavor and textural contrast, I'm taking some baby bok choy that's held up remarkably well for the past 3 weeks in the fridge and making a sweet, sour and spicy quickle of it.

Any leftovers will be perfect for the whole, head-on Vietnamese Steamed Chicken I'm making with LAM tomorrow for Tet. This would also be delicious served aside satay skewers, or eaten with ramen or a cold Asian style noodle salad.

Sweet Sour Spicy Quickled Baby Bok Choy

Makes about 1.5 cups
Time: About 45 minutes, but only about 15 minutes active time

You can also make this recipe with regular bok choy or Napa cabbage.

- 6 cups baby bok choy that's been sliced into roughly 1/3" strips on the diagonal (this was about 3 medium heads of baby bok choy, whatever the size of the baby bok choy heads, you'll want to measure out 6 cups of it to work with the rest of the measurements)

- 2.5 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 to 1.5 Tablespoons sugar
- 1.5 to 2 Tablespoons distilled white vinegar
- 1 to 1.5 Tablespoons chili garlic paste or sambal oelek (you can use sriracha in a pinch)

Optional (and delicious) additions:

- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- toasted sesame seeds for garnish

1) In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the bok choy with the salt and toss thoroughly. Let it sit for 30 minutes to extrude water, re-tossing once or twice during this time to make sure the salt is redistributed.

2) After 30 minutes, you'll see quite a bit of water has extruded from the bok choy. Take the bok choy in large handfuls and squeeze firmly in a two-handed fist to press out the excess liquid and set aside in another bowl. This salting, extruding and squeezing process is what lends the bok choy that lovely pickled crunch. :)

3) Add the remainder of the ingredients, starting at the lower end of the measurements and mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes and serve.

Leftovers can keep refrigerated in a tight lidded container for up to a week.

Enjoy. :)


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Basic Asian Dumpling Filling Recipe

As promised in last night's Asian Style Dumpling & Potsticker Cooking Hangout... (cooking starts @ 3:45 marker)

...a fairly basic Asian Style Dumpling filling recipe! You can watch the video for filling and folding instructions, or check out LAM's Mandoo (Mandu) Recipe for filling and folding instructions as well as cooking instructions. :)

Basic Asian Style Dumpling/Potsticker Filling
Fills at least 100 Dumplings/Potstickers

- 1 pound ground meat (pork, chicken, beef or turkey are all fine)*
- 1 Tablespoon oil
- 1/4 medium head green cabbage, finely chopped
- 1/2 a medium onion, minced
- 1 medium carrot, minced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large green onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup boiled, rinsed and well drained Asian vermicelli or glass noodles, chopped in 1/4" pieces (shirataki noodles also work - they usually come precooked so just drain them very well before chopping. If you can't find any of the above, you can just omit the noodles and use just a little less soy sauce for seasoning to start.)
- 3 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- salt if needed to adjust seasoning

* If you'd like to go meatless, a pound of firm tofu that's been crumbled and drained overnight in a fine sieve plus a large egg, whisked, can substitute

1) In a large saute pan preheated to medium and oiled with 1 Tablespoon of oil, sweat the cabbage, onion, carrot, and garlic until the cabbage and onions are translucent and the pieces of carrot are tender, stirring occasionally. This should take 12 to 15 minutes.

Spread the veg on a plate and let it cool.

2) In a large mixing bowl, combine all the other ingredients with the veg mixture gently and thoroughly until everything's been evenly mixed and incorporate. Adjust seasoning if needed.

And that's it! Some basic dumpling filling that can be used for wontons, mandoo, gyoza, eggrolls...

Leftovers make great meatballs or meat patties that you can fry up and make into loco moco if you'd like. :)


Saturday, January 25, 2014

How To Get A Beautiful Brown Crust On Your Shrooms

Pan fried button mushrooms and onions ready for this morning's 2-egg omelettes along with the last of the Cheddar in the fridge...

While we loosely use the term saute to describe the cooking process by which we cook smaller pieces of ingredients over relatively high heat and move them around from time to time, if you like the intense mushroom flavor and meaty texture that result from that lovely brown crust,  you actually need to do something closer to plain ol' frying than sauteing in order to achieve it.

Sauteing (from the French sauter meaning to jump) is actually something closer to stir frying in which the food is constantly being redistributed on the cooking surface to benefit from high heat cooking without burning.

In the case of mushrooms, which are deceptively high in water content, too much jostling actually results in the release of quite a bit of moisture, which ends up creating more of a steaming than frying process. That moisture prevents a good crust from forming.

Long story short? If you want a lovely brown crust on your mushrooms, use slightly higher than medium high heat (preheated pan of course) and a reasonable amount of oil, and let them sit long enough on one side to form that crust before you redistribute them, then repeat. That way, the water that is released as they cook is immediately evaporated by the high surface heat, which is much more conducive to the sear you want.

Hope this was helpful! :)


P.S. Salting at the very end also prevents extrusion of excess liquid during the cooking process.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Vietnamese Street Tacos

Sometimes I take for granted how lucky I am to have been exposed to all kinds of food, even if some of them minimally, in my life. Growing up in an ethnically diverse pocket of Southern California certainly helped as did a generally curious and adventurous appetite that often inspired long drives (and sometimes even flights) away from that pocket to taste what couldn't be tasted where I lived.

There was no major food culture from which I couldn't get at least a decent sampling, and less represented ones, while requiring a little more research and legwork, were there for the discovering if I dared.

Having sampled so many delicious things from many different places, and having learned how to cook quite a few of them, I've observed that, as with so much about the human condition, there is often much more similarity and overlap across food cultures than we might recognize through our initial fascination with what is foreign and exotic to us.

And all that exposure, while humbling in the sense that you begin to realize you will never learn everything there is to know, is also comforting in the sense that you begin to pick up similar concepts, techniques, and flavor profiles that have managed to inform the cuisines of your fellow human beings everywhere.

So while the usage of the word "fusion" in the culinary sense often makes me cringe in the same way "foodie" and "gourmet" do, the truth is that fusion is a naturally occurring thought process that begins to take hold as you widen your culinary horizons.

At its best, fusion is an exercise in supplementing, substituting, contrasting and complementing ingredients and ideas without the restriction of boundaries and yet with a wonderful awareness that you have hopefully managed to integrate two or more cultures beautifully, harmoniously, deliciously, if only on a plate.

I hope that's what you'll discover when you take a bite of these Vietnamese Street Tacos - a charred corn tortilla filled with the sweet-savory umami of Vietnamese Caramelized Pork, the sweet-tangy crunch of Vietnamese pickled carrots and radish, the creamy-tangy heat of a Mexican-inspired Habanero Lime Garlic Crema, and the zip of some beautiful jewel-toned Ecuadorean style pickled red onions.

Vietnamese Street Tacos
Makes at least 12 tacos
Time: 90 to 120 minutes

To make these tacos, you will need (click links for component recipes - I recommend printing them all out to compile your grocery list):

- Vietnamese Caramelized Pork

- Cebollas Rojas Encurtidas (Ecuadorean Style Pickled Red Onions)

- Do Chua (Vietnamese Pickled Carrots & Radish)

- Habanero Lime Garlic Crema

- chopped cilantro and thinly sliced red and/or green cabbage (about half a small head's worth), and Huy Fong sriracha (aka Rooster Sauce)

- at least 12 charred corn tortillas (you may want to double up - some tortilla brands are thinner than others)

Because this is an assembly recipe, and you can technically prepare the components separately in any order you wish, the following is a recommended work flow for max efficiency.

1) Start on your Vietnamese Caramelized pork and work up to Step 4 in which you begin the long simmer.

2) While the pork is simmering, prepare the Cebollas Rojas Encurtidas up to Step 2 in which the onions are soaking in hot water.

3) While the onions are soaking in hot water, make the Do Chua.

4) When you're done with the Do Chua, come back and complete the pickled red onions.

5) Make the Habanero Lime Garlic Crema. By this time, your pork should be done or close to done.

6) Chop your cilantro and cabbage.

7) Warm or char your tortillas. I char the tortillas directly over a medium high gas flame for about 10 seconds per side.

I like to serve the components buffet style, left to right, in the order in which the tacos should get filled - tortillas, cabbage, meat, pickles, crema, cilantro, sriracha - and let everyone build their own.

A super cold, super crisp lager is my drink pairing of choice.

I hope you love these as much as we do. :)


Habanero Lime Garlic Crema

LOL. This is one of the flattest, most one-dimensional food pics I've shared in a while...

But I digress. I am posting my Vietnamese Street Tacos recipe today, and I thought it best to post the components separately because they all go well in or with other things too.

This Habanero Lime Garlic Crema is delicious with just about any taco, and you might also find it a nice changeup from tzatziki on your next gyros.

Add a little more acid element like lime or lemon juice or vinegar, just a touch of water, salt to adjust and some olive oil, and you've got a delicious creamy salad dressing!

Habanero Lime Garlic Crema

Time: 10 minutes

- 1/4 cup sour cream or Mexican crema agria ("agria" meaning sour)
- 2 Tablespoons to 1/4 cup chopped cilantro (stems included) depending on how much cilantro flavor you like (optional if you hate cilantro of course)
- 2 Tablespoons mayo
- 1 habanero, rough chopped (habis, as they're affectionately called in our house, are VERY hot. If VERY hot is not your thing, you might try using just an eighth or quarter of the pepper to start.)
- 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic (about 1 very small clove)
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon lime zest (optional) Zap everything in a blender for 20 to 30 seconds. Donezo!

Enjoy. :)


Cebollas Rojas Encurtidas (Ecuadorean Style Pickled Red Onions)

My ex-MIL is Ecuadorean, and she would often make these tart and crunchy quick pickled red onions to accompany her native Ecuadorean dishes as well as the Cuban dishes she cooked at my ex-FIL's request.

Sometimes she adds tomatoes, sometimes not. Sometimes cilantro, sometimes not. And always at the end if she does.

I find they go beautifully with any number of Latin American and Southeast Asian dishes because the onion, lime, and cilantro fit so well into many of those cuisines. I love them on tacos, with stews and braises (they are specially delicious with stewed or braised oxtails), and on top of salads, among other things.

You can make them with any kind of bulb onion, but I think they taste best and look prettiest made with red onion. :)

Cebollas Rojas Encurtidas (Pickled Red Onions)

- 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced (about 1/8" thick) horizontally (against the grain)
- 1.5 cups boiling water
- 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt (1 in the beginning, and then 1/2 later)
- 3 Tablespoons lime juice (1 to 2 limes, depending on their size and juiciness)
- a few sprigs of cilantro, chopped (I used 7 or 8 today)

1) Pour the boiling water over the sliced onions, add 1 teaspoonful kosher salt, stir to mix, and let the onions sit for 20 to 25 minutes.

2) Drain all the excess liquid and add the rest of the salt (1/2 teaspoon) and lime juice and gently massage as you toss. This will help bring out that beautiful jewel tone of the red onion.

Optional cilantro and chopped tomatoes would be added at this point, and salt adjusted if needed.

Enjoy. :)


Vietnamese Caramelized Pork

This family-friendly sweet-savory pork dish is traditionally made in a clay pot using pork belly, but I find a Dutch Oven or other heavy pot and pork shoulder work just fine, specially if you find pork belly a little too fatty for your liking.

Delicious with some steamed jasmine rice, in banh mi sandwiches, or made into my Vietnamese Street Tacos. :)

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork
Serves 4

Time: About 90 minutes

If you want to save some time, you can just dump all the ingredients into your cooking vessel and skip to Step 4, but Steps 1 to 3 do add a deliciously layered depth to the dish.

- 2 to 2.5 pounds pork country ribs/ shoulder/butt/ picnic shoulder, cut into 1.5 to 2 inch cubes
- 2 Tablespoons minced garlic (3 to 4 cloves)
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup tightly packed brown sugar depending on how sweet you like your food (dark preferable, light ok)
- 1/8 cup fish sauce (I used Tiparos brand, which is widely available)
- 1 green onion, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups sliced onion (about 1 small)
- 1 cup water
- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 Tablespoons vinegar (Distilled white, apple cider, or even red or white wine will work)

1) In a large bowl, combine the pork with the garlic, brown sugar, fish sauce and green onion. Mix thoroughly to ensure even distribution of the seasonings. The best way to do it is just to get in there with your hands and massage the pig. Time permitting, let the pork marinate for 20 minutes or so to allow the seasoning to penetrate the meat.


... the pig.

2) In deep skillet or pot, heat 2 Tablespoons of a neutral flavored oil over medium high heat and sear the pork, 4 or 5 pieces at a time (don't want to crowd the cooking surface) until the fatty bits get a rich, dark, caramel color, 2 to 2.5 minutes per side. This is one of those rare instances in which you could actually put the seared pork back into the bowl with the uncooked pork without worrying about contamination because all of it is going back into the pot to cook for a long time.

3)  After the pork is seared, add the onions into the pot and saute until they just begin to become translucent, about 2 minutes. This quick saute develops the flavor of the onion and helps it hold some shape during the long simmer.

4) Put the pork back in the pot, and increase the heat to medium high. Add the water, soy sauce and vinegar, stir to ensure they get evenly distributed, and bring to a gentle boil (i.e., the liquid is bubbling gently and consistently but not so actively that it splatters).

5) Reduce the heat to medium low and cover the pot. Simmer 45 to 50 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so to ensure that the meat gets evenly seasoned and cooked. Because heat accumulates, watch for signs that it's getting too high (the aforementioned splattery bubbling) and adjust back down if that happens.

At this point, the meat should be fork tender. If not, cover and simmer another 5 minutes or so.

6) Once the meat is fork tender, uncover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer another 15 minutes to reduce, thicken and further caramelize the braising liquid. Stir every 5 minutes to further ensure even seasoning and cooking.

If you refrigerate the leftovers, you'll find that the braising liquid becomes gelatinous, and it's not pretty. But give it a warming on the stove or a zap in the nuker, and it's back to its saucy goodness in no time. 

Sweet, caramelized onions with tender, unctuous pig...

Sometimes, I like that braising liquid over steamed rice even better than the pork itself. Hurts to throw it away...

Enjoy. :)


Outer Banks Hand Harvested Sea Salt

My friend +amy huggins gaw at Outer Banks Epicurean sent me a bottle of her hand harvested Outer Banks Sea Salt over the holidays, and I set it aside until I could fully enjoy it in post holiday madness peace and quiet.

Because it takes a little peace and quiet to appreciate the nuances of a thing like sea salt. The terroir, if you will. Is there an ocean equivalent of terroir? Merroir, perhaps... :P

A clean briny crunch that I'm planning to enjoy over the weekend with a good baguette and some cold, sweet butter.

And then perhaps sparingly sprinkled on snickerdoodles or dulce de leche ice cream.

Or maybe some fresh pineapple and mango with chili powder and a squeeze of lime...

And that lovely little handcrafted dish that makes me think of mermaids.

It's all so lovely, Amy. 

Thank you. ❤ 


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Easy Pico de Gallo Chicken Stew

So this isn't the prettiest looking recipe I've ever posted, but it's easy and tasty, and I've noticed an increasing interest in easier recipes for busy schedules. (Slow cooker instructions are included.)

I call it Pico de Gallo Chicken Stew because it features all the ingredients of a basic pico de gallo - tomatoes, onions, chilies, cilantro and lime juice.

I like to serve it over steamed rice, or with warmed tortillas or crusty bread on the side. 

Some fresh fruit or a quick garden salad on the side are always a good idea. A little bit of jarred salsa mixed with a splash of vinegar or added lime or lemon juice, olive oil, and just a pinch of salt, pepper and sugar (to round out the acid) makes a quick and delicious dressing for your salad that goes perfectly with the meal.

Easy Pico de Gallo Chicken Stew
Serves 4 to 5

Slow cooker instructions included at end.

- 1 Tablespoon oil
- 1/2 medium onion, cut into 1/4" strips
- 1/2 medium bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/4" strips
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and gently crushed
- 1 or 2 hot green chilies of your choice (optional. I used jalapeños)
- 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
- 1 teaspoon cumin (optional)
- 1 teaspoon achiote or azafran (optional)
- 3 pounds bone-in skinless chicken drums/thighs (or you could use about 2 pounds chicken tenders)
- 15 oz. canned tomatoes
- 2 cups unsalted chicken stock (or 1 3/4 cups water)
- the juice of 1 medium lime
- 2 to 2.5 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar

- chopped green onions and fresh cilantro for garnish when serving


1) In a 4 or 5 quart Dutch oven or similar pot, bring the oil up to medium high heat and saute the onions, peppers, chilies, cilantro and garlic until the onions start to turntransluction translucent. (about 3 minutes).

2) Add in rest of ingredients, turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil for a minute (should take 5 to 7 minutes).

3) Give the stew 2 or 3 gentle stirs, lower the heat to medium low, and simmer for 40 minutes with lid on askew. Stir occasionally to make sure everything cooks evenly.

4) Uncover the pot, turn the heat up to slightly higher than medium, and gently boil and reduce the stew for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice during the process. Adjust seasoning if needed and continue to boil gently for another 5 minutes.


Throw everything into the slow cooker except for the oil, reducing the liquid to 1.5 cups chicken stock, stir to distribute all ingredients evenly, and cook on low setting for 7 to 8 hours, stirring to redistribute the ingredients 2 or 3 times during the process if your schedule permits. If not, don't worry about it.

If you can saute the veg before throwing it into the crock pot, it adds a nice depth of flavor to your stew, but it'll still be yummy if you can't. :)

Check and adjust seasoning an hour before it's done.

Enjoy. :)


Full cooking album HERE.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sweet Tangy Spicy Fried Chicken With Creamy Jalapeño Cilantro Dressing

I won't even pretend to know or care about football, but I do know how to make some tasty chicken wings. With Superbowl Sunday drawing near, I thought it a good time to re-share this recipe on the new blog.

May your team win while I'm out gardening or having sushi and sake or something like that. :P

Sweet Tangy Spicy Fried Chicken Wings with Creamy Jalapeño Cilantro Dressing
Serves 4 as a meal, 6 to 8 as appetizer.
Time: 75 to 90 minutes

- 3.5 pounds bone-in, skin-on fryer chicken pieces or wings
- 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ cup all purpose flour
- 3 Tablespoons corn starch
- 4 cups frying oil (I like soybean, which is often labeled "vegetable" or peanut oil)

- 3 Tablespoons oil
- 2/3 cup minced onion
- 2 Tablespoons minced garlic
- 1/3 cup fruit jam (you can use plum, grape, strawberry, apricot, or orange marmalade)
- 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon sriracha

- 1 green onion, chopped
- crushed red chili flakes for extra heat

1) Season chicken with salt and pepper, turning and massaging gently a few times to make sure it’s evenly distributed. Let it absorb the seasoning, covered, while you bring it up to room temp. 

In most cases, this takes at least 30 minutes or so straight out of the fridge. You can speed up this process by laying all the chicken out in a single layer on a sheet pan or other large, flat surface. Room temp really is critical to crispy skin and a thorough internal cooking time in line with external browning time.

2) Combine the jam, brown sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, apple cider vinegar and sriracha in a bowl.

3) In a small saucepan, saute the onions and minced garlic over slightly higher than medium heat in the 3 Tablespoons of oil until the onions turn translucent. Then add the jam mixture, stir to combine ingredients, and turn the heat down to medium low, allowing the glaze to simmer and thicken for about 4 minutes. If it gets hot enough to splatter during the process, turn the heat down a little. 

This may seem like a lot of oil, but it really is instrumental in achieving that yummylicious candied/caramelized glaze flavor.

If you’d like to add some heat to the glaze, you may also want to add some crushed red chili flakes to taste at this point, or, if you need two different heat levels, you can toss half the chicken in the regular glaze and add your crushed red chili flakes to the other half when you toss.

4) While the glaze is simmering, preheat your frying oil to somewhere in the 360F to 375F range. I always test the oil by throwing a pinch of flour in to see if it sizzles immediately. While the oil is preheating, toss your chicken in the flour and starch mixture to coat thoroughly.

5) Fry the chicken for 7 to 10 minutes per side, depending on the size of the pieces, and until the chicken skin is a nice, dark, golden brown and set aside on a brown paper bag or paper towel lined dish. If it takes shorter than that, your oil’s probably too hot. Longer than that, not hot enough.

If you’re planning to serve the celery sticks with dressing on the side, you can easily put the dressing together during one of these 8-10 minute frying sessions.

6) When you’re halfway through frying the last batch, quickly re-heat the glaze until it simmers and keep it on low heat while you’re finishing up the frying. You’ll want the glaze nice and hot when you pour it over the chicken.

7) In a large mixing bowl, combine all your fried chicken, and all the glaze (or in two batches - see Step 3, paragraph 3), and toss to coat.

8) Plate and sprinkle with chopped green onions and enjoy. 

If there’s a lot of glaze left in the bottom of the bowl, I like to scoop that into a little bowl and serve on the side.

Creamy Jalapeño Cilantro Dressing

- ¼ cup mayo
- ¼ cup yogurt
- 1 to 2 Tablespoons minced jalapeno
- 1 to 2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
- ½ Tablespoon distilled white vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- pinch of black pepper
- 1.5 teaspoons oil
- 1 small garlic clove, grated or very finely minced

Put all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine.

I hope you find them finger lickin' delicious!


Full cooking album HERE.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Easy Egg Drop Soup

This month's Cookalong is all about Asian dumplings or potstickers, so part of our menu is this Easy Egg Drop Soup that can be adapted into a Wonton Soup to use up some of those dumplings we'll be making.

Easy Egg Drop Soup
Serves 8 as a light soup course or 4 if you're planning to make a meal Wonton Soup of it
Time: 30 minutes

I prefer a thinner soup, using the starch as a mild thickener only to help keep the egg suspended throughout the broth rather than floating on top of it. For that purpose, I use only 1.5 Tablespoons of starch in the slurry. This is also the viscosity I recommend for wonton soup.

However, if you're just serving it as a starter soup course and prefer a thicker, more velvety feel to the broth, you'll want to add more starch accordingly, but I wouldn't exceed 3 Tablespoons.

Somewhat the same logic for the eggs. I'd use 2 for Wonton Soup, and 3 if serving the Egg Drop Soup as is.

You'll need...

- 4 cups unsalted stock (Chicken, pork, veg or any combo thereof is fine. Beef would taste ok, but if you used a roasted bone stock, you might get a darker than desired broth.)
- 4 cups water
- 1 medium carrot, sliced into 1/4" thick slices
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2.5 teaspoons kosher salt to start
- 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (optional)
- 1.5 to 3 Tablespoons corn or potato starch, dissolved in 1/4 cup water (this is called a slurry)
- 2 to 3 eggs, thoroughly whisked
- finely chopped green onion for garnish
- black pepper to taste

If you're making Wonton Soup, here are some suggested veg per serving:

- 4 to 6 1/8" thick slices of carrot (peeled is prettier)
- 5 to 6 snow peas
- 2 leaves of baby bok choy, sliced into 1-inch thick pieces on the diagonal
- 4 to 6 drained canned straw mushrooms
- a tablespoon of frozen peas

The carrots, snow peas and bok choy retain better texture and color if they've been blanched, shocked and drained. And it's nice to do that if you have time, but if you don't have time or inclination, I wouldn't sweat it. Your soup will be delicious regardless.

1) Put stock, water, carrot and garlic into a pot or large saucepan and bring to a boil for 2 minutes or so, covered, over medium high heat.

2) Turn the heat down to medium and simmer for another 10 minutes or so to extract flavor from the aromatics - sweet from the carrot, savory from the garlic.

3) Skim out the carrot and garlic, turn the heat back up to medium high, and stir in salt, toasted sesame oil, and starch slurry. Bring the soup back up to a boil for 2 minutes (bringing it to a boil activates the starch so it thickens the soup more effectively).

If you're making Wonton Soup, now is the time to add your dumplings and veg. You'll know the dumplings are cooked or heated through when they float. If your dumplings have been steamed and frozen, it'll go more quickly than if you froze them uncooked.

If you've added dumplings and veg, you will almost certainly want to adjust your salt seasoning at this point.

4) Turn the heat off and give the soup a few good stirs to let it cool just a little bit. Then stir again to create a gentle whirpool, pour in your whisked eggs, and let the gentle heat do its magic to cook the eggs. Stir gently again once or twice to distribute the eggs.

You want the soup at a temperature where the egg just sets, which is what gives it that silky texture. If the egg overcooks, then it takes on a chewier more scrambled texture, but the starch does mitigate some of the overcooking.

Ladle into a bowl and garnish with chopped green onion and black pepper to taste. (White pepper is often used for this soup, but if you don't have white pepper, like I don't have white pepper, then black pepper it is! :D)



Full cooking album HERE.

Monday, January 13, 2014

On What It Is & Easy Cuban Style Chicken Stew

What's on my mind today is that we can ruin a perfectly good thing for ourselves because we're so wrapped up in what we believe should be rather than appreciating what is.

Easy Cuban Style Chicken Stew is what it is...

I don't need to go into details for divorced parents to understand that, at times, the split household thing can be a real downer. Sometimes extraordinarily so if you're the mother, and, through complicated circumstances, somehow lose primary custody of your kids and only have them for weekends and vacations.

(And then other times when we are in the safety of the fraternity of the divorced we will also occasionally delight in the unexpected perks of same...)

But back to the other thing. There's not only external judgment in that circumstance - and to some extent understandably so because it defies what we think is the norm - but also some internal judgment because we are no more immune to expectations of "normal" than are the people who are judging us from the outside.

And when my focus occasionally strays to the should be - that I should be the primary custodial parent because of whatever consideration I think I should be given for what happened in the past, that I should have more direct influence on the daily lives of my two older children, that I should be the one to get to kiss them goodnight more often than that guy I for some reason think shouldn't get to because, well, reasons... brings me to these really shitty and frankly shameful moments of useless bitterness and self pity.

It makes me forget how good the what is is. And what it is, is that, through circumstances no one would choose, I get to have a special kind of connection and relationship with my older kids that was not likely to have been forged had I gotten the primary custody that I wanted, like a good mother should.

There is a sense of appreciation and the kind of fondness that develops over a little absence between us that I'm not saying another mother couldn't have with her children if she had them all the time, but that this mother probably wouldn't have had were it not for what is.

We have more opportunities for shared fun and laughter in the time that we have together now because of what is than we would have shared in what would surely have been the more stressful and less present should be for me.

And I have the ability to impart the unique lessons and gifts I have to share with them more freely and easily in the what is than I would have had the time or opportunity to in the should be.

I know this because I lived the should be for many years once upon a time. And it was good in many ways.

But not in the same ways as the what is, and really, not any better.

Actually, the what is, in my best moments of clarity and acceptance, is exactly what should be, with everyone getting the chance to learn the unique lessons we need to learn, and to grow and bloom from this "abnormal" set of circumstances that isn't most people's ideas of what should be, if they entertain such notions at all.

Life. It is what it is, and what is is what should be. Even when it changes.

What does all that have to do with this recipe?

Well, what it is is that I learned how to make it from my ex mother-in-law once upon a should be... :P

Easy Cuban Style Chicken Stew
Serves 4
Takes about an hour total, with about 20 minutes active time.

- 1 Tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
- 1/2 medium onion, peeled and cut into 1/4" wide pieces, vertically
- 1/2 a bell pepper, cored and deveined and cut into 1/4" wide pieces (red and yellow are sweeter and prettier in this dish, but green will do in a pinch)
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and rough chopped

- 2.5 pounds chicken pieces (bone-in drums and thighs work best, skin on or off, depending on your preference)
- 1 packet *GOYA brand sazon con azafran (Yes, it's a cheat packet, and yes, it's got some MSG in it, but it's what a lot of Latin households use in a pinch, and in small quantities, it can be helpful. :) )
- 2 bay leaves
- 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt to start
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 15 oz. can tomatoes
- 1.5 cups unsalted chicken stock

- 1/3 cup frozen peas

*If you can't/don't want to use the GOYA packet, try:

- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric and, if you have it,
- a pinch of saffron or 1 teaspoon of ground achiote (annatto)

1) In a large Dutch oven or deep saute pan (at least 10"), saute the onion, bell pepper and garlic in the oil over medium high heat for about 3 minutes, or until the onions start to turn translucent.

2) Add the rest of the ingredients except for the peas, stir to distribute evenly, cover with the lid askew and bring the stew up to a boil over high heat. (Should take 5 to 7 minutes.)

3) Once the stew has been boiling for 1 minute, give it a good stir, lower the heat to medium low, and simmer for 45 minutes with the lid on askew, stirring occasionally. A good simmer will produce gentle movement under the surface of the liquid, but no splatter.

4) Adjust the seasoning if needed (you might like a little more salt), add the peas, turn the heat up to medium, and simmer another 5 to 10 minutes with the lid off, stirring occasionally.

Serve with your starch of choice. The stewing liquid, and lots of it, is delicious over plain steamed rice.

Enjoy! :)