Archive for the ‘cooking’ Category

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

Living in Interesting Times: Some Time to Experiment

Living out of my garden, pantry, and freezer hasn’t exactly been a hardship and is how I usually live this time of year anyway, and I’ve had a little extra time to think about how to use some of my pantry ingredients in a more interesting way. I have been doing a lot of Sichuan cooking lately, but to go with a lovely steak raised in my area, I did not want the strong flavors of Sichuan. However, I have become very intrigued, almost obsessed, with good Chinese oyster sauce made from real oysters. There’s nothing quite like it, and a dab of it goes in most of my Chinese cooking for an indefinable umami that wafts through the other ingredients. There’s no actual oyster flavor when used in small amounts, just a subtle richness that you can’t quite put your finger on.

While thinking about where oyster sauce could fit into western cooking, I found myself thinking about another combination that I first encountered in Hawaii many years ago: soy sauce and butter. They go amazingly well together and don’t taste Asian, just good.

Another taste that I thought might translate to a western treatment of asparagus is wok hei, the indefinable “breath” that hovers over food cooked quickly in a really hot wok.

So here it is, a hot wok dish that goes well next to a western steak. I started with a large bunch of purple asparagus, almost two pounds, and the asparagus itself was very large, with some spears close to an inch in diameter. I snapped off the tough ends, then snapped the remainder into pieces about an inch and a half long. There were some slender spears, and I kept them separate. My cooking “juice” was 1/3 cup of white wine with about two teaspoons of oyster sauce and a tablespoon of good white wine vinegar added. I had two tablespoons of butter ready, and good naturally fermented soy sauce next to the stove. My calculated time was seven minutes, because of the thickness of the spears. For normal spears of asparagus, five would be more like it.

First my carbon steel wok was heated to blazing heat on my most powerful burner. I poured in a good glug of avocado oil; I didn’t measure, but I would guess it was about 3 tablespoons. Then the thick spear sections went in with a huge hiss and sputter. I cooked them for four minutes, sprinkling in soy sauce. Then the thin spear pieces were added, the fluid stirred in, and boiled furiously for two minutes.  At this point the liquid should be evaporated down to a glaze, if you didn’t falter with the heat. Turn off the heat, toss in the butter, and it goes to the plate. The centers of the spears will still be a bit crisp, but chewable, while the outside is seared. Yum. The soy and oyster sauce are pretty salty, so taste before you add salt at the table.

The same treatment could be used for a lot of other vegetables, varying the cooking time as needed. I’ve noticed that the intense heat of a wok does good things for kale, so I plan to try that next.

The steak was from a local rancher. Those folks are having a hard time with restaurants closed and meat processors losing capacity, so please, patronize the hell  out of your local meat growers if you are lucky enough to have them.

 

 

Living in Interesting Times: Using What You Have II


This weekend I was corresponding with a friend about marinated tofu, and it caused me to think about the importance  (especially now) of using what I produce. On a half-acre suburban lot, I won’t be growing my own staples or raising large meat animals. Nor is growing grain rice or soybeans feasible. But I do have chickens, and in season they lay like crazy and the eggs start to pile up. I started to wonder if I could make a proteinaceous food somewhat akin to tofu out of eggs or egg yolks.
My concentration is on yolks because they are the most nutritious and delicious part of the egg. So if you have any belief that yolks aren’t good for you, this post won’t be for you. But to me, a wasted yolk is truly unfortunate.

My first attempt was to beat up 20 egg yolks with a little salt and bake them in an oiled loaf pan at 225 degrees until set. After cooling, I sliced pieces off the resulting yolk cake and used them like tofu in a stir-fry, seen at the top of this post. The result was a little bland and chewy, in my opinion, but my husband liked it okay. He is very polite. The problem is that yolk cake is very dense and seasonings don’t penetrate it well. If the yolk mixture was preseasoned in some way I might like it better, but I decided to experiment with other cooking methods.

Currently, I’m using an omelette  method. I beat up 10 yolks and one whole egg with a pinch of salt and heat up my 12” nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot I put in a glug of avocado oil, stir it around, and pour in the yolk mixture. I turn the heat to medium, let it cook until partially set, and flip it over with a spatula. Cook on the other side for a minute or two until just set in the middle and turn it out onto a plate to cool. When cool, I cut it into strips about 2”long and a quarter inch wide. They can be stored in a ziplock in the refrigerator for a few days. They are a good size to add to a stir-fry in the same way that you would use meat, or to add to a fried noodle dish like this one. I especially like them with thin noodles, and if I plan to cook them with broader noodles I cut the yolk strips to match the width of the noodles. Put them in a soy marinade the same way you would treat meat, and add at the same stage of cooking that you would add pork strips but cook them for a shorter time. They absorb flavors better that the yolk cake described above.

Any leftover yolk strips that are still good and unspoiled make great dog treats.

The whites aren’t wasted when I use yolks, and neither are the shells. I put them in a microwave-safe bowl, chop them up some with a stick blender, and cook them a few minutes in the microwave to make a concoction that we call “chicken cake.” The hens gobble it up and get back some of the protein and minerals that they put into making eggs.