Sunday, February 22, 2009

Food for Toothless People

Boyfriend had a root canal on Friday and has had trouble eating grown-up food since. So the challenge has been to make pureed food that is nutritious and filling. It's not easy! The Chinese have a rice porridge that is thick, hot, and pretty simple. Usually, people put some salted pork and thousand-year-old egg or seafood and peanuts or chicken or beef. After Thanksgiving, my Ai-Yee makes a porridge out of the leftover turkey. It's my favorite. However, since Boyfriend can't chew anything, the porridge, or jook as we call it, was simply chicken broth, some dried scallops and rice. It all gets simmered together for over an hour to yield a thick, hearty, savory porridge. Next on tap for the menu for toothless people: rice pudding and applesauce.

(Serves 2)
12 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup uncooked rice
2 dried scallops (optional)
1 scallion, finely sliced

Soak the uncooked rice for a couple of hours. You can also soak it overnight. Put the stock in tall stock pot with the 2 dried scallops and rice and bring to a high boil. When it boils, bring it down to a steady simmer. Let the rice and broth simmer for a couple of hours, uncovered. You can leave the lid on with a gap but you must stay close to the pot because the rice often boils over. Stir occasionally to ensure the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pot. The porridge is done when the rice has broken down and the porrdige is thick. Garnish with the sliced scallion.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

By Popular Request

I am Chinese-American and the recipe I am asked most about is....drum roll please....fried rice! Fried rice is so simple, and like all great signature dishes of a country, is thrown together from leftovers. It's a dish that was intended to use leftover rice and is often served for breakfast. In fact, I didn't often have scrambled eggs or cereal or toast for breakfast as a child. I didn't actually start to like the stuff until I was a young adult. My mom usually made us leftovers that we ate hastily on the way to school. Most often, mom made fried rice. My favorites were a fried rice made out of a shredded, dried pork product that I haven't been able to find in Norway. The other favorite, and most often had, was Spam Fried Rice. Most Americans hear "Spam" and shudder. Not anyone in my family. We could have been Hawaiian - we love the stuff. For those in Europe, Spam is an American product made from meat...well, parts. Meat parts. Meat parts that get chopped together and formed into a cube that slips gelatinously out of its can and plops onto your cutting board - a quivering, pink block of meat parts. I know it sounds gross but it's fantastic. Mom used to dice up the Spam and make fried rice for us for breakfast.

In Norway, I haven't yet found Spam but they do sell cubed pieces of ham that are the perfect size for fried rice. I had some leftover rice, some eggs in the refrigerator and some peas in the freezer. After buying an onion and a box of the diced ham, I had all I needed for dinner. So, by popular request, I present to you - Fried Rice.

Fried Rice

2 cups cold rice, best if leftover from the night before. The best type of rice to use is a long-grained rice.
1 cup diced ham
3/4 cup diced brown or white onion, small dice
3/4 cup frozen peas (fresh can be used too)
2 tbs finely sliced scallions
2 eggs
3 tbs oil, divided
1 tbs oyster sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
Ground pepper to taste

Heat 1 tbs of oil in a wide frying pan to medium high. Crack the 2 eggs into the pan and stir, lightly scrambling the eggs as they fry. Lightly season the eggs with salt and pepper. When the eggs are just done and tender, remove them from the pan and set aside. To the same pan, add the remaining 2 tbs of oil and the brown onion. Saute the onion until they are soft, then add the diced ham. Brown the ham and the onion. I like to do this to caramelize the flavors on the ham and it creates a nice texture when the ham is browned. To the browned onions and ham, add the rice, breaking up the rice as you add it to the pan so that you have individual grains of rice. You don't need to be neurotic about each piece of rice being separate, just do the best that you can. Stir fry the rice and the meat and onions until combined. If the rice looks too try, add 1 to 2 tbs of water and stir well. Let the rice fry/steam to soften. To the rice, add the eggs and the peas. It's ok if the peas are still frozen. Break up the egg pieces as best as you can. Then add the oyster sauce and the soy sauce and stir to combine. Let the rice stir fry an additional 2 or so minutes until the rice is heated through. Turn the heat off and stir in the sliced scallions. For additional texture, you can also sprinkle some dry roasted peanuts on top.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blueberries+Lemon = Divine

I can't recall where I first got the idea to mix the flavors of lemon and blueberry together. It may have come from my cousin , DEWBaker who makes the most divine scones (and cakes, and cookies, and pasta, and everything culinary) and she may have made a scone flavored with blueberries and lemon. I have applied that same delicious combination to biscotti and now to slice and bake cookies. The recipe was taken, again, from Smitten Kitchen.

The cookies were delicate and lightly lemon flavored. I would have liked a bit more blueberry in mine and will probably up the amount of dried blueberries by 1/4 cup. Reports from my taste testers tell me that I needn't change the recipe. I leave it up to you. I imagine this cookie would also be great with a simple vanilla ice cream. It is easy to make and the best part is that you can freeze the cookie dough and keep it for whenever you want to have fresh cookies.

Also, I used dried blueberries that I brought with me from Trader Joe's in the US. These are, hands down, my favorite dried blueberries. They're all natural and the flavor is so intensely blueberry that they taste like they were picked and dried in their prime - which they probably were. If you can't find dried blueberries or you can't find dried blueberries that taste good, you can also use a variety of other flavors. Smitten Kitchen has a large selection of options on her site. Me? I think I'll try apricot+pistachio next.

Blueberry Lemon Slice and Bake Cookies
Scaled down from Smitten Kitchen

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 c. dried blueberries, minced (like I said above, if you want a blueberry explosion you can add an extra 1/4 cup)
Zest of one lemon
1 large egg yolk
pinch of salt
1 cup all purpose flour
*Note - There is almond extract in the photo. I decided to omit it at the last minute and am glad I did.

Put the butter in the bowl of a mixer and beat at medium speed until it is smooth. Add the sifted powdered sugar and beat again until the mixture is smooth and silky. Beat in the egg yolks, followed by the salt, dried blueberries, and lemon zest. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, beating just until it disappears. It is better to underbeat than overbeat at this point; if the flour isn’t fully incorporated, that’s okay just blend in whatever remaining flour needs blending with a rubber spatula. Turn the dough out onto a counter, gather it into a ball and wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Working on a smooth surface, form the piece of dough into a log that is about 1 to 1 1/4 inches (2.5 to 3.2 cm) thick. If you get the thickness right, and the length you end up with will be fine. Wrap the logs in plastic and chill for 2 hours. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and kept refrigerated for up to 3 days or stored in the freezer for up to 1 month.)

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a baking sheets with parchment paper (or silpat). While the oven is heating, use a sharp slender knife, slice each log into cookies about 1/3 inch (10 mm) thick. (You can make the cookies thicker if you’d like; just bake them longer.) Place the cookies on the lined baking sheets, leaving about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) space between them.
Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, or until they are set but not browned. Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.
Keeping: Packed airtight, the cookies will keep for about 5 days at room temperature, or in the freezer for a month. Unbaked logs can be frozen for longer.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

ILOF Eats Cake

ILOF: International Ladies of Fabulous

The majority of my friends in Norway are not Norwegians. In fact, I think we only have 2 countries that are represented twice in my group of girlfriends - India and Norway. In my gaggle of hens, we have a Miss Finland, Miss Italy, Miss Cyprus, 2 Miss Norways, 2 Miss Indias and me, Miss USA (woot woot!). It's a great mix full of diverging ideas, cultures, personalities that all come together in one loud, chatty, opinionated group of new friends.

On Friday, I invited a select few of us over for coffee+cake. I wanted it to be a small group partly because we don't have many seats in our apartment and I wasn't sure if the cake would turn out ok. It was the first time I'd made a cake from scratch in 13 years. I don't count types of cakes like carrot, banana, or zucchini as a true cake because you can't really mess those up. The first, and up until this week, last time I made a real cake from scratch was when I was a teenager. I wanted to bake a cake for a good friend. Her favorite color was purple so I dyed the cake a lavendar color. As if the color wasn't disastrous enough, when I moved the cake from the baking rack to the worktable, I dropped the cake. Now, if the cake had broken apart into a lovely soft crumble, I would have been sad but I would have gotten over it. This cake bounced and stayed intact. It scarred me for a long time. 13 years to be precise. So you can understand how I would want to limit the guest list.

Turns out my fears were unecessary. The cake was delicious, if I do say so myself. I made a torta di pere, or more descriptively, a dark chocolate and pear cake. I got the recipe from one of my favorite food blogs, SmittenKitchen. I didn't take pictures of the process. SmittenKitchen takes wonderful and descriptive pictures and my kitchen was a hot mess throughout the process. I was a little uncertain of how it would turn out; so much so that I sat on the floor in front of my oven and neurotically watched the cake rise just to make sure it would. It all works out well in the end. How well? Check the images I did take - a picture says a thousand words.



Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Carrot Soup

Sounds exciting, doesn't it? It gets better. It's all vegetarian and this soup has no flavor help from any additional stocks, not even vegetable stock. It's just carrots and water and a few helpful additions. I told you it was exciting...and it is!! This soup is awesome.

I looked into my vegetable drawer to find a lot of bags of carrots. I'm not even sure where they all came from. I just had a drawerful of carrots so I said to myself, "yo, that's a lot of carrots." So I decided to do something about it. And this was it.

All-Vegetarian Carrot Soup
6-7 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch diagonal rounds
1 mm slice of ginger (You can use more if you like the stuff)
5-6 shallots, diced (if not, you can use half a small onion)
1/8 (up to 1/4) tsp cinnamon, depending on taste. I like it almost at 1/4.
1 tbs brown sugar *I amended the amount of sugar*
1 bay leaf
3 cups water
3 tbs bread crumbs
2 tbs butter
1/8 cup of heavy cream

Melt the butter in a soup pot. In the melted butter, saute the shallots and the slice of ginger. Saute the shallots and ginger until the shallots are soft and slightly brown. Add the carrots and saute on medium high for about 5 minutes. Add the brown sugar and saute until the sugar starts to caramelize. When the sugar starts to caramelize (be careful not to let it burn), add the water to the pot scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen and dissolve any bits that are stuck. Add the bay leaf and the bread crumbs to the soup. Let the soup simmer for 45 minutes. When the carrots are soft, remove the ginger slice and bay leaf from the soup and puree the soup until smooth. Return the pureed soup to the pot and bring back up to a simmer. Stir in the cream and check the seasoning. Salt and pepper to taste.
Great with crackers. If you have those little goldfish crackers that'd be cute.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Shrimp and Spniach over Polenta

A few weeks ago, I bought polenta and I've had polenta on the brain since then. Last night, the recipe that I'd run through my head over the past few weeks came into being. Yes, my recipes are like babies to me. I have a gestational period and when they're ready, I birth them. Ok, even I had to laugh at that statement. It's a little dramatic, but it's true.

Enough of recipes as babies. Let's get down to the recipe itself. The shrimp, which I bought at the Asian grocery store, were jumbo tiger shrimp frozen and imported from Vietnam. They were succulent, sweet, and so full of flavor. I'll probably be thrown out of Norway for saying this, but these Vietnamese shrimp can kick some Norwegian shrimp ass. The shrimp were the all-stars that took this dish from good to GRRRR-EAT! Yeah, I'm bringing back a little of the Tony the Tiger. Tony the TIGER SHRIMP! Damn, I'm good.
Shrimp and Spinach over Polenta
(Serves 2)
3/4 lb large shrimp, de-shelled and de-veined
2 cups canned diced tomatoes
1 clove garlic, smashed but still in one piece
5 shallots, sliced
2 bunches of spinach, about 6 cups washed and trimmed
3 tbs olive oil
1 cup polenta
4 1/2 cups of water
1/2 cup cream
1 tbs butter
1/2 tsp of salt
1 tbs of finely chopped parsley
Large pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Place the oil in the saute pan and heat the pan to medium-high. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the crushed pepper flakes. To the oil and flakes, saute the shallots and the garlic, stirring frequently. Let the shallot and the garlic saute until the shallots are soft. Remove the garlic (a little trick I learned from The Italian Rabblerowser) and add the tomatoes to the sauce. Let the sauce saute and reduce for about 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently. To the sauce add the spinach and cook until they are wilted. Add the shrimp and cook until the shrimp have turned pink. Stir in the parsley and check for seasoning. Remove the sauce from the stove.

While the tomatoes are cooking down, bring the 4 cups of water and 1/2 tsp of salt to a boil. Once the water is at a boil, stream handfuls of the polenta into the hot water, stirring vigorously. Continue adding the polenta flour to the boiling mixture stirring constantly. You need to stir it constantly to remove the lumps. The polenta will thicken very quickly and cooks pretty fast. When the polenta is thick like so, add cream and the butter, stirring to incorporate into the polenta. The polenta will still be thick but also creamy.

Spoon the polenta into a bowl and spoon the shrimp and sauce over the polenta. It is warm and so hearty. I mean really - it's filling. I couldn't finish my deceptively small portion even thought I definitely wanted to.
1. You will have leftover polenta. It's great the next day, reheated with a little milk and with some grated parmesan cheese on top. Ohhhh.....that's good.
2. My mom always puts shrimp on ice right before she cooks it. The trick for crunchy, firm shrimp is to get it really cold right before you cook it.
3. The shrimp I used were fairly large. You can tell the size of the shrimp by the number notated on the package. The shrimp I used were sized 16/20, meaning there are 16-20 shrimp per pound. The smaller the number on the package, the bigger the shrimp.
4. I don't have anymore notes.

Friday, February 6, 2009

My mommy loves me

She loves me so much, she makes me tamales. She buys the fresh masa from one of the many Mexican supermarkets in our neighborhood. Masa is the ground cornmeal that is used as the base for tamales and tortillas. My little Chinese mother takes the masa home and mixes it with chicken stock for flavor and some other secret ingredients so the masa is light and fluffy. Then my little Chinese mommy makes a red chile sauce for the filling. She takes dried red chiles, reconstitutes them in hot water, then blends them up with spices and more chicken stock. She simmers lean pieces of pork or chicken breast until they are tender then shreds the meat. She mixes the shredded meat with the red chile sauce and lets the mixture marinate together overnight. Then she soaks the corn husks she purchased from the same Mexican supermart and lets them sit in water overnight.

The next day, she takes out her large bowl of her home-mixed masa and her homemade meat filling. My little Chinese mommy assembles her tamales. She stands at the kitchen table and puts together dozens of tamales for hours. Like I said, my mommy loves me.

How do you fill a tamale? Luckily, years of Christmas tamales have taught me how to make a tamale. You take a corn husk and you spread a large tablespoon and a half of masa on the husk. In the middle of the masa, put a tablespoon of meat and spread it evenly along the length of the masa. Carefully fold the husk in thirds over the masa then flip the bottom of the corn husk so that it's folded in half. I will take pictures the next time I'm in Southern California and we're making tamales. Mom steams the tamales for about half an hour to 45 minutes in a giant steamer on our stove. When the tamales are done, she lets the tamales cool and then freezes them for us in packs of 12. She labels our packs of tamales by "P" for pork and "C" for chicken. Mom brought these few dozen of frozen tamales all the way to Denver for us. From Denver, we flew these tamales home to Oslo and straight into our freezer. This is how we are able to enjoy homemade, real Mexican tamales in a city barren of real Mexican food.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I hate ginger

Everyone who knows me knows that I hate ginger. I make no secret of it. In fact, I'm pretty obvious. I make gag noises when I see ginger. I spit out what I'm eating when I encounter an errant piece of ginger. I harp about ginger that is used inappropriately in Chinese cooking. I'm an all around brat when it comes to ginger. I hate it.

Which is why it is SO anomalous that I made a ginger-scallion dipping oil for our Chinese New Year dinner. In Chinese, we call it "Gueng-Chung" literally translating to "ginger-onion." It is a very simple dipping sauce that even I think is amazing with simple poached chicken or a lovely piece of fish. My friend Nina came over to my house to hang out with me as I was cooking up our CNY dinner and I sent some of the gueng-chung home with her. I am just now catching up on the comments that are left on my blog and saw that Nina had a question on what type of oil I used. Well, she (and everyone else) gets the whole recipe now.

4 scallions (long, green onion)
1/8 tsp grated ginger (IF you like ginger, though I can't imagine why, you can up it to 1/4 tsp. Keep in mind that ginger is a very strong flavor)
1/2 tsp salt
5 tbs corn oil (you can use any type of light, flavorless oil such as canola or vegetable as well)

Finely mince the scallions and put them into a small bowl. Grate the ginger using a microplane. If you still haven't heeded my advice and purchased a microplane, you can very finely mince the ginger with a knife. Be sure to peel the ginger first. Add the ginger to the bowl. Add the salt and the oil to the bowl. Stir until the salt is dissolved. Let the sauce sit for at least 15 minutes before serving. It tastes better the longer it sits. The onion and the ginger are a lovely combination. In addition to putting it on poached chicken or poached fish, you can also use this as a marinade for a fish fillet you will grill or bake.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Soup fixes all that ails you

I began my day with this email to my girlfriends. It was an update on my morning:
- I almost fell 3 times on the way to work.
- 2 separate cars almost backed into me because people can't see out of their rearview mirror.
- I might, maybe if the gods are finally smiling down on me, I might be getting sick. 3 days of having Boyfriend breathe on me, stealing sips from his cup, and "accidentally" using his toothbrush are finally paying off.
- It's snowing...again.

Outside, the snow is falling on the street as if a giant was sifting powdered sugar all over the city. Boyfriend is in bed with the flu. It's not fun when Boyfriend gets sick; he gets all grumpy and quiet. Ordinarily, I'd be cranky as hell right now but there's something magical about a warm and hearty soup that helps to shake it all off. I tell myself that I made the soup for Boyfriend but I know he won't actually eat it. He doesn't like to eat when he's sick. Deep down, I made the soup for my soul if not his body.

On the offchance that Boyfriend will take the container out of the refrigerator and put some soup in a pot then put that pot on a stove, I loaded the soup up with plenty of protein and garlic. The protein, in my own little world, will help build strength so that he can fight off his flu. Garlic is loaded with germanium and selenium which are sulfur-rich antioxidants that boost the immune system. It just occurred to me that by eating my own soup, I probably just undid the last 3 days' worth of effort to get sick. Damn.

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
3 cups chicken stock (I used the ham stock in my freezer - sue me)
3 cups water
1 chicken breast
1/8 cup wild rice
4 cloves of garlic, smashed (you can use less if you don't have a sick man at home)
1/2 onion, big chunks
1 potato, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
2 carrots, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup frozen peas
1 bay leaf
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 cup cream or whole milk
salt to taste, it also depends on the stock you use

Bring the broth, water, bay leaf, garlic and onion up to a boil. Let it simmer for 45 minutes, even an hour. You want to boil the hell out of that garlic and make sure all of its good germanium and selenium gets infused into the broth. While it is simmering, poach the chicken. Remove the chicken after about 7 minutes. After 45 minutes, strain the broth and return the broth to the pot. To the broth, add the carrots, potatoes, and rice and boil until they are tender. Dice the chicken breast and add it to the simmering broth. Add the peas to the soup. Add the cream to the simmering soup. If you want it thicker, you can always make a slurry out of 1 tbs cornstarch and 2 tbs of water. Add the slurry to the boiling soup and stir rapidly. It should thicken it considerably. If it's still not thick enough, make another slurry and add it to the soup. Check the soup for seasoning and adjust the salt as necessary.

Serve it hot to a sick loved one or enjoy it alone in front of the TV. Both will make you feel good.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pytt i Panne

If you have been keeping up with my blog you know that I hate to waste and I like to make new, tastetastic things with the little odds and ends that are leftover from meals past. To be absolutely honest, 80% of the fun is in the challenge of creating a new recipe. Leftover risotto makes excellent risotto cakes or balls. Meat can get tossed into amped up salads. Bread is made into croutons, bread crumbs, even soup. Cooked pasta works beautifully in a fritatta. I'm the MASTER at making new dishes from the flotsam and jetsam in my refrigerator.

At the office cantine today, they had a dish called Pytt i Panne which is akin to the American hash. It is traditionally a dish made out of...drum roll please....leftovers! The one in the cantine had leftover side pork, diced pølse (hot dog), diced potatoes, and I think carrots. They had a tray of fried eggs that were meant to go on top. Sounds kind of pedestrian? Maybe even a little gross? Aren't all comforting and tasty things just a bit pedestrian and gross?

Lunch inspired dinner. I used chicken breast left from Chinese New Year, potatoes, carrots, onion, and a fried egg to make lunch #2. The trick is to get a nice crust on the hash for both texture and a nice caramelized flavor...kind of like the homeskillets you can find at any respectible diner.

Pytt i Panne
1 (or 2 or 1.5...whatever you have) chicken breast, cut into a 1/2 inch dice
3 cups of diced potatoes, about 1/2 inch
1 cup of medium dice onion, about half a large onion or one small onion
1 cup diced carrot, again 1/2 inch dice
4 tbs oil, divided
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
generous pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
1 Egg, fried

Heat one tbs of oil in a large skillet, at about medium high heat. To the hot oil, add the red pepper flakes, gently rubbing the flakes between your fingers before you drop it into the pan. Rubbing it releases the natural oils and flavor from the flakes. To the oil and flakes, add the onion and cook until they just start to brown. To the onions, add the diced chicken. Saute the chicken and onions until they brown. Once browned, remove it from the pan. To the hot pan, add the remaining 3 tbs of oil. I know it seems like a lot but it helps with making the potatoes crisp. To the oil add the carrots, potatoes, salt and pepper. Saute for about 3 minutes. Add about 3 tbs of water to the hot pan, stir and cover. Let it cook with the lid on until the potatoes and carrots are tender, adjusting the heat down to medium. When the potatoes are tender, add the chicken and onions back to the skillet. Let it brown until the potatoes and chicken are slightly crisp and browned. Top the Pytt i Panne Hash with a whole fried egg. I like the egg to be sunny side up so the yolk runs down into the hash. Check for seasoning.
If you find the hash to be a bit dry, you can always garnish the dish with a little dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt. Salsa makes for a zesty accompaniment for potatoes and meat. If you like it spicy, add some rooster sauce (Sriracha). Me? I like ketchup. It's a classic.