On the road again…

Wish I could claim it’s a voluntary chef’s vacation, but this week begins our family’s relocation from CA to MI, almost 2 weeks of enforced eating out, something I dread heartily. Hoping to find some healthy surprises along the way…. I’ll be posting occasionally, but new recipes are unlikely until after July 4th weekend.

Thanks to all who have been visiting regularly, and welcome to those who are new to the blog! The first week of July will mark the 1 year anniversary of its creation, and I’m pleased to have exceeded my hoped for page views (12,000) by over 1,200, and we’re still more than a week out.

And finally, a few links to round out the post:

“New Facts about Fish” doesn’t delve too deeply into the topic but gives a quick summary in list form and does consider environmental impact as well as health issues – would be interesting to compare the list to that of Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

“Nutrition: Parents’ Healthy Diet Has Little Influence”: An odd little blip with a useful link to a study in Social Science and Medicine. Not really sure how to pair that with the piece I linked to last week about how children are making healthier choices?

Snowpeas in Vinaigrette

dressing

This is another recipe that I’ve created – not strictly Chinese, but the flavors in the vinaigrette make it almost so. You can serve this with Chinese food or as a quick vegetable dish for any meal – it’s particularly good with grilled salmon. Fresh snow peas are plentiful this time of year in Southern California, but you can also use frozen ones, although they will be a bill less pleasing in texture. Sugar snap peas would work just as well but require a bit longer cooking time.

ingredients

  • 12 oz snow peas
  • 2 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger root, minced
  • 1/4 tsp sugar, brown or raw cane is best
  • 2 T sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt, more or less to taste

method:

  1. Snap off both ends of the snowpeas, allowing the strings to pull away with the end (the strings are very tough and not pleasant to eat).
  2. You can leave the peapods whole, cut them in half.
  3. Steam (or blanch) the peapods just until crisp-tender and bright green (if you get to olive green, it’s a bit too well-done), then then shock in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set the color, draining well when cold.
  4. While the peas cool, combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl; set aside.
  5. 10-20 m before serving, combine the vegetable with the dressing, adjust the seasoning, and serve.

do ahead:
Peapods and dressing can be prepared up to 1 day in advance. Do not combine until 10-20 m before serving, or the vegetable will turn an unattractive olive color.

Friday List of Links

A reason for guarded optimism? I was interested to read on the dailySpark about a report out from the Journal of the American Medical Association that concludes, “The prevalence of high BMI for age among children and adolescents showed no significant changes between 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 and no significant trends between 1999 and 2006.” Tara Parker-Pope explores some of the possible reasons for the plateau in her Well blog in the New York Times.

On the farming front, the New York Times also offers a piece on urban rooftop farming: “Urban Farming, a Bit Closer to the Sun.”

3 Cups Scallops

The “3 cups” style of cooking originally refers to a recips for cooking an entire chicken using 1 cup each of soy sauce, sesame oil, and wine. Obviously for lesser amounts of food, the amount of ingredients has also been reduced, but for most recipes of this style, the proportion remains the same 1:1:1. Often these dishes are served in a very hot cast iron pot or bowl.

For the basil, you can use thai basil, the more common Italian variety, or play with the kinds you can find fresh at the market, or you can substitute cilantro. Scallops seem to be one of the few seafood types for which the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program recommends buying the farmed variety. They are best fresh, but frozen will work as well – just be sure to thaw them slowly in the refrigerator, not in water.

ingredients:

  • 1 lb bay scallops
  • 3 T sesame oil
  • 2 small red chilies (optional), cut diagonally into elongated rounds
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 slice ginger, cut into thin strips
  • 3 T light soy sauce
  • 3 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 2 scallions, roll cut into 1″ lengths
  • salt, to taste
  • 3 sprigs basil

method:

  1. Gently remove the small muscle that is sometimes found attached to the side of the scallop – these can get extremely tough when cooked, but they make a great ingredient for fish stock or broth.
  2. Heat a wok over medium high heat, then add the sesame oil just until it shimmers.
  3. Explode the chilies, garlic and ginger just until fragrant, then add the soy sauce, cooking wine, and scallions. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.
  4. Add the scallops, cooking just until they become opaque all the way through – this may take as little as a minute.
  5. Adjust the seasoning, garnish with the basil, and serve.

variation:

You can substitute just about any type of seafood for the scallops – squid, shrimp, and fish slices all work well.

Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009

The newest bill to protect consumers from contaminated food has been introduced in the House: it’s call the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, and like all bills, it seems, it’s many pages long (text is available online from the Library of Congress). I’m desperately trying to find the time to actually read it or talk to people who have read it and understand it, as I’ve seen a flare go up that between the lines and in the fine print, it’s an effort to limit organic farming and gardening (even the home variety) to the benefit of large agribusiness. If you do read it and want to take action on it one way or the other, contact your local senator or representative.

Menu: End of School Picnic

This past spring semester, I taught the Gifted and Talented Education program kids at our neighborhood elementary school: we spent 8 weeks on Mandarin Chinese and 8 weeks on Nutrition. At the end of each session we had a dinner party to celebrate, and last week’s event was a combination of the two sessions: together we cooked a nutritious Chinese meal from scratch, using (mostly) whole, close to the source ingredients. I did think that 4th and 5th graders would probably be capable of doing most of the preparation, but for liability reasons, I did most of the work that involved knives, and I left the grilling to my husband. This would be a great menu to prepare with your family – younger kids will get into the rinsing and drying of ingredients, while older kids can measure and mix the dressings. If you prepare for more than 4 people, you can also have them do the math of increasing the recipe amounts.

the recipes:

the strategy:

  1. up to 1 day ahead: make bbq sauce, parcook the ribs, marinate
  2. up to 4 hours ahead: cook and chill tofu; blanch and shock asparagus, roast the bell peppers, peel and slice them; mix all dressings and the sauce for the tofu
  3. up to 2 hours ahead: cook and season the edamame
  4. up to 1 h ahead: shred cabbage, salt and set aside; slice cucumbers, salt and set aside
  5. up to 30 m ahead: combine asparagus, peppers, cucumbers, and cabbage with their respective dressings
  6. party time: set all cold dishes out on the table; grill the ribs

 

A list of links

A wide range of food news links this week – unrelated but interesting stuff!

20 ways to eat healthier right now: a lot like Michael Pollan’s tips in In Defense of Food, great tips for those who want to effect a lifestyle change, not just another diet. My favorite of the 20:

19. Watching Top Chef isn’t cooking.
We love food shows, too, but zoning out in front of the TV with a container of greasy moo shu pork is kind of missing the point. “Cooking has become a spectator sport,” Drewnowski says. “People watch and think, If only that chef could come cook for me!” No need to whip up a seven-course meal, but you can pick up tips about combining flavors and using fresh ingredients.

Will You Stand Up for Menu Labeling?: informative post on dailySpark blog, gives good background info on this ongoing battle.

Loving Fish, This Time with the Fish in Mind: more thoughts on eating sustainable seafood from NYT’s Mark Bittman.

Neighbor, Can You Spare a Plum?: a movement afoot in urban areas to make local fruit more readily available, some cool links to resources, some of which may be in your neighborhood.

Students compete for scholarships to culinary arts schools: good to see grantors stepping up to help out students who want to go to culinary school – I’m hoping that some of them go into the field with a social conscience, not just for the celebrity chef status.

Fighting to keep schools’ culinary arts program alive: related to the previous article, includes a link for those who want to donate to the cause.

Chinese Coleslaw

This is a recipe I created for a party that we held for a group of my daughter’s friends – we let them decide on the menu, and as they were fairly evenly split between a traditional barbecue and a Chinese meal that we decided to combine the two themes. You can use the conventional round cabbage for this or you can branch out and try napa or bok choy. For the latter two types, I would salt the cabbage for the shorter amount of time (20 m) and squeeze even more gently than you would with the conventional variety.

ingredients:

  • 1 small head of cabbage, about 1 lb
  • 1 tsp salt

dressing:

  • 2 T sugar, preferably light brown or raw cane
  • 2 T vinegar, apple cider or rice wine varieties are best
  • 1 T sesame oil

method:

  1. Shred the cabbage finely (a mandolin comes in handy here), then toss w/ the salt and set aside for 20-30 m.
  2. Combine the sauce ingredients and set aside.
  3. Rinse the cabbage in cold water, then gently squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
  4. Combine the cabbage with the dressing, adjust seasoning, and serve.

Sweet Steamed Buns

There are a variety of sweet fillings for the steamed buns (baozi) that are usually eaten for breakfast. Like the other baozi recipes on this blog, these can be made ahead and frozen, then resteamed from the frozen state.

equipment:

  • 24 squares of wax or parchment paper, 2×2″
  • steamer: for this recipe, if you have been rigging up a steamer as I discussed in the Steamers post, you will need to add some sort of rack to the pot over the plate – if you steam the buns on a plate, the bottoms will get too soggy

ingredients:

filling:

  • 3/4 c total (either choose 1 or use a mixture): blanched almonds, toasted pine nuts, unsalted roasted peanuts or peanut butter, toasted walnuts, toasted sesame seeds (white or black)
  • 2 T honey
  • 1 T light brown sugar
  • 1-2 T sesame oil

method:

  1. Grind the nuts and/or seeds in a food processor until very fine, then mix with the honey, brown sugar, and enough sesame oil to make a stiff paste.
  2. Divide the dough in 1/2, keeping one half in a bowl under a damp cloth.
  3. Roll or pat the first 1/2 into a rough circle, being sure to press out any air bubbles as you go. If your dough is the right texture, you shouldn’t need to add extra flour, but it’s okay if you need to flour the counter a bit.
  4. Poke your thumbs through the middle to make a doughnut shape, then cut that on one side to achieve a cylinder.
  5. Roll the cylinder between your hands and the counter until it is approximately 1 foot long.
  6. With a bench scraper or very sharp knife, cut the cylinder into 12 sections.
  7. Roll the dough pieces one at a time into a ball, then flatten each into a small circle.
  8. Place 1 T of filling in the center of a circle, then keeping your thumb roughly over the middle of the filling, start bringing the edge of the circle up to the thumb, crimping it into little pleats as you turn the circle slightly in your opposite hand. You should end up with a tiny hole at the top of a round bun – pinch this tightly closed.
  9. Place each bun on a square of paper and transfer to the steamer rack.
  10. Repeat steps 2-9 with the second 1/2 of the dough, then stack and cover the steamer racks.
  11. Allow the buns to rise 20 m.
  12. Steam for 8-10 m. Be careful when removing the steamer cover to catch the condensation on the lid with a towel – don’t let it pour onto the buns.

do ahead:

Unless you get up insanely early (like I do – well, usually!), you won’t want to be making these for breakfast the day you plan to consume them. The buns can be steamed and either refrigerated or frozen for another day – just pop them back in the steamer to heat through – from frozen it will take about 10-15 minutes. I don’t recommend microwaving them, although some people swear by wrapping an individual bun in a damp cloth or paper towel and microwaving it.

Stirfried Cucumbers

Sounds odd, I know – how often do we eat cucumbers hot? But I discovered that stirfrying is a great way to use cucumbers that are just a bit too big, a bit too tough-skinned for those cool summer salads. (As a woman told me at the farmers’ market, as I carefully chose the perfect green beans and she shoveled handfuls into a bag, “The ugly ones need love, too!”)

ingredients:

  • 3 small cucumbers, about 12 oz total
  • 1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 tsp Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tsp vinegar, rice wine or apple cider work best
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp brown sugar

method:

  1. If the cucumber peels are really tough, peel them or score with the tines of a fork. Cut the cucumber in 1/2 lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, then cut on the diagonal into elongated crescents.
  2. Add 1/2 tsp salt, and allow the cucumber to drain in a sieve for 20 m, then pat dry with a clean kitchen towel.
  3. Combine the wine, vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar in a bowl and set aside.
  4. Heat a wok over medium high heat, then add the oil, just until it shimmers.
  5. Add the cucumbers, stirfrying for approximately 1 m.
  6. Add the sauce ingredients and stirfry quickly to coat the cucumbers and dissolve the sugar.
  7. Adjust the seasoning and serve.