Archive for the ‘cooking’ Category

Using What You Have IX: Pantry Stuff

Now and then I run into new must-have pantry items, and recently I had a throw-together meal that incorporated several of them, so here are some brief descriptions. I do not accept any advertising, free samples, or other freebies. If it appears on this blog, I paid full price and thought it was worth it.
First, the beans: any black bean from Rancho Gordo is going to be delicious. They are always the current year’s crop so you never heard the problem of beans that cook forever and never get soft.  I like a bit of epazote from the garden cooked in with black beans, and if you have some homemade chicken broth and home-rendered lard, so much the better. Nothing else but salt to taste. Delicious. Rancho Gordo works with some farmers in Oaxaca to give them a good market for the heirloom beans that they grow, and I’m happy to help out on the eating end.

The chilequiles are made with nixtamalized heirloom corn tortillas from Masienda.I can get the tortillas at Whole Foods. Or, if you’re a purist and plan to eat lots of tortillas, you can go to Masienda’s shop and buy heirloom corn, ingredients and instructions to nixtamalize it, and even a mechanical stone grinder that will set you back over $1500. Personally I eat tortillas once every two or three weeks at most, so I keep a packet of their fresh tortillas in the freezer for when the mood strikes.
In making the chilequiles, the tortilla pieces are fried crisp in avocado oil or lard and then turned in a hot pan with chile or salsa. My current pantry pet is salsa from Barnacle Foods made from kelp. No kidding, kelp, and it tastes good and not like seaweed, even though kelp is the main ingredient.

I’m increasingly interested in seaweed and filtering shellfish because they are products that can be ocean-farmed and will clean their area of ocean rather than polluting it further as fish and shrimp farming does. You can read more about this in the entrancing book Eat Like a Fish, which I plan to review soon. But while I recognize this as ecologically sound, I dislike the taste of most seaweed quite a lot. Here, however, is a food based on kelp that I can eat and enjoy.

Finally, I try to keep a bag of Stahlbush Island Farms Crazy Corn in the freezer for special treats. I don’t grow corn because I try not to eat corn too often, but when I do, this mixture of white, yellow, and purple corn is the corn I want. Just stirred over medium-high heat until cooked, with minimal water and a little butter and salt, it completes this brunch extravaganza.

For the fried eggs, a good sprinkle of fleur de sel on top is necessary, in my view.

It probably goes without saying that any two of these dishes would be enough with the fried eggs, maybe even just one extra dish. But I like extravagance at times, perhaps even frequently, and after a meal like this, a light snack in the evening will finish the day. Plus- here is the best part of being an adult- you don’t have to clean your plate. Our foremothers may  have thought that was virtuous, but we have refrigerators for leftovers and no need to eat more than we want.

 

Using What You Have VII: Primary and Secondary Consumption of Elm

I’ve become more and more intrigued by culinary uses of tree leaves, since there is nothing more ecologically sound: the soil is never disturbed, carbon is sequestered, soil biota is preserved, and a small tree can produce an awful lot of leaves. The drawback is that there is little information about how to use them or even which ones are safe to use. I’ve written recently about my elm leaf pasta.  Today I experimented with spaetzle, the firm eggy dumplings made in Eastern Europe but highly adaptable anywhere.

Here I will make my usual disclaimer about eating wild foods or foods that you have never eaten before: never trust your safety to a stranger on the Internet. Do your own research, be aware that your tolerance may be very different from mine, and experiment cautiously before you eat a lot if you do decide to eat wild foods. All green leafy foods can be laxative to people who don’t usually eat them. The decision is yours.

I refer in the title to “primary and secondary consumption” because not only do I eat the leaves directly in the spaetzle but the eggs come from my chickens, who eat a lot of elm leaves. So this is double-layered tree-eating.

I couldn’t find my spaetzle maker, so I tried a potato ricer, which I had read would also work. It doesn’t really. Have a spaetzle maker and life will be simpler.

This was a freewheeling experiment and quantities aren’t exact. Basic proportions for spaetzle are a cup of flour, two eggs, a quarter cup of milk, and a half teaspoon of salt whisked together, but this one is different because of the leaves. I started with all the elm leaves that I could squeeze into one hand, about two cups when fluffed up more loosely. They were steamed for seven minutes and cooled.

Then I put one and a quarter cups of flour in the blender, added the leaves, and chopped as finely as possible. This is a bit tedious, with some stopping and stirring required. Then I added half a teaspoon of salt and five egg yolks, and just enough water to make a very thick batter. Run the batter through the spaetzle maker into salted water at a fast simmer, cook until the spaetzle rise to the top, and simmer until done. Take one out and bite it and examine the interior. They should be cooked through when finished, no longer wet and sticky inside. This is usually 2-4 minutes tops. Drain, and spread out on a flexible cutting board to cool. Don’t use wax paper, as I show here, because it turns out they stick to it and it is a bit annoying getting them off again.

At this point you can proceed or refrigerate them for a day until needed. I wanted to try them right away, so I heated up a skillet to a bit above medium and chopped up a bit of celery, two healthy sprigs of marjoram, and two small cloves of garlic. Two tablespoons each of butter and olive oil went in the skillet, the garlic went in to sizzle for a few seconds, and the herbs were added and tossed around for a minute. Then the spaetzle went in. At this point you can either cook them at medium heat until heated through as seen here,

or do as I prefer and keep cooking until the little dumplings have some browned spots, as shown here:

Serve as a landing with something nice on top. My preference is fried eggs with runny yolks and nice crisp brown rims. My husband’s plate is shown at the top of this post, and yes, he really does like that much pepper on his eggs. I can also imagine the assemblage looking even more colorful with some deep red chile drizzled over the green dumplings and eggs.
There is no strong or objectionable flavor in elm leaf spaetzle, and there are certainly far more fiber and fewer carbohydrates than in all-flour spaetzle. My mother’s objection to nearly all my leafy foods is that they are green. Well, leaves are green. Maybe we just need to get used to eating some green food, and given that people love some odd colored things like deep blue potatoes, I don’t see any reason why green food is beneath consideration. Green is the color of growth, so maybe we can come to think of it as “growth food.”

no doubt it goes without saying that if you don’t wish to experiment with wild foods, you can use chard or similar mild greens instead. Steam, squeeze dry, and proceed as above.

Living in Interesting Times: Using What You Have III

It continues to be an interesting adventure to find out what all I’ve tucked into my chest freezer over time. Recently I uncovered a half pound of ground pork and some frozen gyoza wrappers, and realized that I had everything  I needed to make potstickers.
Potstickers are very easy if you use purchased wrappers. The filling is pretty adaptable and there are scads of recipes online if you feel that you need one. My basic formula is half a pound of ground meat, half a teaspoon of salt, a tablespoon of soy sauce, a 1”by2” piece of peeled ginger chopped finely, and the white parts of four scallions chopped into pieces about the size of coarse crumbs. Mix together and elaborate a little if you like to do that. Personally, I always want a texture ingredient. I used to use fresh water chestnuts when I lived where I could get them, but I don’t like the canned ones, so I used some jicama chopped into little pieces about the same size as the scallions.

Lay out a few wrappers at a time, keeping the rest under a damp towel. Put about a teaspoon full of filling in the middle, dip your finger in a cup of water and run it around the inside edge of the wrapper, bring the two halves together, and make little pleats. As you see below, mine are not very neatly pleated, and probably a fastidious Chinese cook would be appalled, but they taste fine. This is a good kitchen task for older children, and can be done sitting meditatively at the kitchen table.

I usually make about twice as many as I plan to cook and freeze the rest. They are handy for almost instant, effortless meals.

To cook, place them closely in a nonstick skillet that has a lid and pour in just enough water to make a film on the bottom, usually about a third of a cup. Add a tablespoon of soy sauce and 2-3 tablespoons of your chosen cooking oil. Put the skillet over medium heat until the water is sizzling, put the lid on it, and cook a few minutes, checking frequently, until the dumplings are cooked and puffed as shown.

Remove the lid and let the dumplings fry in the oil until the bottoms are browned as shown in the top photo. Keep checking, because they burn easily. I like mine just on the verge of burnt and crusty, but you may like yours less browned.

Serve with a dipping sauce. The simplest is half soy sauce and half water, with some grated ginger, rice vinegar, and sugar added to taste. Adding some chili oil or offering it as a side option will make heat-loving guests happy. Or get more elaborate if you like, but keep the spirit of fun, easy finger food.

Gyoza wrappers are available in Asian groceries and I now see them at a lot of Western groceries. They freeze well, and in fact are often sold already frozen.  A packet of wrappers and half a pound of ground meat, plus some pantry items, makes up two good meals for two. Either beef or pork are fine, but not too lean, or the filling will be dry.  I made some once with ground salmon and some pork fat, and they were incredibly good. Any Chinese cooking website will have more ideas.

 

 

 

Living in Interesting Times: Books Worth Reading


Recently I was thinking admiringly about how well Taiwan has handled the pandemic, and realized that I’m fascinated by this plucky island, less than a hundred miles off the shore of an overbearing authoritarian nation, which has nonetheless held its own as a democracy. I’ve often heard of it as a foodie destination, but was unfamiliar with its cuisine except to think it was “more or less Chinese.” I decided it was time to learn more. I grew up with a weekly trip to the library as my treat, but I got out of the library habit until last year, when I calculated what I was spending on books. I went back to my local library, and made the delightful discovery that my membership included e-books via Hoopla. Now, with the importance of minimizing social contact clear to all thinking people,  this is more important than ever.

So even now, with my local libraries and bookstores closed up tight, I can pull books out of the aether, which is where I found this wonderful cookbook by Cathy Erway. It has short but excellent essays about various aspects of Taiwanese culture, the recipes are all clearly written and workable and sound wonderful, and the photography by Pete Lee is a treat. The chapter on street food is especially enticing, and the recipe for oyster omelettes makes my mouth water just to think about it. The Chilled Noodles with Chicken and Sesame Sauce are delicious, probably my favorite variation of this well-loved dish.
I’ll definitely be buying the Kindle edition of this book, because I know now that I want it in my permanent collection. The generosity of my local library system let me thoroughly review the book before I bought it so that I didn’t spend money on something I wouldn’t really use. Get this book. If you like Asian cooking, you’ll like it.
If you want just one recipe to get started on, here’s a version of oyster omelettes very much like the one in the book. But be warned, you will still want the book for the 90+ other Taiwanese recipes.

https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/taiwanese-oyster-omelet

Taiwanese Oyster Omelet