Category Archives: cooking

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

I recently decided to subscribe to a CSA — a community supported agriculture subscription.  My subscription entails me picking up a box of organic fruits and vegetables from a local farm every other week.  I opted for a “small” box from a local farm in Escondido.  I stop by an art gallery in North Park and am surprised every week by what’s in the box.  Sometimes it’s great news (plump blueberries! fragrant strawberries!  avocados! plums! peaches! oh my!).  Other times it’s a bit of a letdown (4 pounds of turnips again?  mizuna — who cooks with mizuna?  fiberous basil again?).  Nevertheless, my CSA box is always a surprise every other week and it forces me to try and eat more organic veggies.

Here’s what came in this week:

two giant heads of lettuce
leeks
peaches
avocado
oranges
grape tomatoes
blackberries
swiss chard
carrots
beets
fava beans
yellow squash
cucumbers

I made a nice light minestrone with the carrots, fava beans and leeks. I’m sure a roasted beet salad will be in the works later on this week.

Bread recipe for people who are afraid of baking

I actually tried Jim Lahey’s recipe for No-Knead Bread some time last year.  It could be nicknamed “a bread recipe for people who are afraid of baking” which is me to a tee.  It’s a fool-proof recipe (evidenced by the fact that I could make it and serve it to people who didn’t spit it out after taking a bite).

Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Love is making fried chicken and biscuits for 30 people

My brother and his wife are expecting their first baby.  It will be my parents’ first grandchild.   With all the fuss over this baby, I’ve been telling everyone “The first baby is a miracle, the second one is just a baby.”   That said, my brother was the miracle and I was just a baby. 

 To celebrate the arrival of the little miracle, my mom and I threw my sister-in-law  a baby shower.  Against all better judgment, I offered to make my sister-in-law a Southern picnic themed menu including fried chicken and homemade biscuits.  I’m Asian.  We eat fried chicken out of a bucket.  I’ve never had homemade fried chicken in my life.  What in the world was I thinking?

Because I’m such a control freak, I tried out the fried chicken recipe I selected for the shower a week before.   Here are the recipes I used with my own minor adjustments.  Mind you, the biscuits need to be eaten the day they were baked.  They don’t carry over well the next day. 

Fried Chicken Recipe (Adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cookbook by Ree Drummond)

serves 4

cooking thermometer with an attachment piece
1 organic fryer chicken cut up into pieces (Whole Foods butchers can cut them up for you)
2 cups plus 1/8 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 Tablespoons Lawry’s seasoned salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 cup milk
peanut oil for frying

1. Cut your chicken up with a very sharp knife if you’ve bought whole chickens.  Here’s a handy video from Youtube if you’re new to this.  Also, you can have your butcher cut the chicken up for you.

2. In a large bowl marinate the chicken in 2 cups of buttermilk and refrigerate overnight.  I didn’t measure this out — I just made sure the chicken was covered in buttermilk.  When ready to fry, remove chicken from the refrigerator and let sit on the counter for 30 minutes to take the chill off.

3. Preheat your oven to 350F.  Stir together and mix the dry ingredients in a very large bowl.  In a small bowl, combine 1/8 cup buttermilk and 1/8 cup regular milk.  Pour the milk mixture into the flour and stir with a fork until little lumps appear throughout the dry mix.

4. Heat 2 inches of peanut oil in a dutch oven (attach cooking thermometer to the side) over medium heat to 365F.  Don’t overdo it with the oil — adding more oil lowers the overall temperature.

5. Work in batches of 4 pieces of chicken at a time.  Take a piece of chicken from the buttermilk marinade and thoroughly coat with the dry mix, taking care to press into the meat to adhere the coating.  This will give your chicken plenty of crispy coating.  If you just dip your chicken in the coating, the coating will fall off during the frying process, so really press that coating into your chicken.

6. When you have your 4 pieces of chicken coated with the dry mix, add to the oil and cover for 3-5 minutes, checking after 2 minutes that the chicken isn’t getting too brown.  You want your chicken to develop a nice medium golden color.  Turn your chicken pieces over and cook an additional 2-3 minutes.  Monitor your oil temperature to ensure that the chicken doesn’t burn. Repeat steps 5 and 6 with the remaining chicken pieces.

7. Place chicken pieces on a baking sheet and when done frying all the pieces, bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.  To test for doneness, poke a fork into a thigh or breast and if the juices run clear, then the chicken is fully cooked.

I highly recommend making this buttermilk recipe along with the fried chicken since it will help you use up that 1/2 gallon of buttermilk.  These biscuits were very popular during the test run.

Buttermilk Biscuit Recipe (Adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cookbook by Ree Drummond)

Makes approximately 15 medium sized biscuits

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup chilled shortening (or 1/3 cup butter)
1/3 cup cold butter cut into pieces (5 1/3 teaspoons)
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons melted butter

1. Preheat your oven to 450F.  In a large bowl, comine all the dry ingredients and mix well.  Add the chilled shortening and cold butter pieces and blend with a fork (or just use your hand).  The dry mix should be crumbly.

2. Pour in the buttermilk and mix gently with a fork (or your hand).  The dough will be a little sticky.  If dry or crumbly, add a little more buttermilk.

3. Lightly flour a clean surface.  Dust your rolling pin with flour.  Roll dough onto the surface and roll to 1/2 to 3/4 inch thickness.

4. Cut rounds with a biscuit cutter (I used the 3rd largest size) and place them on a baking sheet.

5. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Brush tops with melted butter.

(Note: If you substitute butter for shortening, your biscuits will have a more butterly flavor and may not turn out as fluffy.)

Here are some pics of the baby shower food.  (My favorite part of any party!)  Photos were taken by my cousin’s lovely wife Andrea Takeoka (aka Mrs. T).  She has a fabulous camera and really knows how to use it!

I dare you to get fat!

If this meal could talk, it would say “I dare you to get fat eating me!”  One of the nice things about working from home every now and then is that I can prepare a nice lunch for myself.  Although I can go weeks at a time without eating Japanese food, eventually my cravings lead me back to the food I grew up eating.  A meal this size is huge by Japanese standards, but still, it shows exactly why there’s no obesity problem in Japan.

Trust this woman!

I love cooking because I love eating.  I also love feeding the people I care about.  If I’ve fed you, then I probably have a soft spot for you.  One of the things I love to cook is Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon.  It is a labor of love, literally.

If you haven’t tried making Julia Child’s famous boeuf bourguignon recipe, then you’re really missing out.  The recipe is a very long one, but nothing too complicated.  Anyone can reprint the recipe and show you what the finished product looks like, but I’m  here to tell you what it’s like to actually make this recipe.

Julia will tell you to boil the bacon first.  Who in their right mind boils bacon?  I was tempted to skip this step, but Julia must have foreseen my objection and explains that boiling the bacon will get rid of its smokey flavor, which you don’t want in a traditional French dish.  Fair enough.  I’ll boil the bacon first, then sautee it. 

Then you’ll notice there’s just one carrot and one onion and two garlic cloves in this recipe.  Hey, what’s going on here?  Why are we being so chincy with the veggies and garlic, Julia?  After following Julia’s instructions to the letter, I learned that the beef is the star of the show.  One carrot and one onion and two garlic cloves are mere supporting elements of this stew.   Go ahead and sautee these guys in oil and set aside.  And then get used to browning.  You’ll be doing lots of it.

Julia will insist that brown your beef in small batches so that each piece develops a nice crust.  I like to use an organic chuck roast which I cut into cubes.   Doing this in small batches so that each cube is perfectly browned on each side is going to take a long long time.  A cube has six sides and you’re doing 3 pounds of beef cubes.  That’s a lot of cubes.  Just stick with it . . . for an hour or so.

Things will get very very greasy.  Be prepared to wipe grease off the stove, off the microwave, off of any appliances sitting next to the stove, and off of the countertops.  And then you’ll have to do the same thing with the pearl onions and the mushrooms.  That’s another hour. A good part of this recipe entails a lot of cleanup, since sauteing and bringing out flavor is not a clean, tidy process.  Thank goodness for Windex.

Three hours into the recipe, you now have your perfectly sauteed mushrooms and the boiled pearl onions in beef broth with the herb bouquet, and you are finally ready to marry all these wonderful ingredients into your dutch oven.  You’ll then measure out three cups of quality wine (not the cheap 2 buck Chuck) and some beef broth into the pot.  Experienced wine drinkers will know that this requires one whole bottle of wine.   I never made a recipe that required an entire bottle of wine.  And I used a good, expensive wine.  I really had to trust Julia on this one.  To be perfectly honest, everything looked like a red, winey soup.  Not very appetizing.  Would 3 1/2 hours in a hot oven turn this soup into heavenly goodness?  Julia said it would. 

Fortunately, Julia was right.  The results were heavenly.  I had a few friends over to try out my boeuf bourguignon.  It was one of those dinners where people don’t talk a whole lot and they don’t hesitate to take second helpings.  Admittedly, I wasn’t forthcoming about offering leftovers to my guests either.

The last time I made this dish, I didn’t have a chance to take pictures of the finished product because I was so distracted by sheer pleasure of eating the darn thing.  So, here’ s a picture of someone else’s final product.  It looks just like mine, I swear!

So, if you have about 6 hours on hand, try making Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon recipe.  You can find it here.  It’s a very worthwhile effort.

Waste not want not

Now that it’s colder, I’ve gotten into slow cooking.  I remember episodes from Andrew Zimmern’s show Bizarre Foods where he explains that in many cultures outside the U.S., people use every part of the animal and that nothing goes to waste.  I have to admit, eating internal organs isn’t something I’m accustomed to, but now that I think about it, I do have a standby recipe for oxtail soup.  The only stores that sell oxtail are Chinese supermarkets and this Middle Eastern market not too far from where I live.

Oxtail soup is amazingly simple to make.  There’s hardly any work on your part.  You just chop up a few vegetables and braise the oxtail for about 4 hours.  After all that braising, you’re left with a flavorful and mildly sweet beef broth with very tender oxtail meat and cartlidge.  It’s a perfect warming soup for this cooler weather.

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Here’s the recipe for 4-6:

Ingredients

2 pounds of oxtail
3 medium size carrots
2 large onions
sea salt

Peel and slice the carrots and cut into thirds.  Remove skins from onions and cut into quarters.  Place vegetables and oxtail into a dutch oven and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer for four hours until the meat from the oxtail is nearly falling off the bone.   Skim off the fat and season with sea salt. Serve hot with a bowl of rice.  It’s best to make this the day before and let the flavors settle and let the fat solidify for easier removal.

I kept my word

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I kept my word about making the million layer lasagne once the kitchen was functional.  Four hours later, I finally finished.  I’m tired. I probably won’t try this recipe again but I will definitely make my own homemade pasta again.  This lasagne recipe requires squares of sheet pasta that are virtually see-through.  That requires cranking your pasta through the finest setting, the most treacherous setting.  It was cool to make pasta from scratch. I think I’ll try and make a batch once a month.

I think everyone should try and make their own pasta at least once in their life. It’s a lot of fun taking eggs and flour, smashing them into a gooey mess and turning it into a ball of pasta with your own hands. And the pasta machine — it pretty much does all the work. Nothing compares to homemade pasta.

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P.S. Here’s a view of the inside of the million layer lasagne. Those thin thin lasagne sheets are amazing!

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