Saturday, June 30, 2012

Starting from scratch

Mexican food is loaded with flavor and even the best cooks sneak in packaged Taco or fajita seasoning every now and then in a crunch, but making a marinade from scratch is not all it's made out to be. With the right ingredients at hand - it's a cinch. There's a world of difference in the finished product and there are no nasty preservatives to deal with. This particular marinade can be used on chicken or pork and once the flavor soaks in, all you need is a hot grill. The end product can be eaten as a wrap with sauteed peppers and onions, in a salad or over rice and leftovers can be frozen for a rainy day. Most of the unique flavor comes from the Mexican peppers; these are a imperative for an authentic flavor. The Achiote or Annato seeds are used more for their color.

Recipe for Mexican Marinade:
4 chicken breasts or pork chops
1 onion cut into chunks
3-4 cloves garlic
handful of fresh thyme
1/4 cup vinegar
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Achiote seeds plus 2 tbsp oil
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp clove powder
1 tsp oregano
salt and pepper
2 Ancho peppers
2 Guajillo peppers

1. Heat the oil and throw in the annato seeds. Remove from the heat immediately and set aside. Remove the seeds when cooland dicard them. Only the oil is used for color
2. Soak the peppers in hot water till plump, remove stalks and seeds and grind to a paste.
3. Grind all the ingredients to a paste and place in a glass bowl with the chicken or pork. Allow it to marinate ovenight for full flavor. Grill or cook in the oven. Slice and use as needed.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Stir Crazy

On a recent visit to my eye doctor, I was told in no uncertain terms that I needed to up my leafy green intake drastically. I found myself turning to spinach most often but got easily bored - spinach can be tasteless and mundane if eaten on a frequent basis. My kids despise kale and Collard greens and so the best course of action was to visit the local Korean Market. It's mind boggling spread of greens really did boggle my mind and I would willingly have bought masses of it. Sadly,I picked only a few, since they tend wilt and lose their food value quite quickly in the fridge. Choy Sum was my first choice. These tender Chinese baby greens with darker outer leaves make for the best stir fries. I threw in a box of Shitake mushrooms and some chili black bean paste with customary foresight. I could already taste it in my head. in a matter of minutes I was on my way to bliss and 20/20 vision.

Recipe for stir fried Choy Sum:
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4-6 heads of Choy sum, sliced vertically and rinsed under running water
1 cup of shitake mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic sliced fine
1 tablespoon chili black bean sauce

1. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat and saute the garlic, followed rapidly by the Choy Sum, shitake mushroom and bean paste.
2. Stir rapidly over high heat and serve immediately with rice or noodles.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Got Wasabi?

I learnt to make sushi way back in culinary school but like I said to my friend Midori - I was taught by an American. It wasn't authentic enough. So she obliged by inviting me to a sushi rolling lunch. She had her mise en place ready to go. There was still warm cooked rice, thin omelets, cucumber spears, imitation crab meat, cooked shrimp, sliced avocado and iceberg lettuce. She gave me some inside information, not something I am likely to get from an American chef instructor, but small tips and tricks that give it an edge. For instance, I was quite amused when she handed me a Japanese paper fan and asked me to fan the rice while she mixed it with the seasoning. She explained to me, "It is important for the rice to be warm when you mix in the seasoning but cool when you make the sushi." She even sent me home with a bag of the seasoning and a sushi mat! This wasn't the most elaborate sushi, but my favorite- California Roll. Midori did an excellent job of teaching me how to roll the sushi without it being all over the table and floor. Under her supervision it actually stayed where it was supposed to. The best part was that it tasted great too.

Midori's California Roll:

8-10 sheets of Nori
2 cups rice
1/2 packet Sushi Flavoring ( powdered or liquid)
2 eggs made into omelets
iceberg lettuce leaves
cucumber spears
imitation crab meat
cooked shrimp
avocado slices
Mayonnaise ( optional)
1. Combine the rice and seasoning while the rice is hot/warm, and cool rapidly before using.
2. Place nori on the mat and spread with a thin layer of rice.( You can use plastic wrap on the mat if you intend to keep it in the fridge for a while)
3. Place your pick of ingredients in the center in a line. Fold away from you and press the end down as close as possible over the filling and roll and press again to seal the ends. Give it a squeeze with bothe hands to tighten the roll. A few drops of Japanese Mayo add a creamy flavor to the Sushi rolls.
4. Cut the roll into bite sized portions using a sharp knife that is wiped with a damp towel between each cut. Bring on the wasabi and soy!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Wonton Whisperer

Wantons have long been a favorite food for me. Call them potstickers, Momos, Gyoza, Dimsum or whatever inspires you. Although there is a distinct difference between each, they are similar in more ways than one. Pillows of spongy flavorful meat encased in a dough exterior, these make for great finger food for all ages and events. I make these several times a year and freeze them to be used as needed. One becomes adept at the art of wanton making, purely through practise. At first it appears to be hard work but by the third time a deftness sets in and the speed improves perceptibly.
The one thing that bothered me was that I often found the meat to be less than moist. That is, until my friend Jen Golay let me in on a secret ingredient. Believe it or not it's butter! The results were markedly improved. The fat from the butter keeps the meat juicy and melt in the mouth.
On my latest attempt, the meat outlasted the wrappers and I was forced to make do with spring roll wrappers. I cut the large wrappers into quarters and to my delight made the crunchiest wantons of all time. My kids loved it!

Recipe for Pork Wontons:
2 cups ground pork tenderloin
1 large red onion minced
1 Tbsp ground ginger
2 tbsp chicken broth
1/4 stick of butter (4 tsp)
salt to taste
fresh cilantro minced

wanton wrappers- 1 pack

1. Combine the ingredients, mix well and chill for a few hours allowing the meat to marinate in the juices.
2. Spray steamer with Pam and form the wantons by placing a teaspoon of the filling in the center and folding the two halves together. Seal by dampening the edges and pinching them together.
3. Steam for 15 minutes and serve or pan fry to serve.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Soup Nazi

My youngest- Neil could survive on Broccoli Cheddar Soup. He would happily eat if for breakfast lunch and dinner, but it needs to be made a certain way. Even as an eleven year old, he can turn into quite a prima donna when his favorite soup is made carelessly and has absolutely no qualms about pointing out the inadequacies in great detail. There's no holding back! I tend to cook on autopilot and don't really bother with exact measurements and am more likely to simply eyeball the ingredients and it works most of the time. Not with the Broccoli Cheddar soup!
The downside is that this soup can be very calorific with cream and cheese playing an integral role in the consistency and taste. So I devised a way around this with the aid of my trusty Vitamix. A Vitamix, for those of you that haven't ever used one, is a new age blender with super powers. Its razor sharp blades have the ability to pulverize at the press of a button and within seconds. It also thickens as it purees and left on for more than five minutes actually cooks the soup to the point where it comes out steaming without overcooking. This way all the nutrients are sealed in. The secret is that I make do without the cream and nobody can tell the difference.
My recipe for Broccoli Cheddar Soup:
1 head of broccoli, separated
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup of 2 % milk
1 cube chicken bouillon
1/2 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
salt and white pepper to taste
1. Place the broccoli florets in a dish and microwave for 3-4 minutes or until cooked. They should be bright green and tender but not soft.
2. Heat the milk and the chicken broth separately.
3. Setting aside some of the broccoli crowns, combine the rest with the bouillon, milk and broth and blend to the desired thickness. Taste and adjust seasoning.
4. Cut the remaining broccoli crowns into small sections. Pour the soup into individual bowls
and add in the cheddar, broccoli and grated carrots.
5. Bring to a boil or serve as is immediately.