Saturday, January 24, 2009

Year of the Ox - graze on this

Monday, Jan. 26, 2009, marks the start of the Chinese new year, the year of the . Jaden Hair, who writes a bright and informative blog called Steamy Kitchen, talked with her parents last year about Chinese food superstitions. These are from her mom, whose family hails from Canton:

• To begin with, Mom always serves a noodle dish, the strands of the noodles signifies long life. Don’t cut the noodles before serving, otherwise you’re snipping your life short.
• A whole chicken, head and all, is served simply steamed to represent good health. A whole steamed fish, eyeballs and all, was served for abundance.” The Chinese word for fish is, “yu,” which, according to my mom, sounds similar to the Chinese word for “every year our family has something leftover and we always have enough.” The Chinese are very efficient in the language department.
• Crispy egg rolls, once fried to a golden brown, resemble long gold bars. Handmade dumplings, either pan fried or boiled, look like ancient Chinese gold ingots. My mom’s family used to hide a gold coin in one of the hundreds of dumplings that they would make and the lucky bastard who bit into the dumpling with the coin was to receive wealth and prosperity throughout the year following a hefty dental bill, I’m sure.
• For luck, display plenty of tangerines, preferably big fat ones with leaves still attached. Also of great importance is “Nien Goh,” or steamed rice cake, which signifies “every year you reach a higher level of life,” says mom.
• But whatever you do, don’t serve squid, called “Yow Yu.” In the olden days, workers would have to travel far from home to work, often bringing personal belongings rolled up in a blanket. When a worker was fired, he was ordered to “yow,” or roll up his blanket, packing his stuff to go home. Serving squid symbolizes being fired in the coming year. If your co-workers or subordinates pleasantly surprises you with a dish of succulent squid, be very suspicious.

Friday, January 23, 2009

No haggis, maybe tatties, yes neeps!

Are you planning to celebrate Burns Night on Sunday? Scottish poet Robert Burns was born Jan. 25, 1759.

If so, don't forget the often maligned turnip. It's a nutritious vegetable that is plentiful during winter months. The Scots call them "neeps."

Smashed neeps (mashed turnips)
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves 4

1 pound turnips, trimmed and peeled
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
salt and white pepper
handful fresh chives or green onion tops for garnish

Place the turnips into a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and cook until tender. Drain and return to the pan.
Add the butter and ginger to the pan and stir well. Cook for a few minutes, then mash with a potato masher until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To serve, place onto serving plates and sprinkle over the green bits.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Quick weeknight pork

When the kids are hungry and you need to get dinner on the table fast, you don't need to pull out that bag of chicken nuggets from the freezer. In about the same time, you can have tender little pork medallions, seasoned both to please kids and you.

For the medallions, slice a pork tenderloin (for best results, it should be very cold, even partially frozen) into 1/4-inch rounds. If you have trouble visualizing what a quarter-inch is, you can call up a file to print out a ruler by clicking here. Lay the rounds out on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with your favorite seasonings, as spicy as you like for yourself, salt only for the kids, who will probably like to dunk them in ketchup or barbecue sauce.

Get everything else you are having for dinner ready (salad, rice or potatoes, vegetable or two, condiments). About 10 minutes before you're ready to eat, simply heat a skillet on medium high heat, brush with olive oil, put in the medallions (if you're in a real hurry, just season one side and put that side down; the seasoning will seep through, although putting it on both sides makes it more intense). Cook until brown on one side, about 3 minutes, then flip over and turn off the heat after about a minute. Warm your plates in a 170-degree oven, set the table, serve up your side dishes, and the pork will be ready to plate. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Coloring the palate (no, not palette or pallet)

From the Merriam-Webster folks, the origin of the word "palatable":

"Palatable" comes from "palate," a Latin-derived word for the roof of the mouth. The palate was once thought of as the seat of the sense of taste, so the word eventually came to mean "sense of taste," or broadly, "liking." "Palatable" has been used in English to refer to palate-pleasing foods since 1664, but it isn't our only — or our oldest — adjective for agreeable tastes. "Savory" dates from the 13th century. "Toothsome" has been around since 1551. "Tasty" was first used back in 1603. And "appetizing" has been gracing culinary reviews since 1653.

Of course, modern science shows that the tongue is the seat of the sense of taste, but even that has advanced since I was a child. Then it was believed there were four tastes: Sweet, sour, bitter, salty. And there was even a map of the tongue showing where each taste was felt. It wasn't until this century that Western scientists threw out the map (it turns out that most tastebuds can differentiate the various tastes), and accepted a fifth taste, umami, which occurs naturally in seaweed and mushrooms and is related to MSG, that was first identified by a Japanese scientist in the early 1900s.

The inauguration luncheon: The recipes

What's happened to this blog? you might be asking. Well, I took a few days off to celebrate my birthday, which was on the day of the greatest party I can remember, the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

You may have already downloaded these recipes from, but in case you haven't, here are the recipes from the Inaugural luncheon on Jan. 20, 2009:

First Course
Seafood Stew
Yield: 10 servings
6 (1 Lb) Maine lobsters
20 medium size sea scallops
36 large shrimp, peel, cleaned and tail removed
10 (1 oz) pieces of black cod
½ cup small dice carrots
½ cup small dice celery
½ cup small dice leek
½ cup small dice Idaho potato
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper or black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 quart heavy cream
1 cup dry vermouth (can be made without)
10 (5-inch) puff pastry rounds
10 (3½ inch) terrines/ramekins or serving dish of your choice
Bring 1 gallon of water to a boil; poach lobsters, then shrimp, then black cod and last scallops. After seafood is cooked, remove from water; reserve water and bring to boil.
Cook all vegetables in liquid that was used for the seafood, remove vegetables when tender. Allow the liquid to continue to boil until only 1 quart of liquid remains. This will be the base for the sauce.
Bring seafood liquid back to a boil and add the vermouth and heavy cream and reduce by half, season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg to taste. You have reached your desired thickness when the sauce will cover the back of a wooden spoon. Set aside to cool.
Cut Maine lobster, shrimp and scallops into bite-size pieces.
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Fold seafood and vegetables into cool sauce, being careful not to break up the seafood. Scoop mixture into terrines or oven proof baking dish of your choice.
Cover terrines with puff pastry rounds, brush them with egg wash and bake them until golden brown, 8-10 minutes, allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving. You can cook this 2-3 hours
ahead of time and keep warm at 170 degrees.
Note: All seafood can be substituted with other favorite options of your choice and availability.

Second Course
Duck Breast with Cherry Chutney
Yield: 10 servings
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup chopped onion (! small)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Scant ¼ teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup coarsely chopped red bell pepper (½ medium)
1 plum tomato, coarsely chopped
¼ cup dry red wine
1½ to 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 can (3 cups) Bing cherries, quartered
½ cup golden raisins
10 (6 oz.) boneless duck breasts with skin
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or chives
Method for chutney and glaze
Heat oil in a 2- or 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook the onion, garlic, and shallot, stirring occasionally until golden about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, black pepper, cumin, hot pepper flakes, and ¼ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Reduce heat to medium and add bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
Stir in wine, vinegar (to taste), and sugar and simmer approx 5 minutes. Stir in mustard, 1½ cups cherries, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt and simmer 1 minute. Allow to cool slightly and reserve all but ¼ cup of the mix to the side. Place ¼- cup mix in a blender and puree until very smooth, about 1 minute (use caution when blending hot liquids). Reserve for glazing duck. To finish the chutney, add the remaining 1½ cups of cherries, tarragon, chives and all the golden raisins. The chutney can be prepared one day ahead.

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Score duck skin in a crosshatch pattern with a small sharp knife and season duck all over with salt and pepper.
Heat water in an ovenproof 12-inch heavy skillet over low heat until hot, then add duck, skin side down. Cook duck, uncovered, over low heat, without turning, until most of fat is melted and skin is golden brown, about 25 minutes.
Transfer duck to a plate and discard all but ! tablespoon fat from skillet. Brush duck all over with cherry glaze and return to skillet, skin side up.
Roast duck in oven until thermometer registers 135°F, about 8 minutes for medium-rare. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Holding a sharp knife at a 45-degree angle, cut duck into slices. Serve with cherry chutney and molasses whipped sweet potato.

Herb Roasted Pheasant with Wild Rice Stuffing
Yield: 10 portions
10 pheasant breasts, boneless, remove tenders and reserve for stuffing, cut small pocket in side of breast for stuffing
½ cup olive oil with chopped rosemary, thyme and sage
1 lb. wild rice
2 quarts chicken stock or canned chicken broth
2 carrots, diced
½ onion, diced
½ cup dried apricot, small diced
1 tablespoon salt and pepper mix
2 tablespoons roasted garlic
Boil the rice with the chicken stock, cook until soft and most of the liquid is gone.
Add the onion, carrot, garlic and apricot. Cook until the vegetables are soft and all liquid has been absorbed. Refrigerate rice mixture until cold.
In a food processor, purée pheasant tenders to a paste consistency to use as a binder for rice mix.
When rice is cool, add the pheasant purée to the rice until well mixed. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and return to refrigerator until ready to stuff.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Make 10 small football shaped patties of the rice mix, stuff inside the pheasant, being careful not to overstuff the pheasant. Rub herb/oil mixture on top and bottom of the pheasant, season with salt and pepper. Place the pheasant on a heavy gauge roasting pan and then in a preheated oven for approximately 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and cover with lid or foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Serve over sauté of spinach.
Note: Chicken can substitute for pheasant.

Molasses Whipped Sweet Potatoes
Yield: 2 quarts
2 large sweet potatoes, about 2 pounds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup orange juice
½ tablespoon of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of molasses
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and roast until easily pierced with a fork, about 1 hour.
Peel the skin off of the sweet potatoes while still hot. By hand or mixer, smash potatoes until all large chunks are gone. Combine the potatoes, butter, salt, orange juice, brown sugar, ground cumin, molasses and maple syrup in a large bowl. Continue to mix all together until all lumps are gone.
Adjust any of the seasonings to your specific tastes. Can be made the day before.

Winter Vegetables
Yield: 10 servings
2 bunches asparagus, green, bottom half of stem removed
2 pounds carrots, peeled, cut oblong or large dice
1 pound baby Brussels sprouts, fresh, cleaned (or frozen can be used)
1 pound wax beans, ends snipped
2 ounces butter
Zest from orange
4 ounces olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Asparagus: preheat grill or large heavy bottom sauté pan. Rub 2 ounces of olive oil on asparagus and season with pinch of salt and pepper. Lay 1at on grill or sauté pan until lightly browned. Using long fork or tongs, rotate the asparagus to brown other sides. Asparagus is done when you can use a fork to cut through. Do not overcook; this will cause asparagus to become stringy. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Carrots: bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil, add carrots to water and cook until fork tender, meaning a fork will easily pass through the carrot. Drain the water from the pot and toss 1 ounce butter and zest of orange and mix until carrots are coated. Season with pinch of salt and enjoy. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Brussels sprouts: For fresh: Bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil, cut into the stem of the sprout with a paring knife to create an X on the bottom; this will allow the stem to cook more evenly. Place sprouts in boiling water and allow to cook until bottom of sprouts are tender and easily cut with a knife.
Preheat a heavy-bottom sauté skillet while the sprouts are cooking. Remove sprouts from water and allow all water to drain completely.
Add 2 ounces oil to sauté pan and add the sprouts, season with salt and pepper while tossing the sprouts around to evenly brown in the pan. If sprouts are too big, you can cut them in half, keep warm until ready to serve.
For frozen: Bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil and drop frozen Brussels sprouts into water. Since these are precooked, you are only thawing them out. Remove from water and sauté as above.
Yellow wax beans: Bring 3 quarts salted water to boil, add snipped wax beans to water and allow to cook until fork tender or to your liking of doneness. Remove from water and toss with 1 ounce butter. Season with salt and pepper.

Third Course
Cinnamon Apple Sponge Cake
Yield: 10 servings
4 lbs Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup water
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup apple sauce
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
Grated zest from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, 10 tablespoons melted
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
34 slices brioche bread (or white bread)
10 ceramic baking ramekins, 3-inch diameter
2 cups caramel sauce (store bought OK)
2 cups Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, diced small
Pinch sugar
Pinch cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter
Vanilla ice cream
Melt butter in 6-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Add apples and caramelize, add water, cook, stirring occasionally until apples are completely soft. Remove cover and add sugar, nutmeg and salt. Increase heat to medium-high and continue to cook, stirring apples frequently, until liquid has completely evaporated, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest, apple sauce and vanilla. Set aside to cool while making crust. Filling can be made the day ahead.
Making crust and assembly
Position oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Grease ceramic dishes with 1 tablespoon butter. Sprinkle sugar in dish and tilt to coat bottom and sides. Tap out excess sugar and set aside.
Using a bread knife, remove crusts from bread. Center the bottom of a mold over one of the bread squares. Cut around mold to form circle to use as the top. Make a total of 20 of these round pieces.
Ten will be for the bottom and 10 will be used for the top.
Dip 10 in melted butter and place at the bottom of molds.
Cut each of the 15 remaining slices of bread into four rectangular pieces. Dip one side of each strip in the melted butter and arrange strips, upright, around the inside of molds, buttered-sides against mold and overlapping to completely line mold. Use 6 rectangles to line each mold.
Spoon the apple filling into bread-lined molds, mounding it slightly in center.
Take the remaining 10 rounds of bread and dip pieces of bread into the melted butter and place on top of filling, buttered-sides up. Press down lightly.
Bake for 30 minutes, then cover top loosely with aluminum foil. Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, until top is deep golden brown and side slices are golden brown (slide a thin-bladed knife between bread and pan to check). Remove from oven, uncover, and let rest for 15 minutes on wire rack. Run thin-bladed knife around edges of molds to be able to flip the mold out onto serving plates.
For the apple cinnamon caramel sauce, sauté 1 cup of peeled and diced Granny Smith apples in
butter, add a pinch of sugar and cinnamon. Allow to cook until apples are lightly browned and all sugars have dissolved. Remove from heat and add 2 cups caramel sauce to the apples. Stir to coat apples.
Pour caramel apple sauce over warmed apple cakes and serve with your favorite vanilla ice cream.