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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thai-Chinese Style Carbonara

These noodles are something to sing about. What started as a "raid the fridge and come out with whatever wasn't rotting" adventure led to a almost ceremonious dive into noodle heaven. The dish features a combination of Chinese stir-fry technique and beautiful Chinese rice noodles, accompanied by traditional Thai spicy chiles and an unexpected Italian twist on a classic pasta carbonara. Here's how I did it-

1 inch of fresh ginger
2 large cloves of garlic
1-2 Thai bird chiles (optional)

3 spring onions
1 peeled carrot
3 inches of daikon radish

2 slices of thick cut applewood smoked bacon

1 egg

1/2 packet of flat rice noodles (then drain and rinse with cool water)

Have ready:
1/2 cup frozen baby peas
2 tablespoons oyester sauce
2 tablespoons tamari
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil

a flat large skillet or wok on high heat. Add the chopped bacon and begin stir-frying until golden. Once the rawness is gone from the bacon, add the sesame oil and then add half the spring onions and the carrot. Continue to stir, preventing anything from sticking to the pan. After about 2 minutes, add the ginger, garlic and chiles to the pan. Allow to stir fry for one minute, then push the ingredients over to one side of the pan. Pour in your egg and scramble. Once cooked, combine it with the rest of the ingredients in the pan. Then, add your sauces (oyester, tamari and rice vinegar) to the pan. Stir into the vegetable-egg mixture to coat, immediately after, add frozen peas and the precooked noodles. Toss until all the noodles are evenly coated. Sprinkle remaining half of spring onions on top as well as the daikon radish, and eat hot. Be prepared for compliments.

This recipe is not only easy, but it tasted incredible. Let me know what you think!

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Simple, Sophisticated Meal

Tonight's meal was clean, classic and delicious. I had minimal time for cooking this evening, so I opted for a quick pan-roasted chicken breast with some sauteed kale to accompany it. The preparation was simple, and yielded wonderful results. Prepare four chicken breasts (trim fat, any undesirable bits) and liberally sprinkle with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Set aside. Wash and remove the stems from one pound of fresh kale. I prefer to rip the kale from it's stalky vein, as they can be tough and dont have a lot of time to cook down in a quick sautee. Mince one small yellow onion and four cloves of garlic. Add about three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to a skillet, sautee the onions and garlic until golden, add a few sprinkles of crushed red chiles, and then, add the rinsed, destemmed kale. (I also roughly chopped the leaves before cooking.) Allow the kale to wilt down and cook through. When it's done, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper and set aside. In a separate skillet, heat two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on medium high heat. Add the prepped chicken breasts and allow to sear on one side, at least four minutes, until golden brown. Turn over, allow to sear on other side for about two minutes. Add the juice of half a lemon, and immediately cover the pan with a tight fitting lid (or tinfoil.) Allow to continue cooking for about four more minutes, remove the lid and add 1/4 cup of warm water, 2 whole cloves of garlic - lightly smashed, and a light sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper. Stir gently and allow the sauce to thicken, for about three minutes on medium high heat. To serve, add a nice large portion of the sauteed kale to the center of your plate. Place a chicken breast on top of the kale, and drizzle the lemon pan sauce over the entire dish. Serve with your favorite wine. We had a lovely cabernet. It's simple, minimal, and yet, completely satisfying. Enjoy! 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

This Little Lamb of Mine...I'm Gonna Let Him Shine!

There isn't a more perfect meat in the world than a juicy, succulent bite of lamb. Roasted, braised, ground, on a spit or on a kabob, it screams "eat me!" I was more than a little pleased when I found a small, hole-in-the-wall halal butcher not to far away. Ground lamb wasnt on the priceboard, but the butcher wasted no time walking me into his personal freezer where the beautiful babies were dangling from their hooks like ballerinas. A chop and a shave here, a quick dice and a push there, and out of his fancy grinder came some beautifully marbled reddish pink ground meat.
To honor the noble beast, I am making one of my favorite lamb dishes, kofta. Kofta literally meaning "to grind" or "to beat" hails from the Middle East, where typically egg and various spices and seasonings are combined with ground lamb (or another meat) to create a moist, flavorful meatball. While some are baked, I prefer to cook mine the old fashioned way, pressing the meat into a cigar shape and onto a metal skewer to cook over an open flame (or in my case, a gas grill!). From there, the eager eater can slide the juicy meat cigar off the skewer and into the warm, beckoning arms of a toasted pita. To dress it, I've made a tart yogurt, garlic and cucumber sauce typically associated with Greek cuisine, called tzatziki. On the side I will be simply grilling large slices of sweet eggplant, red bell peppers, red onion, and green and yellow zucchinis. To round out the meal, simple couscous with plump sultanas and saffron will do.

I'm already getting hungry - pictures to come!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dairy Whore

Forgive me for using one of the most over-stated words ever, dairy. I am a grown woman who has never had the pleasure of visiting a real dairy. Kids from my generation got their milk the good old-fashioned way, at the grocery store in plastic gallon jugs. I grew up never knowing what milk really tasted like, straight from the pail. That is, until I found Trickling Springs Creamery. They have this phenomenal product, Cream Line Whole Milk, that like a silken buttery life-affirming fluid should, makes me weak in the knees. I drank half a gallon by myself in a matter of one day. When I first popped the lid on the gorgeous glass bottle, poured a hefty swig down my gullet, a strange thing occured. A concentrated blob of butterfat socked me on the tongue and I'm pretty sure I had a mouth-gasm. More blobs followed, and I found them slightly adulterous. Scooped from the milk and spread on bread they were the definition of hedonistic. It wasnt butter, it wasnt milk, it was congealed cream and it played tricks on me that I havent seen since my wedding night. I want to roll around naked in it, I want to take dirty photos of it and post them on the internet, I want to turn my friends out and on to this seductress of mouthly delights. At least you could try some? They offer everything from cream, milk, cheese and ice cream. I rarely promote a product I dont make myself. However, I dont have any bovine beauties with overflowing cleavage at my disposal. I've included a link to their website, if you're able to, give them a try. Then, pay me my pimp fee.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Food Economics

I am always surprised when someone tells me they hate to cook. I understand that not everyone has a food-gasm over creating that "perfect dish" as I do. But, we all have to eat. And lately, what we eat seems to be a big, bold question mark over our heads. During a recent radio interview, a woman called in claiming "It costs more to eat healthy than not," and I was stunned. Was she right? Looking at the vast options of burgers, tacos,  pizzas and more, and comparing them to the fresh produce and meat, I realized, she is right. But it doesn't mean that cooking great food relies on having heavy wallets.

In fact, the vast majority of culinary delights come from "peasant food." From anchovy based pasta sauces, to the finest cheeses, the richest stews, the tenderest of greens, it is the "working poor" who have managed to transform the simple, and turn it into the unbelievable. Take the cheapest cuts of beef. Short ribs, chuck roast, flank steak - all tough, undesirable pieces of meat in many regards. Until, you put it into the hands of someone who knows what they're doing. Braising, slow roasting, pan-searing, all methods of bringing out the very best in taste and texture of these unwanted cuts. Recently while dining in Beverly Hills, I had the pure joy of eating one of the best pot-roasts I've ever had. Sure it was a $30 plate, but it was sincerely worth every bite. The meat had lost all knowledge of it's former life. Succulent, moist, soft, silky, rich, dissolving into a rapturous after-taste that kept me wanting more. Which shows that in the hands of the capable, magic is possible.

I think that eating well versus eating in a parking lot of a fast food restaurant has less to do with money, and more to do with time, knowledge and a willingness to try. While I cannot blame anyone for craving that double-stacked extra cheese and bacon burger with a side of curly fries, I do blame them for not finding some level of balance in between. Our society is creating a new food culture, not one that is backed by great-great-grandma's secret recipe, but one that requires instant gratification, larger portions and disposable containers. America is a melting pot, which means that identifying one single food culture is difficult in itself. I grew up eating a slew of mixed meals, from spaghetti to Spaghetti O's, from sushi to Top Raman, from a roast beef hoagie to a six pack of crunchy beef tacos. For me, having my own family was enough motivation to want to do better in the food department. However, like everyone else in our country, money is getting harder and harder to come by. Which has caused me to really take a good look at our food budget, our food goals, and our personal food identity. We don't want to eat poorly, while being poor. I don't want the lingering, greasy, MSG-after-tasting feel of eating take-out constantly, either.

So ingredients became my focal point. Did I need the $12 bottle of extra virgin olive oil, or could I suffice with the $4 one? Are organic, pasture raised chicken breasts the only white meat option I can buy, or would I be willing to experiment with the much cheaper thigh meat and even lean cuts of pork? Our family loves greens, and have always bought them prewashed, precut and prepackaged. I can by five times the amount of greens if I buy them loose, then wash and cut them myself. - That wasn't the funnest task, although it did provide a great opportunity for family bonding over the kitchen sink! Organic, pasture raised beef is a passion of mine. I love knowing where my meat came from, and how it was raised. However, $20 filet mignon's are no longer in budget, so I've therefore opted for the same farm-raised cow, just a few different, cheaper cuts. I've even found some delicious, all-beef natural hot dogs at my local butcher! Our family has even taken to incorporating more seasonal vegetables and fruit into our meals to reduce our overall meat intake. Not because we don't love meat, but because we cant afford it every night. I have found that dishes like Gigandes Plaki (Greek style giant baked beans in a rich tomato sauce) literally cost pennies on the dollar and feed my entire family well. Slow simmered Indian curries, rich in beans and vegetables are inexpensive to make, especially when you buy the pre-made spice mixes at a local Indian market. Casseroles, while not my favorite, are great ways to maximize minimal ingredients and save time by cooking everything in one pan. The same goes for slow-cooking roasts and soups. Cheap cuts of meat, long hours of simmering, a few slender veggies and you've got a meal.

When it comes down to it, eating well is a choice. And we all have a right to make our own choice. But we need to remember that eating well does not mean eating expensively nor outrageously. It means creating a food tradition in your home that warms your belly, and makes you smile, all while keeping a few extra dollars in your pocket.

Monday, November 8, 2010

How I Knew Food Ruled My World

When I hear talk of destiny, I wonder if mine was wrapped in prosciutto and dipped in Hollandaise sauce from the beginning. I have always, forever, and ever, loved food. My very first memory involves waking in the middle of the night to gobble fresh oranges, leaving the tell-tale peels across the floor. I graduated into cupboard raiding, stealing tiny palmfuls of whatever tasty treat I could reach. Once I realized that food was cooked, I wasted no time in creating "stews" made of fresh rose petals, grass and mud, stirred with my stick ladel. Our neighbors didn't like me very much, as it was usually their prized flowers I stole for my sidewalk soups.

Memories of wild blackberries, anise, fresh pomegranites, almonds, walnuts and crab apples grab hold of my senses and lavish me with whispers of taste. Broken montages of moments spent laughing over a great slice of pizza, an amazing candied walnut, goat cheese and arugula salad, my first unctuous bite of lemon-butter soaked lobster claw are not simply memories, they are what define me.

Some people are talented artists. They take a blank canvas, spatulas and brushes, oils and acrylics, and create something devastatingly beautiful out of nothing. Some musicians take sound and turn it into symphony, while some foodies take basic ingredients and turn them into a sensation of flavor. While I cannot claim to even stand close to the realms of the great creators, the Picasso's, the Dali's, the Bach's and the Mozart's, or even the Chiarello's or the Pepin's, I am not ashamed to say I am like them. I create.

Food rocks my world. It's my chance at artistic expression. It's my release from stress. It's my portal to pleasure. It's my opportunity to show love to others. I'm lucky to have found my thing. Have you?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

When "Dry" and "Age" Sound Delicious

If you've never heard the term, "Dry Aged Beef" then let me be the first to pop your fading beef cherry. Dry aging meat refers to, well, aging it in a dry cold environment. Generally speaking, it's prime meat that is dry aged, as dry aging lesser cuts of beef wont yield the same, intense, fantastically amazing results. Is there a better word to describe how delicious dry aging a good beefy cut of meat can be? Having dry aged steaks at an upscale restaurant is nothing short of a treat. Intense, meaty flavor, soft, dissolving on your tongue fat, a texture between filet mignon and butter, and the jealous admiration of patrons near your table.

It never occured to me that I might be able to dry age my favorite cuts of beef at home, on my own. In fact, it sort of happened accidentally. About a six weeks ago, I was at my local butcher shop (if you're in Fredericksburg, I highly recommend Old Time Butcher in the historic downtown district.) and saw the most beautiful, grass fed, local, center of the shoulder, two inch thick and fifteen wide, chuck roast. It had a thick, glorious layer of external fat along with some slight marbling throughout. Now mind you, this wasnt a prime cut of steak, but, it was very high quality, and because of this, what accidentally happened next was a good thing! As good butchers do, my roast was wrapped in butcher paper and handed to me with a smile. Upon returning home, I promptly threw it at the bottom of my freezer without thinking twice about it.

I kept meaning to get it out and cook it, but I would forget to thaw it the night before, so, it waited. Finally, last night, after a month and a half of frozen incarceration, I withdrew my meaty deposit and placed (him?) in the refrigerator to thaw. In the morning, I opened my slightly bloody package to find an unusual sight. The exterior of the entire roast was a leathery, jerky like shell. Worried I had somehow ruined my roast, I pulled the meat apart, to find an intensely red interior. The gelatinous fat had a viscous feel, and the meat smelled incredible. Suddenly it hit me, where I'd seen this look, this feel, this smell before. I had, inadvertantly dry aged my chuck roast.

So, I went with it. I seared the meat on both sides, (I cannot possibly describe in words how the heady aroma of that roast filled my nostrils with nothing short of erotic passion.) and placed it in a seductive bath of broth, onions and coffee,- if that sounds weird trust me, it's not.  Nine agonizing hours later, the roast, literally and figuratively falling apart in the ladle, was transcended. No longer a tough, semi bland piece of beef, it was now a silky, slightly gamy, morsel of delight. Potatoes and carrots and bay leaf and crusty baguette added, and dinner was a huge success.

Dry aging, doesnt necessarily sound like a good thing. It brings to mind images of flaky skin and saggy breasts, but trust me, in this case, nothing could be more beautiful.

*Blogger note: It's important for the reader to note that dry-aging at home is generally discouraged, as the bacteria growth can be dangerous. With all foods, please take caution and do your research before attempting this!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Like Sex

"When I eat, my dreams become reality. When I eat, happiness is mine." ~ Anonymous

I watched as Anthony Bourdain, in Chile, gorged on a footlong Chilean hotdog. His eyes squeezed tightly closed, his mouth a wide open door for the hotdog to walk through, the primal grunts of a truly happy human, all signs of guttural enjoyment. And the only thought that I had, "That looks like good sex."

Good food is like good sex. We moan, we sigh, we indulge, even when we aren't supposed to. Food and sex are of the few things in life that all healthy humans share a desire for. And like the best lay, we seek out the best taste, that once in a lifetime bite that sends us into a tailspin trying to retrace its salivary steps. Think about it. When's the last time you sunk your teeth into something so good, so damned delicious, that you entered "the zone," that place where we forget life's problems and worries and just enjoy the tasty moment? What's that food that causes you to stop in your tracks and reminisce on flavors of old? You know it's there, you have it in your mind. It could have been your mom's famous stew, your dad's delicately smoked bbq, your grandmother's spicy chutney, your cousin's tamales. Whatever the meal, whatever the ingredients, you come undone. Like sex.

If you're a foodie, that moment is a high, a sensation above all others that keeps you titillated and aroused. It's not just a momentary joy, it's a lifetime of desire. What makes good food? Is it the attachment to memories? Is it the neuroreceptors that tell our brains, "yes, good, more!"? Is it our culture that mandates what we like, and how we like it? Frankly, it's all of these things and more. Like sex.