Food in the News and on the ‘Net

Disturbing news on the scary food front:

Marion Nestle blogs on the egg recall: “Take home lesson: If you just have a few chickens, waste is not a problem. If you have millions of chickens in one place, you have a disaster in waiting.” One more reason to love your local pastured egg provider!

And here’s a rather unscientific project that should still give you pause: The Happy Meal Project documents in photographs how a Happy Meal looks after 137 days on the kitchen counter. Assuming all pictures are, in truth, documenting this lack of decomposition, I have to wonder how one could be sure that a Happy Meal is indeed “fresh” as is labeled on slide one. One more reason to avoid fast food and cook and eat from scratch at home using whole, close to the source ingredients, I’d say!

And some more positive links:

Change.org provides a good summary of food labeling terms: 8 Misleading Food Label Terms Every Eater Should Know

Food + Society Alliance posted a good intro to food issues: Food and You

Will the real free-range egg (yolk) please stand up?

I’m a firm believer in buying farm fresh local eggs (and other ingredients): true pastured eggs – from chickens who eat what what they can find while out scratching around in a pasture – come from happy hens, are likely to be better for us, for the environment, and for the local food economy, and they just plain taste better. For more details, see my post on eggs at Simply: Home Cooking.

For a quick, fun visual summary of some of the arguments for pastured eggs, visit Big Wheel Provision’s video, Egg Cage Match!

Scrambled Eggs & Fish

Quick and healthy – lots of lean protein! Use the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch site to find information on how to purchase the most sustainably caught or raised small-flake mild white fish available (bass, snapper, tilapia, etc. – avoid the large-flake, oily fish such as cod).

I posted this recipe earlier (see Stirfried Fish with Eggs), but have been working on it since and have tweaked it a bit for better results.

ingredients:

  • 4 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
  • 2 tsp Shaoxing cooking wine
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger root, grated and juiced
  • 1 tsp cornstarch (rice, potato, tapioca flour will also work)
  • 4 oz white fish fillet, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 T oil
  • 4 scallions, chopped

method:

  1.  Separate the eggs, yolks into 1 bowl, 3 whites into another, 1 white into a third.
  2. Whisk 1/2 of the wine and 1/2 of the salt into the egg yolks.
  3. Whisk 1/2 of the wine and 1/2 of the salt into the 3 egg whites.
  4. Whisk the ginger juice and cornstarch into the 1 egg white, then add the fish pieces and marinate 10-15 m. When ready to cook, drain off as much of the marinade as possible.
  5. Heat a wok over medium high heat, then add 1 T oil and heat just until it shimmers.
  6. Stirfry the fish just until cooked through 1-3 m, then remove to a plate.
  7. Heat 1 T oil, stirfry the egg whites quickly, then remove to the same plate.
  8. Heat 1 T oil, stirfry the egg yolks, then remove to the same plate.
  9. Return everything to the wok for a quick stir, add the scallion, adjust the seasoning and serve.

variation:

To make this dish even more quickly, simply separate out 1 egg white for the fish marinade. Scramble the remaining yolk and eggs together with the entire amount of salt and wine. Stirfry the fish as in steps 5-6, then stirfry the eggs together before returning the fish to the wok.

Curried Beancurd

Full disclosure – this is really not a Chinese recipe. But since you can occasionally find curry recipes in Chinese cookbooks, and since I just received a lovely gift of some homemade curry powder, I thought, “Why not?” So here it is, with thanks to Madhur Jaffrey for the basic idea. We prefer the silken tofu, but you can certainly use any firm variety.

ingredients:

  • 1 pkg firm silken tofu
  • 1″ piece of fresh ginger root, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 14-oz can coconut milk
  • 1 T yellow curry powder
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon, to taste
  • 1 sprig fresh basil or 1/4 tsp dried

method:

  1. Cut the tofu into 1/2″ cubes, then soak in salt water (1 c water:1 tsp salt) – this keeps the tofu from breaking apart during cooking.
  2. Place the ginger, garlic, and onion in a blender with 1/4 c water and process until liquified.
  3. Heat the oil in a wok over medium high heat, just until it shimmers.
  4. Add the liquid from the blender and stirfry until slightly less watery.
  5. Add the curry powder, stir to combine, then add the coconut milk.
  6. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 m or until slightly thickened.
  7. Season to taste with salt and lemon juice.
  8. Add the tofu and the basil and simmer until the tofu is heated through.

do ahead:

The sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator or up to 2 h in advance and left, covered, at room temperature.

variation:

This sauce would go well with all sorts of vegetables and/or meat: stirfry the main ingredients, then add the sauce and stir to combine.

Beancurd with Mushrooms

As the weather gets colder, we’re turning away from our old standby, Chilled Beancurd with Soy Sauce, and thinking of warmer dishes. This is a quick tofu dish that exactly suits that purpose and can easily be made vegan. If fresh mushrooms are not available, you can use 6-8 dried shiitakes, rehydrated in hot water for 30 m – the soaking water can be substituted for the broth or water.

ingredients:

  • 1 pkg extra-firm silken tofu (we like Mori-nu brand)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems reserved for making broth or stock
  • 2 T light soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1/2 c homemade chicken or vegetable broth or water
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 T chicken or vegetable broth or water
  • 1 T cooking oil
  • 2 scallions, roll cut into 1/2″ sections
  • 1 T fresh ginger root, cut into matchsticks
  • sea salt to taste

method:

  1. Cut the beancurd into 3/4″ cubes, then soak in a bowl of cold water mixed with the 1/2 tsp sea salt.
  2. Cut the mushroom caps into 1/2″ strips or into quarters
  3. Combine the soy sauce, sugar, cooking wine, and 1/2 c broth and set aside.
  4. Combine the cornstarch with the 1 T of broth and set aside.
  5. Heat the wok over medium high heat, then add the oil just until it shimmers.
  6. Explode the scallion and ginger just until fragrant, then add the mushrooms, stirfrying until just tender.
  7. Add the soy sauce mixture, and bring to a boil.
  8. Add the beancurd and return to a simmer, just until heated through.
  9. Add the cornstarch mixture, stirring gently 1-2 m or until the starchy taste is cooked out.
  10. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Chilled Beancurd with Soy Sauce

This is the simplest of cold dishes and a great source of protein for a vegetarian meal. Tofu is one food our daughter has loved since she was just starting on solid foods – she hated pureed food and demanded something with a bit of texture, so she probably ate tofu just about every day as a toddler. Unlike avocadoes, which she now won’t touch, tofu has never gone out of style for her!

For this recipe, I highly recommend buying the firm silken variety of beancurd – Mori-nu is a widely available brand that can be found in most conventional grocery stores, most often near the Asian produce or “fake meat” section.

ingredients:

  • 1 pkg firm silken beancurd
  • 2 T light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 pinch freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1 scallion, minced

method:

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
  2. Cut the beancurd into slices, 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick, then let it sit in salted water (1 T salt to 2 c water) while the water in the pot comes to a boil.
  3. Reduce the boiling water to a simmer, the gently lower the tofu into the simmering water using a sieve or a slotted spoon.
  4. After 1/2 m, remove to a plate to cool, then refrigerate 20 m.
  5. Arrange the slices carefully on a serving plate and drizzle with the soy sauce and sesame oil, sprinkle with pepper, cilantro and scallion.

variations:

  • Tofu is already cooked, and the blanching and cooling step is meant only to improve texture and flavor – if you’re in a big hurry, that step can be omitted.
  • Substitute oyster sauce for the soy sauce if you prefer a slightly sweet, thicker sauce.
  • The soy sauce/sesame oil can be served on the side as a dip rather than being poured over the dish.

Asparagus with “Hollandaise”

Must be spring: asparagus is flooding the farmers’ market in SoCal, so I hope things are warming up in the rest of the country, too! Here’s a twist on asparagus served with hollandaise – it’s certainly lower in fat than that classic sauce and adds some protein to a vegetarian meal. Just remember cooking the sauce requires a fine balance: you want to cook the sauce on a low enough heat that it won’t separate, but you also want to heat it long enough that the starch is cooked out. If you add the cold beaten egg directly to the hot sauce or cook it to rapidly, you’ll end up with egg drop soup! And a note on asparagus – only buy this veggie from the vendors who store them upright in a bit of water, and when you get it home, if you’re not cooking it right away, store upright in a tall glass with a bit of water at the bottom.

ingredients:

  • 1 lb asparagus
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 c homemade stock or broth
  • 1 T cornstarch mixed with 2 T cold water
  • 1 T oil
  • 1/2 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1/2 tsp salt, to taste

method:

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
  2. Snap the tough ends off the asparagus where they break naturally, then rinse, drain, cut into 1.5″ lengths or roll-cut. Blanch and shock.
  3. Bring the stock to a simmer, then add cornstarch mixture and bring back to a simmer, stirring constantly until slightly thickened, then simmer 1 m more to cook out the starchy taste.
  4. Whisking constantly, gradually add 1/4 c of the hot stock mixture to the egg, then add the egg mixture back to the hot stock mixture, whisking constantly. Heat gently until thickened – it should not reach a simmer. Remove from the heat, season with 1/4 tsp salt and keep warm.
  5. Heat the oil in a wok over medium high heat just until it shimmers.
  6. Add the asparagus and stirfry until crisp-tender.
  7. Add the cooking wine and 1/4 tsp salt, stirfry to allow the sherry to evaporate, then remove to a serving plate.
  8. Drizzle with the egg sauce and serve immediately.

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.

Kungpao Tofu (or Chicken or Shrimp or…)

This is another dish that probably shows up on most Chinese restaurants in America. It really is for the die-hard fire-eaters, but even they should leave the chilies on the plate and just enjoy the rest of the dish! You can substitute shrimp or chicken for the tofu and cashews for the peanuts (see the variations below).

ingredients:

  • 1 c pressed beancurd or baked  tofu (more on that here)
  • 1/4 c dried red chilies
  • 1 T oil
  • 1/2 c roasted unsalted skinless peanuts
  • 2 slices fresh ginger root, cut into thin strips
  • 3 scallions, cut into 1″ lengths

sauce:

  • 2 T light soy sauce
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1.5 tsp tapioca flour or cornstarch
  • 1 tsp black vinegar or apple cider or rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar, raw cane or brown is best

method:

  1. Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Cut the beancurd into 1/2″ dice.
  3. Wipe the dried peppers with a damp cloth anc cut into 1/2″ sections – keep the seeds if you really love the heat, or throw them out.
  4. Heat the oil in the wok over high heat until it shimmers, the explode the chili sections, ginger, and scallions just until fragrant.
  5. Stirfry the beancurd quickly to heat thru, add the peanuts and stir to combine.
  6. Add the sauce and cook until it thickens and loses its starchy taste, approximately 1-2 m.

variations:

  • You can substitute 1 c diced chicken or shrimp for the tofu: marinate 20 m in 1/2 egg white combined with 1 tsp cornstarch and 1 tsp Shaoxing wine or dry sherry; stirfry in place of the beancurd just until cooked through.
  • Substitute roasted unsalted cashews for the peanuts.
  • You can add some bell peppers, green beans, broccoli, or other vegetable for extra color – dice and stirfry separately, then add back to the dish just before you add the sauce.