Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Easy Peasy Braised Chinese Cabbage

Braised cabbage is not exactly the most sexiest of dishes but when done right, will complement any dish with its amazing flavors. And best of all, it is easy to make. Here's what you need:

1 lb. Chinese cabbage (cut into medium-sized pieces)
1/2 large onion (julienned)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Shaoxing cooking wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1-2 cups chicken broth/stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup Dried shrimp (optional)

Start by sweating the onions and cooking the garlic in a shallow pot. Add the cabbage and then the rest of the ingredients (start with one cup of chicken broth first). Mix it up thoroughly, bring the pot to a simmer and cover. As the cabbage starts to wilt, mix the ingredients in the pot again, making sure everything gets cooked evenly. If the liquid level in the pot starts to get too low, add the other cup of chicken broth that you have left over. Braise the cabbage for approximately 20-30 minutes until it becomes real soft. Finally, do a taste tests and season with salt and pepper as needed.

And you are done! Braised cabbage goes well with neutral tasting white fish like haddock or tilapia. It adds a new dimension of salty and sour flavors when accompanying those dishes.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ken Burns' "Baseball: The Tenth Inning" on PBS Tonight (9/28/10)


Director Ken Burns is the equivalent of America's resident historian/documentarian. Burns' resume of documentaries looks like a giant slice of American history with subjects ranging from "The Civil War," "Jazz" and "The National Parks" to "Mark Twain" and "Thomas Jefferson." 1990's "The Civil War" is considered his masterpiece, garnering many industry awards along the way. Then there is "Baseball" from 1994, an 18-and-a-half hour epic chronicling America's favorite pastime. That documentary was divided into 9 parts (appropriately referred to as an "inning") with each one focusing on a particular era (roughly a decade) in the history of the game, ending in 1993. Ironically, the film aired on PBS in 1994, the year of the baseball players' strike in which the World Series was cancelled, the first time this has happened since 1904.

Now Ken Burns is back with a follow-up to "Baseball" and it is titled,"Baseball: The Tenth Inning," a two-part four hour program that continues where he left off with the first film. Each part would be titled, "Top of the 10th" and "Bottom of the 10th" respectively and it would cover, the 1994 strike, the home-run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998, the New York Yankees' run of World Series wins, dominant players like Pedro Martinez, Ichiro Suzuki, Cal Ripken Jr, the Red Sox's 2004 World Series and of course, the infamous steroid era, with a focus on Barry Bonds as a tragic figure.

In short, if you love the game of baseball, you have to tune in to your PBS station today (Sep. 28th) and tomorrow (Sep. 29th) to watch "The Tenth Inning."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Amazon Deal: "Die Hard Collection" for $29.99

Just came across this deal on Amazon.com. If you are waiting to get Bruce Willis' "Die Hard Collection," featuring all 4 movies in one package, the time is now. For $29.99, that's less than $10 for each movie on Blu-ray. It can't get any cheaper than this, folks. Follow the link above and add some Bruce Willis love to your collection.

All four movies are action-packed extravaganzas and on Blu-ray, that's magnified even further. According to site, High-Def Digest, this set is chock full of goodness on all counts, video, audio and supplements. For another positive opinion on this set, try DVD Beaver. The only knock on this Blu-ray set is that the final movie, "Live Free or Die Hard" is not the already-released Unrated version. I think it's still a great deal for this set.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Top 10 Asian Ingredients Every Cook Should Have

Browsing through CNN's website today, I came across a brief article about the top 10 Asian ingredients that should be a staple in everyone's kitchen. The list comes from the 2 executive chefs at New York City's renowned Buddakan restaurant, Chefs Brian Ray and Yang Huang.


Here's their list:

Chef Brian Ray's
1. Kewpie Mayo
Kewpie is the most fabulous mayonnaise ever. It’s just awesome. You can fix anything with some of this stuff.
2. 3 Crab brand Fish Sauce
Fish sauce can run the gamut. They can be too strong or too salty. 3 Crab is middle of the road and just has that perfect flavor.
3. Mae Ploy Chili Sauce
It’s a viscous, sweet chili sauce. It will stick to anything. I love to marinate chicken in it and throw it on the grill. The sugars in it caramelize perfectly.
4. Hoisin Sauce
To me, hoisin is the most generic, basic and solidly good sauce you can have. It’s like the KC Masterpiece of Asian food. You can put it almost on everything and it’s good every time.
5. XO Sauce
I refer to this as the truffle oil of Chinatown. If you want to add a unique flavor or finish a sauce, this is what you should use. It has a chili flavor, but with a robust seafood essence. They may cost about the same, but truffle oil is an artificial flavor, and XO is an all natural “luxury” item, made from high-quality ingredients
Yang Huang's List
1. Soy Sauce
I can’t think of an Asian pantry not having soy sauce in it. It’s very common ingredient used in so many dishes. It’s really a must-have.
2. Sweet Rice
I love this type of rice because it’s toothsome. It has a bite and it’s heartier.
3. TYJ brand Spring Roll Wrappers (TYJ brand)
This one’s my favorite because of quality. Spring roll wrappers are great because you can do so much with them. You can make egg rolls, wontons, spring rolls. They add such a nice texture.
4. Chinese Five Spice
When you taste this there’s no doubt that you’re eating something Asian. It’s a unique flavor to our culture. It’s an essential in many dishes such as Peking duck.
5. Oyster Sauce
The beauty of oyster sauce is that if you use it you don’t need to add a lot of different ingredients since its flavor is so unique and complex. It’s like soy sauce, but thicker and with more body. It has a shellfish flavor and is salty but not too overpowering.
Here's the original article on CNN at Eatocracy.
I pretty much agree with everything here. I would add my own list:
1. Freshly toasted and grounded cumin and coriander spices
2. Coconut milk
3. Sesame oil
4. Shaoxing cooking wine
5. ABC brand sweet soy sauce (or "kicap manis")

In a pinch, these ingredients can be used to cook with almost any ingredient. So, it's time to stock up.

The First Signs of Fall in New England

Yes, it's hard to believe but Fall has just arrived here in New England. Since the first few days of September--where we had a last blast of steamy summer weather--the daily temperature's been hovering around 64F-75F, the first signs of the impending change in the seasons. Well, today I finally saw leaves changing their colors and these are the first couple of them to drop in my backyard.

The changing season also brings to mind the fall vegetable growing season. Among the first greens that come to mind are hardy ones like collard, kale, mustard, escarole, swiss chard and brussels sprouts. Also in full bloom in the Fall are spinach, arugula, lettuce, snap peas, green beans, broccoli, cabbage and bok choy. Other Fall favorites include beets, sweet potato, turnips, rutabaga, cranberry, pumpkin, radish, leeks and fennel. As you can see, there is no shortage of vegetables that you can plant in your garden in the Fall.

So get busy!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Teriyaki Ginger-Glazed Salmon

One of the best use for teriyaki sauce, I find, is to use it as a sweet glaze for salmon. The glaze that I use, combines teriyaki sauce, ginger, orange (juice and rind) plus a spoonful of sugar. To prepare the glaze, start off by sauteing some chopped fresh ginger in a small pot. When you start smelling the fragrance of the cooked ginger, add 1 cup of teriyaki sauce, 1/2 cup of orange juice and 1 teaspoon of sugar to the pot. Bring to a simmer and stir to mix everything thoroughly. Reduce the liquid slightly and let it sit to cool down. The consistency should be thicker than regular teriyaki.

Next, season the salmon with salt and pepper and do a quick pan-fry until the surface of the salmon crusts up a little. The fish doesn't have to cook all the way. We can finish it up in the oven. Brush the teriyaki glaze onto the salmon and sprinkle with some sesame seeds. Place the fish in the oven at 350F for about 5 minutes or until almost cooked all the way. Turn the broiler on in the oven and place the salmon under the heating element until it starts to sizzle. Remove and you are done.


For side dishes, I chose to go with stir-fried green beans and carrots and top off the dish with some fresh crunchy bean sprouts. Finish it off by decorating the plate with the leftover teriyaki glaze.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Red Riding Trilogy" - The Very Best of British Crime Noir


Acclaimed British author David Peace wrote a quartet of crime novels set in the county seat of Yorkshire in northern England. He named them the "Red Riding Quartet" and three of those novels were adapted by Tony Grisoni and translated into three films that were produced for British television and were recently brought over stateside as theatrical releases. IFC Films just released the trilogy as a Special Edition DVD and Blu-ray sets and I have the review right here: RED RIDING Trilogy DVD Review.


Here's an excerpt of my review:
"Not for the faint of heart, the “Red Riding” trilogy is a daunting and complex web of interconnected events that will test the audience's endurance as well as their ability to keep track of the story as it moves from the present to flashbacks and back without much warning. Strict continuity is forsaken as each movie offers a new angle or a glimpse into events that had already occurred. As the layers are slowly peeled away, the puzzle pieces start to come together until it finally reaches a dramatic crescendo in the last film's fantastic finale. In a movie series that incessantly projects such a bleak undertone, it is a fitting culmination--almost like sunshine shining through the clouds--to what has been, up to that point, the absolute failure of good triumphing over evil. Patience is truly rewarded."


And my final conclusion:
"The “Red Riding” trilogy is an easy recommendation but at the same time, you have to be warned about the intense violence and the horrific deadly depictions of young girls and women. These films are certainly not for the faint of heart. The constant gloom and darkness that surround the films is palpable and vividly imagined, creating such an atmosphere of dread and despair, it is hard to come out of each film feeling nothing but drained and heart-broken. Whether or not you like British noir or crime dramas, the “Red Riding” trilogy should be on everybody's must-see list."



Monday, September 20, 2010

Roasted Heirloom Tomato & Basil Soup with Orzo



What is an heirloom tomato, you might ask?
Well, by definition, an heirloom tomato is a variety of tomato that has been passed down through several generations of a family because of its valued characteristics. It is usually a variety that was introduced before 1940 or has been in circulation for more than 50 years. New heirlooms are also created by cross-pollinating two heirlooms or an heirloom and a hybrid to produce new seeds.

In recent years, heirloom tomatoes have become more readily available commercially. I recently acquired a few heirlooms from a local farm and decided to make some delicious tomato soup. Heirlooms are easily recognizable by their bigger size and also colorful characteristics (a mix of yellow, orange, pink and green). In this dish, I started by roasting 5 lbs of the tomatoes together with shallots, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper as shown below:
Heat the oven up to 350F and roast the tomatoes for approximately 45 minutes or until they are cooked like below:
Put all the contents from the roasting pan into a food processor, together with fresh basil leaves. Then run the processed liquid through a chinois stainless steel sieve to remove all the tomato pulp and skin. Take the filtered liquid, transfer it to a pot and add 1 quart of chicken broth/stock and 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar (4 tablespoons), bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper. And voila! There's your tomato and basil soup. I like to serve this dish with some orzo pasta and meatballs.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sweet Ginger Pork: It's What's For Dinner

I had some pork sirloins in the freezer and was out of ideas pf what to cook for dinner today. Then I remembered a dish that my mom used to make when I was a kid. It is totally comfort food to me as it brings me back to the good old days. And the best part is, it's so easy to make.

First, slice up your pork sirloins into thin pieces. These puppies should cook quickly. Start with some julienned onions or shallots. Sweat them until they become tender. Add minced garlic and ginger and sauté until fragrant. Now, add the sliced pork and cook for a couple of minutes. Add a splash of shaoxing cooking wine, 3 tablespoons of thick sweet soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of regular low sodium soy sauce and 1/2 cup of water. Bring the mixture to a boil and turn down the heat to a simmer, tasting the gravy and adjusting the seasoning as you go by adding sugar, salt and black pepper. Finally, just before serving, rough chop some scallions (green portion only) and add to the dish. If you have garlic chives, they would work so much better.

Now let's get on to the stir-fried vegetable dish that I also prepared to go with the pork (below):
I like this dish because it is first of all, purely vegetarian and healthy and second, very colorful and would look great when you have guests coming over for dinner. The green and wax beans plus the carrots provide some nice color contrasts to the plate and best of all, it is easy to make. Start by snipping the ends off the beans and blanching them until just tender (do not overcook). At this point, you should also blanch the sliced carrots as well. Sliced some button mushrooms and onions and mince a couple of cloves of garlic and you are ready to start stir-frying!

As usual, start by sweating the onions and then adding the minced garlic and cooking until fragrant. Then add all your vegetables together with a dash of oyster sauce, some soy sauce and a splash of water. Keep the seasoning light as you want just flavor the vegetables enough to complement the pork and not overwhelm it. Plate it up and you are ready to serve.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Afterschool": Review of the Indie Film from IFC


From IFC Films, comes writer-director Antonio Campos' take on the internet age and boarding school violence titled "Afterschool". I recently got my hands on the DVD of the film and was surprised by all the superlatives heaped upon the movie even though I found it slow, boring and lacking in character development. The director had a nice idea with the story but in the end, lacked cohesiveness when it comes to executing the film. Here is an excerpt of my review on DVDTown.com:

"Writer-director Antonio Campos cut his teeth in the movie business producing well-received short films like “Buy It Now” and “The Last 15.” So it was no surprise that Campos' feature-length film debut, “Afterschool” came with plenty of wind behind its sails. There are more than a couple of film festival official selection accolades (Cannes, New York, SXSW) plus favorable critics' quotes plastered on the front and back cover of the “Afterschool” DVD. One critic was even quoted hailing Campos as a “cinematic disciple of Kubrick and a latter period Gus Van Sant.” In “Afterschool,” I agree that there is a tinge of Kubrick's long tracking shots and a hint of Van Sant's uncomfortably surreal take on school violence from “Elephant” but those worthy elements are largely erased by Campos' lack of character development and unquestionably boring script. Style over substance can only get you that far."


For read the full review, link to it here.

Marjoram: The Forgotten Flavoring Herb

Marjoram is a cooking herb that is mostly unknown outside of professional culinary circles. Ask anyone to name the most common herbs and names like parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme usually come to mind (remember the opening lines to Simon & Garfunkel's song, "Scarborough Fair"?). Anyway, I am here to tell you about a herb that will help flavor bland vegetables with some aromatic elements that is reminiscent of sweet pine and citrus. It is mild, like parsley but is closest in flavor and smell to oregano. When preparing dishes that lack much flavor like summer squash or zucchini, throw in some chopped marjoram at the end and it will add a much-needed aromatic detail to the dish. Try it!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Two film reviews: "Don McKay" & "That Evening Sun"


I recently got my hands on two movies that are off the beaten path. No big blockbusters here, just a couple of good character-driven stories with some exciting performances by some great lead actors.

First, we have "That Evening Sun," a Southern melodrama based in Tennessee that pits a fiercely independent octogenarian who tries to wrest his old homestead from a nemesis who has leased it from the old man's son. Here's the opening excerpt from my review of the Blu-ray disc:

"The old adage that a man's home is his castle is played out in convincing manner in this well-received 2009 film “That Evening Sun.” Based on James A. Michener Memorial prize-winning author William Gay's collection of short stories titled “I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down,” the film follows the hard-headed and sometimes foolish exploits of feisty old geezer, Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook, “Into The Wild”). Gay is known for his Southern Gothic literature and is most often compared to William Faulkner and Mary Flannery O'Connor in terms of his prose style. In Gay's novels, the recurring fictional theme of poor everyday Southern folks caught up in sometimes violent situations is on full display in “That Evening Sun.” Set in a rural and decaying Tennessee town, “That Evening Sun” has a lot to offer in terms storytelling but the film's deliberate slow pacing, while helping to build up the tension, will prove detrimental to viewers looking for an explosive payoff at the end."

You can read the rest of my review at the website DVD Town: That Evening Sun review

The next film is a little more interesting. It is from first-time director/screenwriter, Jake Goldberger who takes his inspiration from the amazing Coen brothers and chose to craft a noir-ish thriller in the vein of "Blood Simple" and "Fargo." It doesn't reach up to the potential of the sibling's hit thrillers but does a good enough job to warrant a look. Here's an excerpt of my review:

"Director and writer Jake Goldberger may be a novice at moviemaking but his debut here is actually worth a look. Goldberger crafts an initially befuddling story that creates plenty of tension and seems full of characters that have been ripped from David Lynch's playbook. What he ended up with is a sly tale of deception, double-crossing and a surprising reveal at the end. The journey was a little shaky at the start but starts to come together midway through. And having both Thomas Hayden Church and Elizabeth Shue as your leads does go a long way in helping one's cause."

My full review can be accessed here.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Amazon: Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince (Blu-ray) $12.99

Just saw this temporary price drop this morning on Amazon.com: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on Blu-ray is now $12.99, a great price point for anyone looking to add the JK Rowling's latest chapter to their Blu-ray collection. So, grab it while you can before the price shoots back up.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Amazon Deal of the Week: "The Prestige" on Blu-ray for $9.99

The Prestige [Blu-ray]
In 2006, a couple of magician-themed movies were released in theaters. They were Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, which stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale and Neil Burger's The Illusionist starring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Jessica Biel. Out of the two, The Prestige commands the upper hand due to its intriguing story and astounding final reveal. The Illusionist is not a bad movie in comparison but just a little lacking in conveying a tense storyline.

Just in time for the labor day weekend, Amazon.com is selling The Prestige on Blu-ray for a magical price of $9.99. So grab it while you can as that price would disappear in a flash!