Saturday, October 31, 2009

From Leftovers To.....Restaurant-Quality Fried Noodles!

Oftentimes, I have plenty of leftovers in my fridge just because, well, I cook too much! :) So here's a tip on how you can turn leftovers into a delicious fried noodle dish fit for a restaurant. OK, here's what I had in my fridge:
  • Shrimp stir-fry with broccoli and carrots
  • 5-Spice roasted pork belly (sliced into thin pieces)
What I added are rice noodle sticks (the same ones used for Pad Thai), mushrooms, onions and garlic. That's all, very simple. To add a little bulk to the dish, I also cut up a piece of chicken breast cutlet that was sitting in the freezer.

OK, let's get to it. First, soak the noodles in hot water for about 30 minutes. You don't want to boil the noodles and make too soft as you'll be frying it in a little while. Get a wok or pan hot with vegetable oil in it. Start by sauteing the onions first, sweating them before adding the garlic. Now add the raw protein, in this case, it is only the chicken meat as the shrimp and pork belly are already cooked. Add some seasonings like fish sauce and pepper. Make sure that the chicken is cooked before adding the noodles. I would normally cook the vegetables at this point but as they are already cooked, there is no need to. Use a pair of tongs to stir up the ingredients together with the noodles. Add soy sauce and sweet soy sauce (or Kicap Manis) to get the darker color that you see on the noodles and keep stirring. Now, add the leftovers and the mushrooms and stir it up some more. Taste and add more soy sauce if needed. I also like to add a teaspoon of sugar and a dash of sesame oil to my noodles. So, keep mixing and frying until the noodles become soft.

And there you have it. Delicious fried noodles made from leftovers. Yummy!

12-Minute Pizza From Start To Finish

How many times have you wished that you had something in your kitchen that is not only fresh and delicious but quick to prepare as well? Well, I'm here to tell you about how you can whip out a delicious pepperoni pizza in 12 minutes flat from scratch, start to finish. Nope, I'm not kidding. And it's not the frozen kind either.

Here's what you need:

Naan flatbread
Marinara sauce
Mozzarella cheese (shredded)

OK, let's start the clock. Tick-tock!
Turn on your oven and pre-heat it to 425F. This is when you start working on assembling your pizza. Spread marinara sauce onto the flatbread and sprinkle some mozzarella cheese, covering the entire flatbread. Tick-tock. Now, arrange pieces of pepperoni onto the cheese-covered flatbread. Cover that with more cheese. Tick-tock. It's only been less than 5 minutes and your pepperoni is already assembled and ready to start baking. At about this point, you'll probably hear your oven beeping, signaling that it is ready.

Well, what are you waiting for? The clock's ticking (literally)! Tick-tock......quickly shove the pizza into the oven, my friend! it is just a waiting game. Tick-tock. 5-7 minutes is all you need in the oven for the cheese to melt into a gooey delicious mess. Tick-tock.

Ding! Pizza's ready!

Time to dig in, folks! It'll probably take you longer to eat the pizza than to assemble and bake this fresh pizza pie from scratch. Unbelievable!

NOTE: To jazz up your pizza just a little, try adding fresh basil (or dry basil flakes) together with garlic powder and fresh ground black pepper to the sauce. You can even think about different toppings. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Simple Sushi - Oxymoron? I Think Not!

The term "simple sushi" may sound like an oxymoron but is it really that hard to make? I mean, we can all agree that sushi chefs are masters of their art and it takes years of training to be good at making this Japanese dish. Can a home cook without any kind of training or experience bang out some nice sushi rolls? Well, let's find out.

First of all, let's lower our own expectations, shall we? We are never going to be able to produce sushi that looks like a work of art overnight. So let's not even think that. Just keep it simple. The key to making good sushi is a belief in yourself, know what you need and be organized. However, before we get to that, let's just review what is it that we are actually making. Sushi is very different from sashimi. The term sushi has become such commonplace that it has been used interchangeably with sashimi. A lot of times, sushi gets confused with sashimi, which is just slices of raw fish, served as-is. On the other hand, sushi refers to the Japanese snack food that comprises vinegared rice that is rolled with dried seaweed sheets (better known as nori) together with vegetables or cooked seafood ingredients.

Here are the things that you'll need to make sushi:

Sushi rice (any short grain variety will do)
Nori (seaweed sheets)
Sesame seeds
Rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt
Sushi-rolling mat made from bamboo (covered in plastic saran wrap)

For this application, we'll be making maki-sushi, which is rice and seaweed rolled with vegetables or seafood. This is the most common type of sushi. Let's do a vegetarian one, starting with basic ingredients like avocado, carrots and cucumber. Simple enough, right? Now, let's get ourselves organized by doing a mise en place of whatever ingredients and tools that we are going to need.

First off, let's make the sushi rice. Wash the rice until the water is clear, which eliminates most of the starch. Drain the water and let the rice sit for about 30 minutes. Cook the rice with a tad less water than you would normally add, to make sure that the rice will not get too mushy when the vinegar mix is added. While the rice is cooking, let's make the vinegar mix. Now, every sushi chef have their own secret recipe for this but let's just make do with a standard recipe:

2.5 - 3 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 - 3 tablespoon sugar
1.5 teaspoon salt

Heat up these ingredients in a small pot until the sugar dissolves. Do not let the mixture boil. Let it cool down. When the rice is done, transfer it out of the pot and start adding the vinegar mix, folding it thoroughly and gently into the rice with a wooden ladle. As you do this, you are supposed to fan the rice to cool it down but that's up to you. I personally don't think it is necessary. As you add the vinegar mix, taste the rice to make sure that you've not added too much. After you've made rice, you should use it immediately and not let it sit. At most, sushi should be consumed a couple of hours after it is made.

Before the rice is done, you should get the vegetable ingredients ready. Cut the carrots and cucumber (remove the seeds first) into thin matchstick-like portions. As for the avocado, cut them into thin slices as well. Now you are ready to roll your sushi. Before using the bamboo mat, wrap it in saran wrap to make sure that the rice doesn't stick to the mat.

Let's make sushi, shall we?

Lay down a nori sheet onto the mat. Now, spread the rice on 2/3 of the nori, starting from the bottom, covering it with rice all the way to the sides. Add your vegetables in the middle of the rice from one side end to the other. Make sure you don't add too much as it will be hard to roll. Now, lift the end of the mat closest to you and fold it over the filling, all the while making sure you are rolling instead of just folding. As you do this, tuck the end of your fold into the rice, closing the fold, applying even pressure throughout. Now, lift the end of the mat that you were rolling and continue rolling the rest of the nori, making sure you keep the roll tight.

Congratulations, you've just made maki-sushi! Serve the sushi with either soy sauce or ponzu (Japanese citrus soy sauce) and wasabi.

NOTE: For a more awesome-tasting sushi, I like to add a miso sauce together with the ingredients before you start rolling the sushi. It gives the sushi a sweeter taste that you'll never find anywhere else. Here's the recipe for the sauce:

3 tablespoon red/yellow miso
2 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoon sake
2 tablespoon mirin

Bring this mix to a simmer and keep stirring until you get a pasty consistency.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala is a classic Italian dish that, in its traditional form, consists of chicken breast cutlets, mushrooms and Marsala wine. Of course, my philosophy is, as always, you can make any dish your own by adding extra ingredients that you like to eat (as long as the ingredients do not clash with one another) but keeping the basic form of the dish intact. For instance, in my chicken marsala dish, I like to add asparagus spears and garnish with finely chopped scallions instead of parsley. The main ingredient, the Marsala wine originates from the Sicilan city of Marsala. It is a fortified wine similar to Port and is traditionally served as an aperitif. Now it is used more as a cooking wine.

Here are the ingredients that you'll need to make this version of chicken marsala:

Chicken breast (or dark meat if you prefer)
Mushroom (crimini, shiitake) cut into slices
Marsala wine
Chicken stock
Flour (seasoned with salt and pepper)
Asparagus (cut into an inch in length)
Onions or shallots (chopped small)
Dried herbs (thyme/oregano)

To prepare the chicken meat, I prefer to slice it into thin cutlets. You can also choose to pound the meat with a tenderizer but be careful cause over-beating the meat will turn it into mush. Season the chicken meat with salt and pepper. Heat up a pan while you coat the chicken cutlets with the seasoned flour. The flour provides a nice coating for the meat and also prevents it from sticking to the pan. If you slice the chicken thin enough, the cutlets will cook in no time, before the outer coating turns too brown or burnt. Remove the cutlets when they are done and move them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain the excess oil.

At this point, do not wash the pan yet. You'll need it to make the sauce. First, drain away the excess oil and melt 2 TBS of butter and start sweating the onions. Add the mushrooms and cook out the liquid. Deglaze the pan with the Marsala wine, chicken stock, add the herbs and let it reduce to an almost syrupy consistency. Taste and season the sauce with salt and pepper. For the asparagus, cut off the bottom ends (about 2 inches) and discard. Cut the remaining asparagus into one-inch sticks and saute with salt and pepper until they are slightly soft. As for the pasta, cook the spaghetti until al dente and add some melted butter so that the pasta doesn't stick together.

Now you are ready to serve. Plate the pasta first, arrange the chicken cutlets around the plate, sprinkle the asparagus spears around the plate and finally, spoon the sauce over the everything and garnish with the scallions.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lobster Vindaloo with Basmati Coconut Rice

Vindaloo is a traditional Goan dish originating from Portugal. Usually paired with pork and red wine, this Portuguese dish was transformed into an Indian curry dish when various spices were added and cooked with chicken or lamb. Vindaloo has become pretty popular overseas (UK, Europe, U.S.), with many Indian restaurants in those countries offering a variant of the dish. Rather than having a hard time deciphering recipes and hunting for the various spices that go into a vindaloo, you can actually buy a bottle of vindaloo paste from your local Indian grocery store or any other supermarkets that has an international food aisle. Cooking it is as easy as just adding onions, tomato and othe vegetables to the vindaloo paste together with some water. As for me, I like to amp it up with a few extra spices of my own like star anise, a bay leaf, cumin, coriander and cinnamon.

For this dish I picked lobster because it so happened that the day that I wanted to make vindaloo with shrimp, I stopped by my local supermarket and they had fresh live lobsters going for $3.49/lb. Yes, you read that right: $3.49/lb! Lobsters have never been this cheap before. Isn't it great living in New England? So I went home with 2 lobsters for less than $9. Anyway, I started off by sauteing some yellow onions and garlic. I cut the lobsters into half right down the middle. Pan frying them like this ensures that the flavorful parts of the lobster that reside in the head is not wasted. Also, you should crack the claws with the back of your knife to make sure that it cooks properly. So now, go ahead and pan fry the lobsters flesh side down together with the onions and garlic that was cooking earlier. Cover the pan to simmer the lobster, making sure they cook all the way through. Now, add a tablespoon of the vndaloo paste together with half a cup of water. Add all the extra spices that I mentioned earlier and mix well. Simmer again to let all the nice flavors develop.

I decided to add carrots and sweet potatoes to this vindaloo dish. To make sure that everything cooks properly, I boiled these root vegetables first as they would take a much longer time to cook than the other ingredients in the pot. Now, add the cooked root vegetables to the pot and simmer some more. Just before finishing, I cut up some fresh spinach and add it into the pot, making sure that it wilts slightly just before turning off the heat and serving. To accompany this vindaloo, I cooked some basmati rice together with coconut milk and a pinch or two of salt. When the rice is cooked, I fold in a cup of raisins. Now the dish is ready to be served.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Deep-Fried Spring Rolls

In an earlier blog, I demonstrated how to make a delicious and refreshing Vietnamese spring roll. Now I would like to show you how to make a version that is deep fried and just as yummy! With the previous spring roll, I utilized a translucent rice paper wrapper made from what else, rice flour. For this fried version, I am using a spring roll pastry wrapper made from wheat flour instead. It can be found in the frozen section of most oriental grocery stores.

One of the most important ingredient found in this spring roll is the root vegetable, jicama (pronounced hee-kha-ma), also known as Mexican turnip. Here's a picture of a jicama (on left). As you can see, the exterior is papery brown while the inside is white and has the texture almost like a cross between a daikon and an apple. Like daikon, it tastes refreshing but just not as bitter. While the jicama can be eaten raw (like in salads), it can also be cooked them and it is an integral part of this deep-fried spring roll's filling.

For the filling, I julienned jicama, carrots, Chinese chives, garlic and onions. If you are making a vegetarian version, you can also add tofu and broccoli. I made this one with the addition of chicken and broccoli because I had some leftover chicken stir fry from the day before. The best thing about these types of spring roll fillings is you can add most anything you like. You can make a seafood version with shrimp and scallops or a vegetarian version that I just mentioned earlier. Cook the filling like you would a stir fry with a little bit of soy sauce and oyster sauce. Just make sure that the final product does not contain too much gravy. Too soupy and the filling has a bad habit of leaking out from the wrapper and you'll have a hard time when deep-frying. In the following sequence of photos, I'll show you how to wrap the spring roll.

Pretty easy, huh? When you are wrapping these puppies, make sure that the rest of the wrappers are not fully exposed to the air as they would dry out pretty quickly. Make sure you keep them inside the bag that they came in and covered on the outside with a damp cloth. Also, after wrapping a bunch of these spring rolls, make sure that you do not stack them together or make contact with one another as the wrappers will stick together and tear when you try to pry them apart. When you deep-fry, make sure that the oil is really hot (at least 350F) before dropping them in. My favorite dipping sauce for this deep-fried spring roll is Worcestershire sauce, spiced up with some Thai bird chillies. Totally yummy!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Beets & Goat Cheese Spinach Salad

Here's a simple and seasonal salad idea. Beets are a root vegetable that are available all year round but is most prominent in the Fall season. You see it on most dinner tables during Thanksgiving. To cook it, some people will tell you to boil it but I usually roast it in the oven. Remember to oil the beets first before roasting it covered with tin foil. It usually takes about 90 minutes to 2 hours at 400F. Use a fork to poke the flesh to see if it has soften enough. If you meet resistance, continue roasting. When it is done cooking, let it cool for a few minutes and start peeling the skin off while it is still hot. It is easier to get the skin off when you peel it in a pot of water. When done, just cut it into half inch cubes.

The next ingredient is goat cheese, which is made from......drumroll.....goat's milk! It is slightly tart and very creamy, easily spreadable. Goat's milk is also an ingredient used in Greek feta cheese. Goat's cheese is very popular in Europe and also the Mediterranean. For this salad, just use your fingers and crumble the cheese or pinch them into pea-sized balls.

For the rest of this salad, I used spinach as the base but a more appropriate vegetable would be using the spring mix of frisée or arugula. Also in this salad are dried cranberries, which I reconstituted by boiling them briefly in sugared water. In fact you can use any other kinds of dried fruit for this application, like apricots or figs. The addition of candied walnuts or pecans should also add some texture and crunch to this salad (which, sadly I don't have on hand for this salad). As for the dressing, you can go with a basic balsamic vinegraitte or a sweet/tart combination like honey ginger or honey lemon.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fig, Blue Cheese and Prosciutto Appetizer idea

Now, here's a simple appetizer idea that should wow your friends at dinner parties. It not only looks sophisticated and upscale but it tastes great as well. The key to this appetizer is the delicate balance between the natural sweetness of the fig and the saltiness of the blue cheese and prosciutto.

The common fig is a popular fruit grown in parts of the Middle-East like Iran, the Mediterranean and also northern India. Here in the United States, figs are grown in California, Texas, Oregon and Washington state. I love fresh figs because they impart a natural sweetness that is unique in both taste and texture.

To prep this appetizer, start off by buying thinly sliced prosciutto, fresh figs and a small block of blue cheese. You don't need to use much of the cheese because it is pungent and can easily overwhelm the other two ingredients. Cut the figs into slices, making sure they are not too thin or the slice will easily fall apart on you. Also, you want more of the sweetness of the figs to come through to counter the pungency of the blue cheese and the saltiness of the prosciutto. Break off a small piece of blue cheese, place it on top of the fig and roll a small slice of prosciutto around the cheese and sliced fig.

Voila! Very easy and no cooking required! Have fun!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Miso & Wasabi-Crusted Filet Mignon

Filet mignon is usually prepared with just simple seasoning of salt and pepper and seared to a medium rare temperature. Very simple yet delicious. For this dish, I decided to put an Asian twist on the filet mignon by adding traditional Japanese flavors to it. Here we have 2 petite 5oz. filets crusted with miso and wasabi paste and topped with black and white sesame seeds. Let me take you through the steps on how to prepare this dish.

Start off by preparing the paste. Mix a tablespoon of miso paste (red or yellow are both acceptable) with half a teaspoon of wasabi powder (or paste) and a teaspoon each of mirin and sake and a dash of sugar. The amount of wasabi depends on how "up-you-nose-spicy" you want to get with the filets. Mix thoroughly and set aside for the moment. Make sure that the mixture is not too liquidy. It must have a pasty consistency in order to stick onto the filet's surface.

Next, season the filets ever so slightly with just a little salt and pepper. Remember that the miso is already salty. Heat up a skillet and sear the top and bottom surfaces of the filets just enough to lightly brown them. At this point, the temp of the filets are probably more to the rare than medium rare side. Remove the filets from the skillet and generously lather both surfaces of the filets with the miso mixture paste. Set your oven to 350F and start cooking the filets for about 5 minutes or so, checking the doneness of the meat every 2 minutes or so. Remember, you don't want to overcook your filets. As soon as they get to a medium rare temp, put the filets under a broiler to brown the miso paste and create a crust. At this point, you can also sprinkle the sesame seeds onto the top surface of the filets. As soon a the miso start to brown, remove the filets immediately. Let the meat rest for 5 minutes or so.

For the sauce, I pureed roasted red peppers, shallots, ginger and garlic and cook the puree with a couple of tablespoons of worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper and you are ready to go. Simple. For the rest of the dish, I grilled some asparagus spears, cooked some sliced mushrooms with garlic and shallots and made some sushi rice. You can garnish the plate with chopped scallions.

As you can see, it's not that hard to cook this dish even though it may look and sound pretty intimidating. You just need the right ingredients and some organization and planning. Good luck!