Menu: Happy New Year!

Planning a family New Year’s feast? Consider making Chinese food! Much of this menu can be made ahead, leaving you to enjoy the party, whether it’s tonight or on New Year’s Day. If you want to venture out on your own for menu planning, check out the Menu Planning Tips post, and remember to serve a fish for the finale! The menu below easily serves 4 – you can use it as a base and add some other dishes if you have more guests.

the recipes:

the strategy:

  1. Cook the rice for the Eight Jewels rice, then assemble the dessert – you can steam it ahead and reheat or just assemble for now.
  2. Soak the rice for the Basic Steamed Rice.
  3. Prepare all the cold dish vegetables: spinach, daikon/carrots, bell peppers and their dressings/sauces.
  4. Assemble the Red-cooked Pork ingredients and begin to braise.
  5. Assemble the Steamed Fish.
  6. Prepare the ingredients for Chicken with Broccoli.
  7. Start the Basic Steamed Rice.
  8. Start steaming the fish.
  9. Combine the vegetables with their dressings/sauces.
  10. Stirfry the Chicken with Broccoli.
  11. While you eat, steam or reheat the Eight Jewels Rice for dessert.

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Resolutions

I guess I’ve (almost) completely converted to the idea that eating at home is infinitely preferable to going out – it’s more economical, I know exactly what’s in the food, and  it just plain tastes better than most restaurant food! It’s not that we don’t go out – we probably eat out once a week, but it’s usually somewhere kid friendly where they can eat off the regular menu – yes, restaurants, take note: not all children like chicken fingers, french fries, and boxed mac & cheese ALL the time! – and I can order something that hasn’t been tortured in life and to death in a CAFO: this pretty much limits our choice of restaurants. Once in a great while, we’ll splurge on an expensive restaurant and leave the kids out of the plan. So I was partly tickled and partly offended by today’s New York Times article “Resolution: Dine Well Without Breaking the Budget” – basically a list of cheap eats, few of which sound even mildly appealing.

I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s Resolutions – they usually last about a week (although at one point I did manage to give up chocolate for a couple years – WHAT was I thinking?!?) – but here is one I think I will be able to keep and I urge you to consider: eat mostly home-cooked meals made from whole, close-to-the-source foods that are grown sustainably whenever possible. Cooking and eating this way does a favor to your taste buds, your health, your pocketbook, your family life and the environment – all excellent reasons to take back the kitchen!

Happy New Year 2009! Back with more recipes soon….

Chinese Cabbage, Two Ways

Voila – 2 dishes in the time it takes to prepare 1! This is a recipe my husband came up with as a solution to the fact that our kids won’t eat spicy food but like cabbage, and we love cabbage and spice. You can make a very pretty presentation by putting the two types side by side in the same serving dish, but that does defeat the purpose of keeping part of it untouched by chilies. You can use napa cabbage or bok choy, but in either case, make sure that you are able to serve this dish immediately after stirfrying, so if you’re doing multiple dishes, this would be a good dish to cook last.

ingredients:

  • 6 shiitake mushrooms, fresh or dried
  • 1.5 lb napa cabbage or bok choy (not the baby kind)
  • 2 T oil
  • 1/2  tsp salt
  • up to 1/4 c water (or broth or mushroom soaking liquid)
  • 1 T chili sauce – sriracha works well, or you can use up to 1 tsp of chopped salted chilies, which tend to be much hotter and less salty
  • 1/2 tsp sugar, brown or raw cane is best
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar

method

  1. If using fresh shiitakes, remove the stems (save for a stock!) and cut caps into 1/4″ strips. If using dried mushrooms, soak them in boiling water until softened, reserving the water for use later.
  2. Separate the cabbage leaves and wash thoroughly – a good soak won’t hurt them and will get rid of any grit by the stems.
  3. Combine the chili sauce or chilies with the sugar and vinegar, set aside.
  4. Cut the leaves in half lengthwise, then into 1″ ribbons across the leafy parts. Cut the crunchier stem ends into 1″ dice or 1/2″ strips.
  5. Heat 1 T of oil in the wok over high heat until it shimmers, then add the mushrooms, stirfrying quickly.
  6. Add the leafy sections, and stirfry until they are coated with oil.
  7. Add 1/4 tsp of the salt and continue to stirfry as the cabbage releases its juices. If necessary, add a bit of liquid to keep the mixture moist until it reaches the desired doneness – some people prefer it crunchy, others like it cooked through.
  8. Adjust the seasoning and transfer to a serving plate.
  9. Heat the remaining 1 T of oil in the wok over high heat until it shimmers, then add the stem ends of the cabbage, stirfrying until they reach the desired degree of tenderness (or remain slightly crunchy).
  10. Add the chili sauce or chopped salted chilies mixture, stirfry briefly to combine, adjust seasoning, and transfer to a serving plate.

Chef’s Holiday!

No recipes today – I’ve been demolished in “Horseopoly” and don’t have the strength…. 

Wishing everyone happy holidays and will be back Monday with something new!

Food/Life

I can’t resist posting these gorgeous pictures from China – they’re taken in Jilin province after the harvest. Click on the individual pictures to view them (and more) on their original site.

What a cute village – looks a bit like Legoland! And look  – they must be into xeriscaping, or some other sort of new ground cover….

chilies1

But no…. They’re chili peppers! Here, some workers take a break at the “crossroads.”

chilies2

But the kids have other things in mind – what a perfect slope on which to play!

chilies3

chilies4

Eight Jewels Rice

Dessert is rather an anomaly in a traditional Chinese meal – sometimes there is a sweet soup made of beans and/or barley, but most often fresh fruit is served. Nowadays you can find all sorts of fancy western-style cakes and pastries in China, but true Chinese desserts are few and far between. Some restaurants in America offer a selection of desserts, many of which were invented to please the American taste for something sweet to end a meal. But “Eight Jewels Rice” (babaofan in Mandarin) is truly Chinese – a sort of sweet and sticky rice pudding made with (presumably) eight types of dried or preserved fruits and nuts. You can buy canned red bean paste at Asian groceries, but it’s just as easy (and probably healthier) to make your own. Glutinous rice is a very short-grained rice which is now more frequently available in brown and mixed versions as well as the more common white. The garnish ingredients are sometimes arranged in a decorative pattern in the bowl, but you can also mix them into the cooked rice.

ingredients:

  • 1.5 c glutinous rice
  • 1.5 c water
  • 1 T oil for greasing the bowl

filling:

  • 1 c cooked dark red kidney beans, cooking liquid reserved
  • 1 T honey, more to taste
  • 1 T oil (optional)

garnish:

  • 1 c total dried fruits (larger ones may be cut into strips or chopped coarsely: raisins, dates, apricots, cherries, cranberries, mangoes, …)and nuts (unbroken halves make the best presentation: peanuts, cashews, almonds, …)

sauce:

  • 1/2 c sugar (white is best)
  • 1/2 c water

method:

  1. Rinse and drain the rice, then cook according to Basic Steamed Rice recipe. Keep warm.
  2. Use a food processor to puree the beans with the honey and oil, adding the cooking liquid 1 T at a time until it reaches a thick paste consistency.
  3. Grease a heatproof bowl (approximately 6-8″ across).
  4. Mix the garnish ingredients into the rice or arrange them in a design over the bottom of the bowl (and up the sides if you’d like).
  5. Gently press 3/4 of the rice mixture into the bowl, taking care not to disturb the pattern if you went that route. It should be about 1/2″ thick all around.
  6. Add the red bean mixture to the middle, then use the rest of the rice to seal in the filling.
  7. Wet your hands with cold water and smooth the surface, pressing down very gently to remove any air pockets.
  8. Place the bowl in a steamer and steam for 45 m.
  9. Meanwhile, combine the sauce ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer just until all the sugar is dissolved approximately 1 m.
  10. Remove the bowl from the steamer and run a knife around the edges of the “pudding,” being careful not to disturb the design if you made one.
  11. Invert onto a plate, pour the sauce over, and serve with a spoon or you can try cutting into wedges and serving as you would a cake.

do ahead:

The “pudding” can be assembled and steamed up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated, tightly covered in the bowl, once it cools to room temperature. Or you can freeze it, tightly covered, in the bowl for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator 24-48 h before using. Reheat it by steaming for 30 m.

Daikon Omelet

Here’s a simple variation of the Chinese Omelet recipe using daikon. My kids joke that you could kill someone with the daikon we find at the farmers’ market here in Southern California – they can be absolutely huge! I would recommend seeking out the smaller ones for this sort of dish and reserve the larger ones for longer cooking methods such as braises and soups – they can be quite tough. For more information on daikon, visit the Kitazawa Seed Company. Again, use a very well seasoned skillet to keep the omelet from sticking.

ingredients:

  • 1 small daikon, peeled and cut into matchsticks, approximately 1/16 x 1/16 x 1.5″
  • 1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
  • 4 large eggs (buy eggs from pastured chickens, if you can – the flavor and health benefits are much better than conventional eggs, and you’ll be doing the environment a favor as well!)
  • 1 pinch freshly ground pepper – white, black, or even Sichuan peppercorn
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 2 T oil

garnish:

method:

  1. Combine the daikon sticks with the salt and set in a strainer over a bowl for 20-30 m.
  2. Beat the eggs, add the pepper and set aside.
  3. Squeeze the daikon slivers out with your hands or a kitchen towel.
  4. Heat 1 T oil in a skillet over medium high heat until it shimmers.
  5. Explode the scallions just until fragrant, then add the daikon, and stirfry until just tender, approximately 3-5 m.
  6. Add 1 T oil if necessary, then add the eggs and more salt if desired.
  7. Immediately turn the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover the skillet.
  8. Cook until almost completely set on top, 3-5 m, then gently turn and cook until completely set, 1-2 m more.
  9. Slide gently onto a plate, and cut into diamonds, garnish with fresh scallions and soy sauce, and serve.

Chinese Omelet

Best known as Egg Fooyung, this dish used to be on most Chinese restaurant menus, although I haven’t seen it offered recently. In Mandarin it is called furong dan, or hibiscus or lotus flower eggs. It can be made with egg whites or whole eggs and can contain a variety of ingredients, ranging from ground pork to seafood – I have given a version here that uses the most common Chinese American restaurant ingredients, shrimp and peas – but you can certainly play with what you have on hand, making this a quick what’s-in-the-fridge supper. Be sure to use a well-seasoned skillet or resort to non-stick if you need to.

ingredients:

  • 6 large eggs (do your taste buds, your body, and the environment a favor and look for eggs from pastured chickens)
  • 1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut into 1/4″ pieces (see Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch for which variety is most sustainable)
  • 1/2 c. fresh peas, blanched until almost done and shocked, or frozen green peas, rinsed in cold water
  • 3 scallions, minced
  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • salt to taste
  • 2-3 T oil

method:

  1. Beat the eggs, then combine with the remaining ingredients.
  2. Depending on how well your skillet is seasoned, add 1-1.5 T oil, and heat on medium high until it shimmers.
  3. Add the egg mixture and immediately turn the heat to medium low.
  4. Cover the skillet and cook for about 5 m, or until the bottom is golden and the top is starting to set.
  5. Carefully turn the omelet over, adding the remaining oil around the edges of the pan if necessary.
  6. Cover and cook until set throughout.
  7. Slide the omelet onto a cutting board, cut into diamonds, and serve.

note:

If you are substituting other ingredients, you may want to first stirfry them lightly, then pour in the beaten eggs – some items may require a longer cooking time.

Red-cooked Pork Belly or Ribs

This is a great winter dish – warm and rich – which can be lightened up considerably by adding some vegetable ingredients. The trademark red color comes from caramelizing the sugar before adding the other ingredients. Like most of the braises in Chinese cooking, the quick assembly and long cooking time make it an ideal dish to make for company – you will have time to make a few other dishes while this one cooks. Fuchsia Dunlop has a lengthy introduction to this dish in her Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook.

ingredients:

  • 1 lb pork belly (with or without skin) or spare ribs (can be cut across the bone or into small sections of 2-3 ribs)
  • 2 T oil
  • 2 T sugar, brown or raw cane is best
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 5 slices fresh ginger root
  • 2 scallions, cut into 2″ lengths
  • 1-2 dried red chilies
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 2 star anise or 1/2 tsp anise seed
  • 2 c chicken broth or water
  • 1/2 tsp salt or to taste

method:

  1. Place the meat in a pot with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer 5 m. Drain and rinse.
  2. Cut the pork belly into large cubes, approximately 1″ square.
  3. Heat the oil in a pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then add the sugar and allow it to caramelize to a rich brown.
  4. Immediately add the pork and cooking wine and turn gently to coat with the caramel.
  5. Add the vinegar, soy sauce, ginger root, scallions, chilies, cinnamon, anise, and enough broth to just cover the meat.
  6. Bring to a boil, immediately reduce to a simmer, cover and braise on low heat or in a 325 F oven until completely tender, approximately 1 h.
  7. If you like a thicker sauce, you can remove the meat to a plate and reduce the sauce over high heat until it reaches the desired consistency. Add the meat back, stir quickly to reheat.
  8. Adjust the seasoning and serve.

variations:

The following ingredients can be added toward the end of the simmering:

  • fried or pressed beancurd cubes
  • rehydrated wood-ear
  • sliced or quartered shiitake mushroom caps (fresh or rehydrated)
  • sliced bamboo shoots or water chestnuts (available canned in most grocery stores)

do ahead:

 

 Like most braises, this can be made a few days ahead and reheated over low heat – keep refrigerated in a tightly covered container. It can also be frozen for 2-3 months – thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.

Steamed Pork with Five-Spice Rice Powder

This is a delicious dish that can be quickly assembled if you use Cream of Rice cereal or the rice powder sold in Asian markets. Or you can make the rice powder from scratch – it’s not difficult, but will take an extra step (see note below). You can then let the dish steam while you prepare some other dishes to accompany it.

Five spice powder’s claim to fame is that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cooking: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle. If you’re in a hurry and can’t find the ready-made mixture, you can substitute ground anise seed.

ingredients:

  • 12 oz pork, sliced 1/8″ thick across the grain: You can use pork butt, belly, or shoulder, but stay away from the overly lean cuts or the meat will be tough when steamed.
  • 1/2 c Cream of Rice cereal
  • 1/4 tsp five-spice powder

marinade:

garnish:

  • 1 scallion, minced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

method:

  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl, add the meat slices and marinate for 30 m.
  2. In a dry wok or skillet, toast the rice cereal and spice powder until light brown and fragrant, then set it aside to cool.
  3. Drain the meat, reserving the marinade, then coat each slice with the rice mixture and arrange, overlapping, on a heatproof plate.
  4. Sprinkle the remaining powder over the top of the dish, drizzle with the reserved marinade, and steam ove medium heat for an hour or until the meat is meltingly tender.
  5. Garnish with scallion and a drizzle of sesame oil, and serve.

note:

To make the rice powder from scratch, toast a mixture of 1/4 c glutinous rice and 1/4 c medium-grain rice in a dry skillet until lightly browned, adding the five-spice toward the end of the toasting. Use a food processor, spice grinder, or coffee grinder to grind it finely. This mixture can be made in larger batches and kept in a tightly sealed container at room temperature.

variations:

You can substitute other meats for the pork:

  • spare ribs – across the bone or left whole;
  • beef slices – you may want to add 1-2 T of oil to the marinade if the beef is lean;
  • chicken – traditionally, the pieces of chicken are cut into pieces, bones and all, but you could use whole pieces or cut them off the bone and cut into large (2×1″) chunks. Reduce steaming time to 30 m.

You can also make the dish spicy by adding ground red pepper (cayenne) to taste.

do ahead:

This dish can be steamed ahead of time and refrigerated, covered, for 2-3 days or frozen, tightly covered for 2-3 months. To serve, steam it until heated through – no thawing required, although you should be sure your plate can withstand the temperature change.