Thursday, January 21, 2010


Eggs were what we learned in cooking school last weekend. Properties, techniques, handy stuff you can do with them. I recommend against a 10-egg meal, which was delicious but almost made me toss my cookies on the train ride home.

Clockwise from top left: eggs benedict, deviled eggs, eggs piperade, caramelized onion frittata. We also made mayonnaise, hollandaise, quiche and souffle, not pictured. Pretty, isn't it?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sichuanese dry-fried green beans (gan bian si ji dou)

Another recipe from Fuchsia Dunlop's amazing cookbook Land of Plenty, this is like the ultimate weeknight speed dinner, especially if you buy pretrimmed beans. The beans are nicely charred and wrinkled, the meat salty and flavorful. It's also a great mild accompaniment to a spicier Sichuanese dish. Serves 2.

1. Trim the tips off 10-12 ounces of green beans and cut them in half.

2. Heat 2 T. peanut oil in a wok, add the beans, and stir-fry about 5 minutes until they are tender and the skins a little puckered and charred. Pour the beans into a bowl.

3. Heat another 2 T. oil in the wok, add 4 ounces of ground pork, and stir-fry for a minute or two until cooked, splashing in soy sauce and Shaoxing rice wine as you go.

4. Add 2 T. ya cai (pickled mustard greens) and stir-fry briefly until hot, the toss in the beans. Remove from the heat, stir in a bit of sesame oil, and serve.

I have also seen a variant of this recipe made with Chinese olives. Chopped, pitted olives can be used in place of the ya cai.

Bonus recipe: cucumber salad!

Mix sliced cucumbers, thinly sliced red onion, diced Thai chillis and chopped cilantro with rice vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and lime juice to taste. Refrigerate for 30 minutes and serve.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Chicken rice, sort of

Of all the wonderful things we ate on our trip to Southeast Asia, perhaps the most luscious was chicken rice, Singapore's national dish. Created by the Hainanese from China, chicken rice seems plain but is actually a little taste of goodness and heaven. The grains of rice are fried in garlic, sesame and chicken oil, then steamed in the chicken's broth. The sliced chicken is served atop the rice with a fiery chilli-ginger-garlic sauce, as well as cucumbers and a bowl of broth to quell the heat. The dish pictured below is about $2 USD at the country's most highly regarded vendor, Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice.

I figured this was one dish I wouldn't be reproducing at home, as the traditional preparation calls for slowly boiling a whole chicken, frying rice grains in the chicken's oil, then steaming the rice in the stock generated from the chicken. Even if I wanted to do that, there's the matter of finding the luscious, high-quality chickens used in Singapore. I had never tasted chicken like that in the U.S. I figured I'd look for a good version in some North American Chinatown, or take another 26-hour flight to Singapore.

So I was interested when I spotted this recipe for Hainanese chicken in the NYT. It was buried in a column about stuff you can do with boneless, skinless chicken breasts. The author had gotten the recipe from Zak Pelaccio, owner of a West Village Malaysian fusion place called Fatty Crab, and it looked far from authentic. You poach the breasts in commercial broth seasoned with ginger and garlic, then simply pour the broth over steamed rice. Additionally, the 30-minute NYT recipe adds all sorts of tasty but nontraditional garnishes, like chopped basil, cilantro and scallions. It looked like it could be an acceptable cheat.

Well, it was pretty delicious, especially considering the laziness of this approach. The savory broth flavored the rice nicely and the tangy ginger sauce was super. I garnished the bowl with scallions and cilantro as the recipe directs, but it wasn't necessary for flavor, and I will probably skip it next time if only because they don't do that in Singapore. My husband said the biggest shortcoming was in the consistency of the chicken, which came out tender from poaching, but didn't approach the silkiness of the chicken we had at Tian Tian. Here's my version of the recipe, for four:

1. Whack an inch-long piece of skin-on ginger root with the blade of a chef's knife to crush it, then slice it into coins. Crush four cloves of garlic and pull off the skins. Cut a Thai chilli in half. Put the ginger, garlic and chilli in a large pot, add a quart of chicken broth, and simmer for 10 minutes.

2. Add four boneless, skinless chicken breasts to the pot in a single layer. Make sure you have enough liquid to cover the chicken. Bring the broth back up to a simmer, then turn off the heat, cover the pot and leave for 12 minutes. Slice into the thickest part of one breast to check for doneness. If not done, bring the broth just to a simmer again, turn off the heat, and cook for a couple more minutes. Remove chicken from broth and slice.

3. While the chicken is poaching, peel a 3-inch section of ginger and cut it into chunks. Put the ginger, 6 peeled garlic cloves, and 2-6 Thai chillis in the food processor. Add dashes of fish sauce, vinegar and lime juice and 1/4 cup of broth from the pot, pulse fine, and pour off into a bowl.

4. Whisk 3 T. soy sauce with 2 T. brown sugar in a small bowl. Slice a cucumber thinly.

5. To serve, heap rice into four shallow bowls and arrange the sliced chicken and cucumbers on top. Spoon some broth over the chicken and rice, then drizzle with half the sweet soy sauce and a bit of sesame oil. Pass the remaining soy sauce and ginger-garlic-chilli sauce at the table.

Emboldened by this relative success, I may even take it a step further next time and fry the rice grains in garlic and sesame oil, then put it in my rice cooker with chicken broth. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Dan dan update

After reading about my attempt at dan dan noodles, my friend Sandy (of Sandy's spaghetti) was awesome enough to cross-country mail me a jar of ya cai, Sichuanese pickled mustard greens. The salty shredded vegetables definitely made the dish, blending in with and flavoring the beef topping perfectly.

This time, I used the recipe in Fuchsia Dunlop's Sichuanese cookbook rather than the one printed in her memoir of living in China. Although both are ostensibly the version served at her favorite noodle shop in Chengdu, the one in her cookbook employs about half the chilli oil and soy sauce. Toned down for American tastes? Perhaps, but just right for me and my husband, who had found the other version assaultingly salty and spicy.

I'm reprinting the recipe below using the amounts called for in Dunlop's cookbook. Before serving I sprinkled on sliced green onions, which added a lovely fresh taste.

1. Roast 1/2 tsp. Sichuan peppercorns in a wok until brown and fragrant and crush them to a powder. Mix the pepper with 2 T. chilli oil, 4 tsp. sesame paste, 1 T. light soy sauce, and 1 T. dark soy sauce. Divide the sauce among 2-4 serving bowls.

2. Snip 3 Sichuanese dried chillies in half and discard the seeds. Heat 1 T. peanut oil in a wok over medium heat. When the oil is hot but not yet smoking, add the dried chillies and 1/2 tsp. whole Sichuan peppercorns. Stir-fry until the oil is fragra
nt, taking care not to burn the spices. Turn the flame up, add 2 T. ya cai (Sichuanese preserved mustard greens) and continue to stir-fry until hot and fragrant. Add 1/4 lb. of ground beef and 2 tsp. light soy sauce and stir-fry until the meat is brown and crisp, but not too dry.

3. Cook a 16 oz. package of fresh Chinese flour-and-water noodles according to package directions (boiling for 3 minutes should do it). Add a portion to the sauce in each serving bowl. Sprinkle each bowl with meat mixture and serve. Before eating, give the noodles a good stir until the sauce and meat are evenly mixed.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sandy's spaghetti

Ever since my friend Sandy posted this recipe on her own blog, it's become a weeknight classic for us. No health food, this, but it is quick and addictive with notes of sharp romano cheese, fresh basil and the rich umami goodness of anchovies and bacon. I find this serves three — two for dinner and one lunch the next day.

1. Boil a pound of spaghetti al dente, drain and reserve a little of the cooking water. Meanwhile, peel a whole head of garlic and pulse it the food processor with a small jar of anchovy fillets and its oil.

2. Dice four strips of bacon, sprinkle with red pepper flakes and saute until crisp. If it releases excessive fat, spoon some off. Lower the heat, add the garlic and anchovy paste and cook a few minutes until the garlic browns.

3. Now stir in the spaghetti and a bit of the cooking water to help it all meld. Serve topped with grated romano and fresh torn basil.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Glass noodles with shrimp

My aunt from San Francisco made this dish for us when she was visiting a couple months ago. It uses refreshing glass noodles, often labeled "mung bean thread" or "bean vermicelli" at Asian markets. This recipe is for two. If your noodles come in a 500 gram packet of ten bundles, 3-4 of the bundles should make enough. Good hot or cold!

1. Soak vermicelli in warm water for 20 minutes and drain. Meanwhile, peel and devein half a pound of small to medium shrimp. Put the shrimp in a bowl with some olive oil and minced garlic and ginger and set aside.

2. Mix together 3 T. peanut or almond butter, 1 T. sesame oil and a little chicken broth in a small bowl and and set aside.

3. Chop more garlic and slice 3 scallions, a hot chilli, some shitake mushrooms and half a head of bok choy (yes, this is other half of the head from my teriyaki of the other night).

4. Heat some oil in a wok or large skillet. Stir-fry the vegetables a few minutes until fragrant, then push them up the side of the wok (or create a well in the middle of the skillet) and add the noodles. Pour in a little chicken broth to help the noodles cook.

5. When the noodles are translucent (5 minutes or so), add the shrimp and toss the whole thing until the shrimp are just pink. Add the peanut butter mixture and and toss to coat. Season to taste with a liberal amount of fish sauce and serve with lime wedges.

Friday, January 8, 2010

NYT: Men who hate homeowning

As a new homeowner, I empathize with this miserable-looking guy perched poolside at his nest of discontent. The Times yesterday featured Minneapolis resident Alan Berks as an emblem of
growing male dissatisfaction with homeownership:

Alan Berks the renter had spent his evenings with friends at African dance nights and jazz clubs. Alan Berks the homeowner lost an entire day rearranging the living room furniture. “I did find a spot for the couch that made me happy,” he said. “I was proud of myself. But where the couch is — that’s how I’m going to measure my happiness from now on? I remember thinking: ‘This is how people live? Why am I doing this?’ ”

Berks's other plaints are uncomfortably familiar. I can't walk to as many things as I could from any of my Boston-area apartments. Neither my husband nor I can or want to fix anything if we hadn't learned by our late 20s, what made us think we would suddenly develop an affinity for home maintenance? Home should be a refuge, not a place that makes demands of you. And like Berks, looking back, I too wonder sometimes why everyone encouraged us to buy a house. He says it well: “I understand why the government or society wants people to have homes — they fix them up, and their commitment stabilizes neighborhoods. I get it, the whole beneficial aspect of homeownership. But individually, I’m not seeing it as a moral good.”

We also had an incident eerily similar to that of the guy in the article whose neighbor took pity and came over to mow the lawn only in our case, even more ignominiously, it was the neighbor's teenage son.

I do wonder what makes the Times attribute this particular sentiment to men, especially when the data don't appear to reflect that. Men and women under 40, the article points out, report equal levels of satisfaction with homeownership. The fact that single women over the last year bought houses at higher rates than single men, along with a raft of anecdotes and gender-stereotyping assertions, appears to provide the basis for this "trend" story.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


The Times had a funny story yesterday about "teriyaki" in Seattle, a term that city uses to describe pretty much any food including those of Thai, Somali and Vietnamese origin as well as a horrifying-sounding corn dog drizzled in teriyaki sauce.

The Washington State Restaurant Association has identified 83 Seattle restaurants with teriyaki in their name, including I Love Teriyaki and I Luv Teriyaki. In Seattle, teriyaki is shorthand for a range of dishes, from teriyaki burgers, piled with chopped beef, to pineapple teriyaki, platters of chicken paved with canned pineapple.

Coincidentally, I made teriyaki for dinner last night, loosely following a salmon recipe from the America's Test Kitchen cookbook Cooking for Two, given to us for our wedding by our friends Kate and Tim. I have tried a number of other versions, but this was probably the best teriyaki I ever made, boosted by the delicious accompaniment of cabbage and shitake mushrooms.

1. Mince 2 scallions, 3 cloves of garlic and small piece of ginger. Combine these in a small bowl with a teaspoon of sesame oil. Whisk together 1/4 c. soy sauce, 1/4 c. sugar, 1 T mirin, 1 tsp. cornstarch and 1 tsp. sesame oil in a second small bowl.

2. Slice half a head of bok choy and some shitake mushrooms. Heat 1 T. vegetable oil over medium high in a large skillet. When oil is hot, saute the mushrooms for 2 minutes, then add the bok choy for another couple minutes until it wilts.

3. Push the vegetables aside to make a hole in the center of the skillet. Pour the scallion mixture in the well and mash it into the bottom of the skillet for a minute until fragrant, then stir the scallions etc. into the boy choy and mushrooms. Pour the vegetables off into two serving dishes.

4. Return the skillet to medium high heat with another T. vegetable oil. Sear 2 8 oz. salmon fillets skin side up (or skinned side up if yours are skinless) for 5 minutes. Flip them over and cook another 2-5 minutes depending on thickness and preference. Transfer them from the skillet onto the beds of vegetables.

5. Wipe the skillet with a paper towel and add the soy sauce mixture. Cook for 2 minutes until it thickens into a glaze, then pour over the salmon.