Sunday, September 28, 2008

Aromatic Rice-Noodle and Beef Soup

Soup for the sickie! That’s me – the sickie.

I’ve been ill this week. It must be the ragweed, unless I actually have a cold. Nevertheless, I feel like crap. I've got a bit of bronchitis and all the wonderful things that go with it. I’ll spare you the details. Oh, but I will tell you that when I blow my nose, my ears pop and I get a momentary case of vertigo. Not much fun!

So, I was too ill to cook yesterday, but I wanted some soup with a spicy kick to make me feel warm inside and open up my sinuses. Yesterday I settled for canned and boxed soup. Today, I’m going for the gusto and trying something that I think will hit the spot.

This recipe comes from Gourmet Magazine. It is a classic soup from Lao. Apparently it has a lot in common with Pho (a Vietnamese soup). I’ve never had Pho, but I’ve been wanting to try it. So I almost feel like I am today.

I never used lemongrass before (not fresh lemongrass). So that was a new experiment. It resembles scallions, in a way. But it's more wood-like. Especially the outer layers. The inner parts are softer than the outer. You remove the outer and throw it away. But don't worry if the inner parts aren't soft like scallions. You end up pouring the stock through a sieve and throwing away the solids.

In the end, you place the noodles in a bowl, pour the stock over it, and then add the rest.

I used beef in the recipe - sirloin. But Gourmet says you can use pork, chicken, or fish instead. Either way, I'm sure it will wake up your senses and make you feel good. :)

Aromatic Rice-Noodle and Beef Soup
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine

2 tablespoons minced shallot
2 serrano chiles, thinly sliced, with a few seeds left in for some heat
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 lemongrass stalk
2 tablespoons minced ginger
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
2 whole star anise
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly crushed white peppercorns
2 small tomatoes, cut into a small dice
4-5 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 lb. dried flat rice noodles
1-lb. sirloin steak (about 1 inch thick)
2 cups chopped spinach
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

Discard any dry outer leaves from lemongrass and coarsely chop bottom third of stalk. Don't worry if it is somewhat fibrous (wood-like). You will discard it in the end.

Heat the vegetable oil and the sesame oil in a 5-qt. heavy pot over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Add the shallot and chiles, stirring, until dark brown, but not burnt. It will take about 4-5 minutes. Add the lemongrass and ginger and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

About the white pepper: While the chiles and ginger cooked, I crushed my white pepper. I had whole peppercorns. I put them in a bag and crushed them with the back side of a strong tablespoon. White peppercorns are fairly easy to crush, I guess.

Add the broth, fish sauce, star anise, cinnamon stick, salt, and white pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Pour through a fine sieve into another pot and discard the solids. Add the tomatoes, scallions, and lime juice and simmer until the tomatoes are softened, about 10 minutes.

While the broth simmers, bring a large pot of water to a boil for noodles. Trim the fat from the steak and season with salt and pepper. Heat a well-seasoned ridged grill pan over moderately high heat until hot, then grill the steak for about 5 minutes on each side for rare. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing very thin.

While the steak is resting, cook the noodles in boiling water until tender. Follow the package directions for the times. Mine was 4 minutes.

Place the noodles in your soup bowls. Pour the soup over top and then top it all with the spinach and steak. sprinkle with the mint and enjoy the experience.

Aromatic Rice Noodle And Beef Soup

Soup for the sickie! That’s me – the sickie.

I ...

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Brown Butter Heath Bit Cookies

Have you ever noticed that the cookies we eat tend to change with the seasons? Maybe in the summer we eat more lemon or other citrus cookies. In the winter I tend to go heavy on the chocolate and nut content. Do you?

Well, as fall hits in New England, and the temperatures dip and the heat comes on at night, I'm ready for some autumn cookies, and these are some good ones. I browned the butter before using it in the dough. The sugar is brown, and the heath bits are brown toffee goodness! These cookies remind me of the turning leaves and the taste of being toasty warm in front of the pellet stove.

By the way, I'm not a soft cookie fan. I like my cookies to have some bite to them, and these do. For me the texture was just right. They are not soft, but won't crumble apart when you eat them either. They are the perfect in between.

Brown Butter Heath Bit Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter
2 ¼ cups packed light brown sugar
2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (I used double-strength)
2/3 package heath bits

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Brown the butter by heating it over medium-high heat in a medium sized pot for several minutes, stirring occasionally. Then, pour it into a bowl to cool.

Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together. Set the flour mixture aside.

Once the butter is cool, add the brown sugar. Blend with a mixer until it is smooth and well-blended. Add the 2 eggs and the vanilla extract. Beat until smooth.

Add the flour mixture, beating until all is incorporated into the dough. Then use a wooden spoon to add the heath chips.

Roll into golf ball-sized spoonfulls of dough and place on a cookie sheet lined with either parchment paper or a Silpat baking sheet.

Bake for 14 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet before moving to a cooling rack.

Makes approximately 24 yummy cookies.

Brown Butter Heath Bit Cookies

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cold Soba Noodle Salad with Shrimp

I just got through watching Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations in Japan. I will admit that lately I seem to be a bit fascinated with Japan, it’s culture, and it’s food.

Well, in this episode, Bourdain, being the food idol that he is, was joined by Masaharu Morimoto, being the food idol he is! The topic of soba noodles was the first one in this episode. I imagine that most of the noodles we eat are made in a factory, by machine. And maybe they have factories like that in Japan.

Bourdain says, “Soba is the Japanese word for buckwheat. And good Soba noodles are 80% buckwheat, 20% wheat flour.”

There are people in Japan who spend their whole lives making soba, with no machines involved. They work the dough, roll it out, and then precisely cut it into 1.6 millimeter noodles. And do know, that’s a guy, cutting through sheets of noodles folded onto themselves to form into thick squares of flat dough. Then he cuts them with a tool, guided by a piece of wood to get a straight edge. The only power is coming from the man’s muscles. It’s truly amazing. These noodles were not dried, but rather cooked fresh.

Bourdain and Morimoto ate their noodles in a traditional style, with a soya-based sauce called tsuyu. The tsuyu probably contained nori, wasabi, and Japanese leeks. They scooped-up the noodles plain, and dipped them into the sauce before loudly slurping them up – the proper way to eat the soba.

My noodles? Well, let’s compare. I have a package of them sitting in my pantry. Hmmm .... mine were made in Australia. It’s the Hakubaku brand organic soba. But the package says it’s number one in Japan. But it is 70% wheat flour and 30% buckwheat. Shouldn’t that be turned around?
The last time I made soba the noodles were, in fact, much darker. So I imagine that they had a more traditional buckwheat to wheat flour ratio. Well, no matter, I guess. I think they taste pretty good.

In fact, I think this noodle dish tastes pretty good! And there are so many little add-ins you could do to change it up. I made a small batch of the sauce and used it for a pound of shrimp. It could just as easily be chicken, or tofu, or even beef. Also, I steamed some snow peas and shaved carrots. That’s what I like. But you know what? Even without all that stuff, the dish was pretty tasty. Looks good, doesn't it?

While making the soba dish, I was excited because I got to use a new ingredient. About a month ago I ordered
Yuzu juice online. It has a strong citrus flavor. I used is sparingly. It combined really well with the soy, vinegar, honey, and sesame oil.

Oh, one nice thing about this recipe is it doesn't have to be done at one time. I made my shrimp and veggies in the morning and cooked the pasta much later in the day when I was getting hungry.

Cold Soba Noodle Salad with Shrimp
Adapted from Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer

1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 package soba noodles (mine was 9.5 ounce)
5 scallions, diced
8 ounces snow peas
one large carrot, shaved with a peeler and left in long strips
1 1/4 pounds shrimp, peeled and de-veined

Shrimp Marinade
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
5 teaspoons low sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons strong flavored honey (I use chestnut honey)
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
½ teaspoon grated ginger (done on a microplane zester)
1/4 teaspoon yuzu juice

Sauce (it's the same as the marinade, but doubled)
5 teaspoons rice vinegar
10 teaspoons low sodium soy sauce
4 teaspoons strong flavored honey (I use chestnut honey)
4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
½ teaspoon grated ginger (done on a microplane zester)
½ teaspoon yuzu juice

In a small bowl, mix one batch of sauce. Pour it into a freezer bag and add the shrimp. Let it marinate for 1-2 hours.

To cook the shrimp, place them in a non-stick pan sprayed with cooking spray or with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cook them for about 1 1/2 minutes per side. They will turn opaque. Cook them till they are barely done. Be careful because shrimp can easily overcook and be overly chewy. Cool the shrimp in the refrigerator in a container that is sitting in a container of ice to cool it from below.

When you are ready to prepare the noodles, mix together the batch of sauce in the bowl where you will place the cooked noodles.

Toast the sesame seeds by putting them in a dry pan over a medium-high heat until they look golden brown. You should shake or stir them around so they are browned evenly on all sides. Place them into a bowl and let cool.

Put a pot full of water on high so you can bring it to a rapid boil. You can steam the vegetables while you wait for the water to boil.

To steam the veggies, bring about an inch of water to a boil in a steamer. You will be steaming the snow peas and carrots. When the water is ready add the snow peas to the steamer. After 3 minutes, add the carrot shavings and continue to cook all of the vegetables until they are tender (about 3 minutes more). Place the steamed veggies in the refrigerator to cool.

Once the pot of water is boiling rapidly, put in the soba noodles and cook them according to package instructions (mine called for 4 minutes). They should be tender, but not mushy.

When the noodles are done, drain them and plunge them into a bowl of ice water to stop them from cooking further.

Place the noodles, scallions, and toasted sesame seeds into the bowl with the sauce. Toss to combine. The dish will taste better if you let it sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Cold Soba Noodle Salad With Shrimp

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Saturday, September 6, 2008

So Much To Do - So Little Time!

I'm a teacher, and school started 2 weeks ago. To put it bluntly, I feel like I got hit by a truck! Teaching is fun, but it can be such an exhausting job physically and mentally. I slept 12 hours last night. The last time I did that was probably was about a year ago - when school started for the year. :)

As I got into bed (after my nap) last night, I decided to flip through the pages of my brand new Food and Wine that arrived in the mail yesterday. I love Food and Wine.

Well, this month's issue was a real good one.

Each time I go through a food magazine I go through and flag the recipes I want to make. Usually there are maybe three to four recipes that I long to make. But this month was overwhelming with greatness.

I'm in such a pickle! There were eight this month that I just wish I had the time to make - along with the twenty or so that got backlogged throughout the summer.

Some look very do-able, even on my tight schedule. Some aren't.

First, there's a nice, probably not time-consuming scallop recipe from Stephanie Izard, winner of last season's Top Chef. It's on a bed of greens with bacon in it. She shares her secret to browning the scallops. I can't wait to try it!

There's a fritatta recipe that I just know I will make when my department feeds all the teachers for our monthly breakfasts. It's got mustard greens and sweet onions. I just love sweet onions.

The Chicken Tikka looks like something I can accomplish. It's an Indian recipe. They offer easier to find ingredients, but let you know what they are replacing in true Indian cooking. I really haven't done any Indian cooking, and I'd like to expand my horizons in that direction.

Another featured Indian recipe that I'm just dying to try out is the Creamy Indian Spiced Halibut Curry. Wow, that's right up my alley. I'm going to go all out when I make it and use the whole milk and all the cream. Honest!

One of my favorite foods it goat cheese. I did a post on a local producer in my area, so I can practically drive down the road and get it any time. Food and Wine has two fabulous recipes with goat cheese this month. There's delectable-looking little stuffed mushrooms and Creamy Pasta with Tomato Confit and Fresh Goat Cheese. Yum!

There's Sauvignon Blanc-Steamed Mussels, Chicken with White Wine and Creme Fraiche, and a Raisin-Studded Apple Bread Pudding too.

And the one that I most want to make, but the least likely that I will (I'm giving myself a challenge here) is the Apple Tart with Almond Cream. OMG! That looks so wonderful.

Is that just eight recipes? Nope, it's ten. Ugh!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hummus Like My Tailor Makes It

Being super-short, and no size 6, I have to bring a lot of my clothes to a tailor. I found a great one in a nearby town. She and I have bonded to some extent. During my last visit, we talked about weight and food. She is from Syria and was thrilled to share with me a sample of her hummus. I typically am not a fan of hummus, to be honest. But her hummus was unlike any hummus I’ve ever had! It was so much thinner and creamier in consistency and the taste was fabulous. I asked her for the recipe, but she seemed reluctant. I get the impression that she’s given it to people before who didn’t do it justice.

We talked about the ingredients. I told her I tasted the tahini and lemon. She pointed out that the black flakes were cumin. She doesn’t grind it to a powder – she likes it being noticeable. It looked to be the size of somewhat coarsely ground pepper. As much as I'd like to say that mine is just like that, I only had ground cumin. But I think that the taste was comparable.

I am going to try to recreate her recipe, by putting together a hodgepodge of recipes I saw on the Internet with pictures that looked like hers but relying mostly on one I saw in Food and Wine. I think I came close!

By the way, I had a can of tahini in my pantry for a long time. When I finally opened it for this recipe, it was separated (as expected), and the solids were rock hard. That was a problem and I almost threw the whole thing away. But Joe convinced me to try to save it by microwaving. He's so smart! So, to soften it up, I microwaved all of it for short amounts of time and broke it up in between them. It took quite a few cycles, but eventually I was working with a mixture that could be stirred!

Adapted from Food and Wine

1/2 pound dried chickpeas
5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons tahini
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin, divided
parsley for garnish

lavash bread for serving

Add the chickpeas to a large bowl and cover with several inches of water. Refrigerate overnight. Drain and rinse them before cooking.

Add the chickpeas and garlic cloves to a medium saucepan and cover with several inches of water. Bring the chickpeas to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and simmer for approximately 40 minutes or until they are tender. When they are done, reserve 1/2 cup of the liquid and then drain the rest.

Note: If you like your hummus thick, then you may never use the reserved liquid. Hold back where I say to add it. Then, if at the end, your hummus is too thick, stir it in later.

Peel the garlic cloves.

Add the chickpeas, garlic, reserved cooking liquid, 1/4 cup of the olive oil, and salt to a food processor and puree roughly. Then add half of the tahini, the lemon juice, and cumin and puree it all till smooth.

Remove the mixture from the food processor and put in a bowl. In the bowl, add the rest of the tahini and stir.

To serve, add the hummus to a bowl. It's good to not have a smooth surface. I tried to leave swirls of lower areas. That helps to create a great presentation by filling those areas in with the rest of the olive oil.

Garnish with parsley, more cumin, and if you like paprika, use that too! Additionally, some people add whole chickpeas to the top surface.

Hummus Like My Tailor Makes It

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