Yu Choy with Fermented Bean Curd

This vegetable dish might not sounds so appealing to some people but if you like full umami flavor, you will love this dish.

Yu Choy is widely used in Thailand. It's usually steamed or quick boiled to accompany many 'one dish meal', both noodle and rice dishes.  It is also stir fried to serve as a side dish.  When stir fried, the vegetable must be completely cooked but still has crunchy texture.  Stir frying with fermented bean curd gives yu choy creamy and umami flavors.  It's easy, fast, and delicious.

The secret to successful stir fries is to have every thing ready.  Once the oil is smoking hot, cooking will take no time.

You can buy yu choy at any Asian grocery stores.  It has clean tasting with no bitter after taste often associated with Chinese broccoli. Take about 4-5 yu choy, remove tough ends and old leaves, then cut into 2 inch long. If the stems are thick, cut them in half, lengthwise, for even cooking.  You should have about 2 cups. Soak cut vegetables in cold water to remove all dirt, drain well and put it in a bowl.  Smash one clove of garlic, remove garlic peel, chop it finely and add it to the vegetable.  The secret ingredient here is fermented bean curd, available at Asian grocery stores, which gives yu choy creamy and unctuous flavor. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of bean curd (mashed well) on top of the vegetable. Now we can start cooking.

Set a 12" saute pan on high heat, add a couple of tablespoon of oil (extra virgin coconut or refined coconut oil if you don't want coconut flavor).  When the oil is smoking hot, add the vegetable mixture into the pan all at once and stir well.  Once the vegetable turns bright green, which should take less than a minute, remove it from the heat.  Taste it, if it's not salty enough, add a little more of mashed bean curd. You don't need any salt for this dish. 

Serve this as a side dish (enough for two).  With a bowl of rice, it's also a very satisfying vegan dish. I hope you will give it a try!

Yu Choy with fermented bean curd and garlic

Yu Choy with fermented bean curd and garlic

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yu Choy

yu Choy

Aa-jaad a.k.a. Thai Cucumber Salad

Food is much like music.  Good food is a symphony in your mouth with different flavors and textures!

I think this is one of the reasons why Thai food is so popular.  Each dish will have a leading flavor balanced by other flavors to make it sublime. Cooking Thai food is certainly an art form. 

Many Thai dishes also call for certain side dishes to complement them in order to give another textures and contrasting flavors. It's never boring to eat Thai food (or at least it shouldn't!). This cucumber salad never fails to perform. It usually accompanies dishes that are rich and sweet. Most commonly it is served with satay and peanut sauce.  It also goes very well with panang curries  or mussaman curries. To me this is a MUST when I make pork belly panang curry.  The leading flavor should be sour, not sweet, followed by salty and sweet.  This is a good dish to have in your repertoire and it's so easy.

Cut a cucumber lengthwise, then slice it crosswise thinly.  I prefer English or Persian cucumbers for their thin skin. For regular cucumber, peel it first and also take out some seeds.  Put your sliced cucumbers (about 1 cup) in a bowl, then add thinly sliced shallots (1 small shallot), jalapeño pepper ( about 1/2 jalapeño), and coriander. 

Now make the dressing.  Mix one tablespoon of rice wine vinegar (I prefer it to regular vinegar for its mild flavor) with 1/8 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of sugar.  Stir well to dissolve sugar and salt completely.  Just before serving, pour the dressing over the cucumber salad and toss well.  If you mix it too far in advance, the cucumber will exude water and will not be as crunchy.  Feel free to double or triple the recipe!

I am sure you can find other ways to serve this refreshing salad.  What about top your pulled pork sandwich with a spoonful of this cucumber salad?  Yummmm!



Super Bowl Chicken Wings, Korean Style

I don't know why chicken wings are synonymous with the Super Bowl.  I have made all kinds of chicken wings over the years to nibble on while watching the games. This year, it's going to be Korean style!

What I want is over-the-top crunchy wings glazed with spicy sweet sauce.  To get super crunchy wings, I coat the wings thickly in rice flour after they are seasoned with salt and pepper.  The sauce has to have gochujang (Korean chili paste) flavor as well as garlic and ginger.  It has to be sweet but balanced with spiciness and saltiness.

First, start making the sauce.  In a saucepan, add 1/2 small onion, diced finely, 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon chopped ginger, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon fish sauce, 1 tablespoon gochujang, 1 tablespoon sriracha sauce, 1 teaspoon sambal olek, 4 tablespoons maple syrup. In a small bowl, combine 3/4 cups of water with 1/2 tablespoon of tapioca starch.  Mix well and pour over the gochujang mixture.  Bring it to a boil. Simmer the sauce for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Then strain the sauce leaving the solids behind.  Immediately add 1 tablespoon of softened butter.  Butter makes everything better, right?  Stir well to incorporate the sauce and completely melt the butter.

For the wings, rinse 2 lbs of chicken wings and drain well, then season with salt, just lightly dusting it over the wings, and pepper. Be conservative on salt at this point.  You don't want it to be too salty when eaten with the sauce.  You can always add more salt later after frying if needed but you can never take the salt out! Put 4-5 tablespoons of rice flour in a bowl and dip each wing to coat it completely. Add more flour as necessary. Place the flour coated wings on a rack to dry out a bit so the flour adheres to the wings, about 10-15 minutes.

Now it's time to fry your wings. 

Heat the oil in a deep fryer or a large dutch oven to 350 degrees, cooking in preheated oil in batches until the wings turn light golden, about 10 minutes.  Then turn up the heat to 375 degrees and cook until the wings are crispy and golden brown, about 3-4 minutes.  Drain the wings on a paper towel lined plate and fry the rest of the wings the same way.

Paint the sauce thickly on each wing and sprinkle them with toasted sesame seeds. Or you can add sesame seeds to the sauce and serve it alongside the wings to ensure that the wings stay crispy.  Either way your guests will thank you for it!!

This year since the Seahawks are not in the Super Bowl, the feast will come first, and the game second. :)  Have fun!


What The Pho!

My son , Jasper, and I went on a food expedition in Hanoi this past summer.  We ate at least four times a day in order to cover all the ground.  My son took me to his favorite pho place, called Pho 10!

Hanoi pho is different from pho you find in Seattle which is basically from the southern part of the country.  There was no hoisin or Sriracha on the table.  It is served with some kind of hot sauce and pickled garlic.  You can also order Chinese fried bread to dip in your pho, delicious! I am a sucker for both hot sauce and garlic so I was in heaven. We went there at least twice, including a visit for our last meal.

In Thailand we also have variety of beef noodle, but 20-30 years ago, there was no pho there.  In Thailand, noodles are always adorned with all kinds of condiments, fried garlic, salted cabbage as well as array of other condiments on the table for you to fix your noodles to your liking: fish sauce, sugar, peppers in vinegar, dried chili peppers, etc. So when I encountered pho for the first time, I felt something was missing.  But now I do appreciate its clean flavor and simplicity. 

I love all kinds of noodles.  If I didn't, I would probably be 10 lbs. lighter.  I need to feed my addiction from time to time.  Pho is one of them.  Of course, I do go out and eat pho at my favorite spot near my house.  But when I really in the mood for pho, I will make my own and eat it for days to satisfy my craving. Making pho is not difficult but it's time consuming.  The broth needs to be cook for hours to coax all the flavor out of the bones.  Pho is as good as your broth.  The broth needs to be rich with a hint of sweetness (not sugar sweet!) from the bones.  Some restaurants add too much sugar to their broth because sugar is cheaper than bones.  Yes, you do need some sugar but it's not your primary flavor.  You should not taste the sugar ideally. 

Like I said before, to make pho broth is time consuming so when I make it I make a lot, enough to last for a whole week. If my son is home, it probably lasts 3-4 days.  I will eat it at least twice a day.  Once you have the broth, it takes no time to make a bowl of pho.  When my hunger strikes, I am so grateful to have broth in my fridge!

I use my biggest pot in the house, 17.5 quart size pot but I don't think many people will have one.  But use the biggest pot you have, at least 10 quarts.  Good broth starts with good bones.  Use grass fed beef if you can.  I normally combine two kinds of bones, knuckle and neck bones.  Ox tail would be so good in your bone broth.  You can also throw in a piece of brisket but I prefer my pho with barely cooked meat and some meatballs.  I usually end up with two-three cups of bits and pieces of meat and connective tissue from the bones.  That's enough cooked meat for me, I don't need more. 

To get crystal clear broth, you need to blanch the bones and meat.  For a 10 quart pot, I use 5-6 lbs of a combination of bones and meat.  You can use shin bones, knuckle bones, neck bones, oxtail, and a piece of brisket, flank, or chuck if you like.  Put all the bones and meat in a big pot, cover with water and boil for 10-15 minutes.  You will see scum and foam float to the top.  That's a good thing.  Take the pot off the heat, throw away the dirty water and clean the bones and meat to get rid of all the debris and blood. Clean it well so your broth will be clear.  Of course if you don't, the broth won't be very clear but it will still be very good! So don't worry too much about it.  Put all the bones and meat in a big pot, add enough water to cover generously, about 4-6 inches above the meat.  If you add too much water, your broth will not be as rich.

Now you need to flavor the broth. First start with two medium onions, peeled, and a 4-5 inch piece of unpeeled ginger.  If you use unpeeled onions, your broth will be richly brown, which is good too!  But if you want golden color broth use peeled onions.  You can roast the onion and ginger on an open gas flame or broil them in the oven if you want.  I tend to skip charring onions because I don't want bits of burnt onion pieces in my soup but I do char the ginger, which I cut in half horizontally and lightly char on both sides.  Put the onions and ginger in the pot, together with a six inch piece of Chinese radish (same as daikon), cut in half crosswise.  This is a trick I learned from my Thai cooking.  Chinese radish imparts subtle sweetness to the broth.  But don't overdo it because the radish flavor might overpower your bone broth.  You don't want that in pho.

Now, spices!  Cut a 6 inch square piece of cheesecloth, put in a piece of cinnamon stick, 1 teaspoon each of white pepper, coriander, and fennel seeds, 5 star anise, 2 cloves, and tie to close your spice packet with kitchen twine that is long enough so you can tie it the pot handle.  This will make it easy for you to fish out your spice packet later.  Do not use a coffee filter for this, it will not survive the long simmering process.  It is annoying to have to fish out all the spices from the broth. or you have to strain your broth. I did that once and won't be making the same mistake again!  Now add 1/4 cup of fish sauce, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of raw sugar (I use maple syrup)  The broth can be flavored later so be conservative at this point. 

Now put the pot on high heat.  Your broth still needs your undivided attention at this point if you want clear broth. Let the water come to boil and skim off all the foam and scum that you see.  It should not be that bad since you have already blanched the bones.  After five minutes or so, turn your stove to low.  It should be on low simmer.  Keep checking your broth every now and then and get rid of any foam or scum that rises to the top.  After half and hour or so, you will not need to do this any more.  Just keep simmering your broth away, adding a cup or so of water to replenish it from time to time.  In the end, you should end up with 4-5 quarts of broth.   After two hours, take out your brisket or flank steak, if using.  Your meats should be fork tender. You can also remove the meat from oxtails and shin bones but check for tenderness first. Then add the bones right back to the pot and keep cooking for at least 4 hours more.   The broth will get darker the longer it cooks.I tend to cook it overnight since I cook it in a very big pot and I put in enough water to make sure not to burn my house down!  I did this once in an 8 quart slow cooker cooking on low overnight.  This is a safer way to slow cook the broth overnight.  The broth will not be as clear but still very flavorful. Best of all, you can rest well all night.   I had a close call one time, forgetting to turn the heat to simmering low.  I woke up in the middle of the night and rushed down to my kitchen to discover my broth boiling away vigorously.  Both my house and broth were safe but it was a close call indeed!  Whew!

When your broth is ready, take out all the bones, onion, ginger, and the spice packet tied to the pot handle.  Remove all the meat and connective tissue from the bones and save it if you like.  Taste the broth again. It should be flavorful at this point.  You can strain your broth but I normally don't because I don't want more things to wash!  Add more fish sauce and raw sugar to your liking.  Remember it should not be overwhelmingly sweet but sweet enough to make a well rounded great tasting golden elixir.

Now you are ready to make a bowl of pho, better than any restaurant's pho.  You need rice noodle (fresh or soaked and drained dried rice noodle), beansprouts, basil, lime wedges, jalapeno, hoisin sauce, and Sriracha sauce.  If you use dried noodle, make sure to soak it in warm water, not hot, for about 30 minutes, and then drain.  For beef, I don't care much for round steak normally used at Vietnamese restaurants.  I tend to use more flavorful thinly sliced meats, i.e short ribs, sirloin, or chuck.  I like to marinate mine first in some best quality oyster sauce for at least a few hours (about one tablespoon per i lb of beef).  It tenderizes and adds a bit of flavor to the meat. That's my Thai upbringing. We flavor everything under the sun!!  You don't have to but at least give it a try and tell me how you like it.

You have two ways to cook your noodles.  One is to cook it in boiling water until it's soft (not long!), or just put it in a microwave on high power for 1 minute.  Now cover your noodles with raw beef, plain or marinated, and ladle boiling hot broth over the meat.  Serve immediately.  Now from here, you know what to do, right?

It's time to reward your patience.  It's time consuming but it's all worth it.  I hope you agree!




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Golden color broth bubbling away!



Super Easy Two Ingredient Biscuits

Want to serve homemade biscuits for breakfast or to make ham and cheese biscuits for your party?  I have one easy recipe for you, using just two ingredients: self-rising flour and heavy cream!

I love biscuits but they have to be fresh and warm.  I have never bought ready made biscuits. They are actually not that hard to make and homemade ones are 100 times better than the store bought (I believe!).  Some people might be overwhelmed by many steps involved but you no longer have an excuse not to make them yourself once you have this recipe.

I have used this recipe numerous times for strawberry shortcakes during summer months when we get juicy local strawberries.  This is one of my family's favorite desserts.  When my husband brings home some strawberries, I know he has this in mind, and nobody in my family ever complained, "Strawberry shortcake, again?" If I have self-rising flour on hand, I will be happy to make it any time, day or night!

First preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Measure 1 cup of self-rising flour and put it in a mixing bowl.  It's important here to have self-rising flour which is already premixed with salt and baking powder, etc. Regular flour will not work. Drizzle 3/4 cup of cold heavy cream all over the flour.  Using a fork, mix the ingredients together until it comes into a rough ball. You might need to add a tablespoon or so of cream.  The dough should have just enough moisture to hold together. If your dough is too wet, add a few tablespoons of flour.  Put the dough ball on a lightly floured counter to knead a couple of times, just enough for the dough to come together.  You want lumpy not smooth!!  Do not overwork your dough, otherwise your biscuits will not be light and fluffy.  Less work is more here! Roll the dough out into 3/4 inch thick, and using a 2 inch cookie cutter, cut it into rounds.  You should have 5-6 biscuits.  You can also use a 1 inch cooking cutter to make 10-12 rounds for your appetizer party.  You can double or triple this recipe to suit your need.

Bake the biscuits for 12-14 minutes, until golden brown.  The smaller ones should take 10-12 minutes only.  Do not over bake!! It's a crime.  You want your biscuits to be silky soft inside.  Serve immediately.  I slathered mine with European butter and jam, salty, sweet, buttery, and warm....ummmm.

I will have one more and go exercise later. :)


Warm biscuit with butter and jam...... and a cup of coffee!

Warm biscuit with butter and jam...... and a cup of coffee!

Pizza Dough Transcended

bacon bread.jpg

I am a woman with simple needs, with one exception.....food!  Beyond that I don't care about jewelry, expensive clothing, perfume, or makeup.  What I like to spend money on are food and travel.

One thing I splurge on a regular basis is house cleaning service.  I realize I am not an efficient cleaner.  Most of all I hate cleaning but with the mess I make in the kitchen, I need somebody else to do the dirty job.

After the cleaning lady leaves, I stand in my kitchen and admire the nice smell, the orderly look and I vow to keep it looking like this as long as I can, which is usually about half a day! Especially today, I have been cooking a lot and with a lot of leftovers, so I told my husband that I don't have to cook for a few days.  We can have rice with curries, pita with lamb kofta, pad Thai, and pho. But something gets to me today...it's the pizza dough..

A few days ago, I cooked five Indian curries and invited a couple of friends over to join the feast. I made basmati rice to go with the curries but I also wanted to serve naan with the meal.  It's really not hard to make but with all the dishes and pans in the sink, I didn't want more mess, but I also didn't want to serve ready-made naan either!   I spent hours cooking those curries, they deserved something better.  I decided to make naan from Trader Joe's fresh pizza dough!

I always have been fascinated with the tandoori oven.  I wish I had one.  I also want a salamander as well.  The list just goes on an on.  But since I do have a commercial 30,000 BTU wok at home, I should be able to imitate a tandoori oven with that, a stove top tandoori! If you don't have a wok, you can use a cast iron pan in the same manner.  I heated up the wok with a lid on while I worked on the dough.  I grabbed about a golf size ball of the dough and flattened that into an evenly thin 7-8 inch round. A $1.19 bag of pizza dough should give you six naans.  Make sure that your naan are pressed evenly so you don't end up with some raw dough spots.  Not good eats! By this time my wok was very hot and started to smoke, and registered about 500 degrees on my hand-held thermometer.  I lowered the heat down, waited for a few seconds and plopped one of my dough disks on the ungreased wok and put the lid back on. This took only a few seconds, check your bread periodically.  You want a nice char, not burnt. Then flip it to the other side.  The thinner your dough the less time it takes to cook.  Once your naan is cooked, take it out the wok and slather it liberally with butter.  Use garlic butter if you want garlic naan.  Repeat the steps until you are done with all the dough.  My guests were super impressed to be served with freshly made buttery naan to mop up the spicy curries.  Now I know I can have fresh flat bread anytime with practically no mess in the kitchen.  The possibilities are endless.  I would serve this buttery hot flat bread with my cheese platter. Mind you, it doesn't have a crust but I would take this over store bought bread anytime.  It's chewy, buttery and warm, waiting for you to slap a piece of cheese on, together with some fruit chutney.  Heavenly.

With that success, I started thinking about how else I can transform this cheap pizza dough. I asked my husband to buy me a couple of bags of Trader Joe's pizza dough to do some experiments, not cooking. :)

I made some more naan/flat bread again and used it like a pita bread for my leftover lamb meatballs, topped with tomato and jalapeno chutney, raita, and pickled red onions.  Delicious!  My son will love this.  I have to make it for him when he comes home. 

Have you all heard about bacon wrapped bread sticks?  Could I use pizza dough instead of bread sticks?  I rolled a piece of ping-pong sized dough into a long thin rope the same length as your bacon slices.  But first, I flavored the bacon slices by brushing one side with a mixture of an equal amount of maple syrup and whole grain dijon mustard. Do not make your rope too thin; your wreaths will be too salty.  You want a good balance of bread and bacon. Then I started wrapping the bread rope with the bacon slices with the flavored side facing inward (otherwise your bacon will burn before it is cooked) and pinched the bread ends together to make a wreath. Wow! A holiday appetizer!  From one bag, you should be able to get at least 12 bread and bacon wreaths.  Let your wreaths rest for 10 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the bread and bacon wreaths for about 25-30 minutes until they are golden brown.  Do not burn!  When I first made this, I precooked the bacon slices in the microwave oven for two minutes to make sure that the bacon would be cooked and to drain off some fat.  But I found it easier to wrap using raw bacon.  The bacon fat made the bread more yummy and with a cooking time of 30 minutes, the bacon was cooked just fine. These are delicious nibbling away with cocktails, wine, or bubbly.  It might be easier to form into bread sticks than wreaths.  You can use toothpicks to secure the bacon at both ends (remove before serving!).  Make sure not to roll your rope too thin.  You will end up with limp bread sticks , lacking enough strength to hold their shape.  A dipping sauce of honey mustard would be nice too.

Ready for baking!

Ready for baking!

Now it was time to fry up some dough.  Pinch of a ball of dough smaller than a ping pong ball, then flatten it into thin three inch rounds.  Heat a medium sauce pan with 1/2-1 inch of oil to 350 degrees (or you can put a small ball of dough into the oil, once the ball is golden brown, you know the oil is at the right temperature).  Fry the dough disks a couple at a time, otherwise you will lower the oil temperature and your bread will be oily.  The dough will puff up, cook for a few seconds until golden brown, then flip to cook the other side. Once your bread is cooked, drain it on a paper towel, use a stick of butter and rub it all over the bread on both sides. Immediately sprinkled it with cinnamon sugar, don't forget to put a pinch of salt in your cinnamon sugar.  Think churros here.  This fried bread will be good served with hot chocolate after dinner. My daughter, Marie, would be all over it.  Or you can use it as a base for your dessert.  What about topping it with an apple compote and some creme fraiche? The possibilities are endless.  You can also skip the sugar and use it for your savory dishes.  I am sure I can come up with more dishes, eventually.  I do eat all my creations to make sure that they are good enough to post.  And these are all I can do today.

After all this cooking and eating, two things came to mind:

One, Trader Joe's should pay me for this post and two, I really need to exercise today. :)



Meatless Monday: Venki's Garbanzo Curry

If I cook a vegetarian meal, I will most likely make Indian curries.  Somehow, vegetables or legumes taste better that way. I think Anthony Bourdain agrees with me. As he was eating vegetable curries in Punjab, he said, "I will be less of a dick when it comes to this matter."  Vegetarianism, that is, when he is in India.

I prepare monthly meals for board meeting of a non-profit where many board members eat gluten-free, with some vegetarians.  This month I decided to make Indian curries, one with meat, one with legumes, and one with vegetables, plus a chutney, and raita.  I went to the store to buy spices and legumes and saw a bag of mango powder.  I decided to make chickpea curry with mango powder.

Every year for the past 25 years, I have had my UW students over for a pot luck dinner at my house, except for one year when my students were uniformly bad and the thought of spending more time with them was not appealing.  Some years, I gave assignments for them to cook together as a group project and some years, they could bring whatever they want. One year about a decade or so ago, one of my students, doing a Ph.D in computer science, I believe, brought this curry dish to my house.  It was the first time I had anything made with mango powder and it was delicious.  He was kind enough to give me the recipe that I tucked it away somewhere safe and secure but later it was not to be found!  But when I saw mango powder, it reminded me of this dish so I decided to wing it and make it for the board dinner.

As I was leafing through my Indian cookbooks to get some inspirations, a hand written recipe on a yellow notepad paper fell out of one of my cookbooks. It was Venki's garbanzo curry. Now I remember his name.  I used to be proud that I remember most of my students's names but after a few decades, I think I lack brain power to remember them all.

Mind you, I didn't use Venki's recipe as it was written because I was making curry enough for 20 people.  In my fashion, I just looked at the ingredient list and then went from there.  The mango powder gives a nice tanginess to the dish.  I hope you give it a try.

Venki's Garbanzo Curry

2 cans garbanzo beans, drained but reserve the liquid

1 medium onion, chopped fine

3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine

1 teaspoon coriander powder

3/4 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2-3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/4 teaspoon dried mango powder

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek

1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

lemon juice to taste

Sautee onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon of oil, preferably grass-fed ghee.  Once the mixture is lightly brown add all the spices, except garam masala.  Toast the spices for a few seconds until the fragrance permeates the air!  Do not burn them. Add drained garbanzo beans to the spice mixture, add some liquid from the can to loosen it up a little bit.  The curry should be somewhat thick, not soupy. Bring to a boil, then add salt, and stir in garam masala and lemon juice to bright up the flavors. That's it!  The flavors should be salty, spicy with sour as an end note!  I tend to add a pinch of sugar at the end just to round out the flavor.

With this curry, I don't not mind eating vegetarian.  It's a symphony in your mouth.  Thank you, Venki, wherever you are!




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Meatless Monday: Spaghetti with Slow Roasted Tomatoes and Brie

I am a carnivore. I will admit that it's a challenge for me to come up with a vegetarian dish that will satisfy my soul.

I am doing better at it.  I am very proud of my Crispy Cheese Tacos, Cheesy Mock Tamales, and array of appetizers I posted here.

Every summer for 7 years in a row, we spent a week in late August at Picken's Landing, a resort in Manson, Eastern Washington with 8 or 9 rustic cabins on the property. The kids would spend all days playing outside or swimming in the lake with friends they met, who spent the same week with us year after year. They would come in only when they wanted something to drink or to eat.  I would bring some prepared food from home but we also depended largely on what we could find at the Farmers' market.  We would feast on juicy tomatoes, sweet corn, fragrant peaches, and other seasonal fruits and vegetables. When I had too many tomatoes and some of them got a bit too soft.  I would never fail to make this dish....spaghetti with tomatoes and brie.  It's perfect for a hot summer day when you don't want to heat up the house and it involves almost no cooking!

Find ripest, juiciest tomatoes you can, put in a large mixing bowl with some basil leaves, and with impeccably clean hands, squish them together into a chunky sauce.  You should have about two cups. Add about 14 oz. brie, cut into small pieces with rind removed, and let the sauce mingle together for a few hours at room temperature. Then boil a 16 oz. bag of spaghetti in salted water until al dente, immediately add the drained pasta to the sauce.  Add Parmesan cheese, about 1/4 cup or so. There is no need to add salt. Mix it well and voila....your dinner is ready.  There might be a bit of watery sauce at the bottom but don't worry, the spaghetti will soon absorb all the liquid and turn into gloriously, delicious, creamy pasta with almost no work!

Now it's no longer summer.

The other day I was at Costco.  I bought a bag of baby San Marzano tomatoes and roasted them in a 200F oven with some olive oil, salt and pepper, for 12 hours.  The tomatoes were still waiting for me in the fridge.  I also bought wheels of Costco mini brie, which are perfect to have around for impromptu dinner parties.  It was a week night dinner and I wanted to come up with something quick and easy.  It seemed logical that I make this dish.

With a glass of red wine and some salad,  we savored this dish, which brought back memories of how we always were in awe eating this on a deck overlooking Lake Chelan.  How could the dish that calls for almost no effort can be this delicious! And how we wish to be at that deck again. :(

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Marinated Persimmon and Arugula Salad with Mustard Dressing

I admit that I don't eat a lot of salad. My salad has to be exciting and full of contrasting flavors and textures.  This salad fits the bill. 

I am catering a holiday dinner for a company where many of the guests are vegetarians so I want to come up with a salad good enough for me to eat that is vegetarian or even vegan!  On top of that it uses seasonal ingredients and has to be beautiful!

I love persimmons but have never used them in a salad but their sweetness should work well with peppery arugula. Choose a nice firm persimmon, using a mandolin to shave it thinly, about 1/8 inch thick. It's important not to use a ripe (soft) persimmon and not to slice it too thinly so it will not retain its shape once pickled.  If you don't have a mandolin, slice it as thin as you can.  Remove the seeds if it has them.  Place your persimmon slices in a bowl, add 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon maple syrup, and salt to taste.  Gently mix them together well. Let it sit for 10 minutes, then strain the persimmon slices and save the marinade. Then use the marinade to make dressing by adding a tablespoon of olive oil, salt and maple syrup to taste, plus 1/2 teaspoon of coarse ground mustard, blend well to emulsify the dressing.

Now you are ready to put the salad together. Arrange persimmon slices in a thin layer on a plate, top with a couple handfuls of arugula, party nuts (see my other post on that), pickled red onion, pomegranate seeds, and drizzle with the dressing on top.  This should serve two people generously as a salad course.

To me everyone should have some pickled red onion in the fridge.  It adds a bright acidic flavor to any dish you make.  I am an impatient cook so I make mine using quick pickle method with my commercial chamber vacuum sealer. But don't let that stop you. You can make pickled vegetables the traditional way. In a small sauce pan, boil 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, with 1 1/2teaspoon of kosher salt and 2 teaspoon white sugar.   Add 1 medium size red onion thinly sliced to the vinegar mixture.  Boil it for five minutes, turn the heat off and let the onion steep in the vinegar for a least a couple of hours before using.  Left over pickled red onions stay fresh several days in the fridge.

May be it should be my mission to come up with more exciting salads like this one.  It might convince me to eat salad more often. :)

persimmon salad.jpg

It tastes as good as it looks!

No-Fuss Mac and Cheese!

With the holidays in a full swing, having a few easy to prepare dishes in your arsenal will be useful. This is one of them. With a few steps done in advance, your mac and cheese will be ready when you are!

I think mac and cheese must be the all time favorite for children, a comfort food.  My kids used to eat it out of the box, the bright orange kind!  As they become more sophisticated in their palate, I think now they prefer the homemade one.

There are many different ways to make mac and cheese.  My kids love it oozing with cheese and creamy, so I always started with bechemel and then added a handful of grated cheese to it, a little at a time to make creamy, smooth cheese sauce.  One can not rush this step!  If you add too much cheese, your sauce will not be creamy. I learned it the hard way. Be patient and you will be rewarded. Then I add cooked elbow macaroni to the cheese mixture, pour it in a greased baking pan, top with cheese, and bake.

I used to make it often when my kids were still at home.  I would freeze them in individual servings.  When hunger strikes or when my son brings some of his famished friends home after their vigorous skate sessions, he just takes them out of the freezer and nukes them in microwave.  The mac and cheese came out just like it was just baked.  In fact, when my husband went to Thailand last trip, he hand carried these little packages of mac and cheese to my daughter in Chiang Mai, just little taste of home from Mama, together with some sous vide steaks and blocks of cheese.  I think the mac and cheese was devoured first, even before the steak!  I did this also when she was in college in Chicago.  When I visited her I brought her a full luggage load of prepared food, all her favorites. She took it out of the luggage and piled it all on a kitchen table and took pictures.  It was quite a scene.

I have done this recipe I am about to share with you before.  It needs some planning.  You have to do it the night before and it will be ready to bake in the morning.  Or you can do it in the morning, leave it in the fridge, about 8 hours or so, and bake it for dinner when you come home.  Sounds doable, right?

Anyone can make this mac and cheese.  You need 16 oz. dried elbow macaroni, 3 cups cream, 2 cups whole milk, 4 cups grated cheese plus more to sprinkle on top, a few grates of fresh nutmeg (optional), pepper, salt, oh, and a kitchen timer!

Set a large pot of water on high heat to a rolling boil, add salt, and a whole bag of elbow macaroni, stir a couple of times.  Once the water boils again, set your timer for 5 minutes.  After five minutes, drain the pasta immediately and put in in a greased 9x13 baking pan. Your pasta will be very al dente but you can still bite into it.  Then add cream. milk, and the grated cheese to the pasta.  For cheese, you can use whatever you like.  I prefer a mixture of fontina, cheddar, and gruyere. Add some nutmeg (if you wish), pepper and salt. Start with 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, depending on how salty your cheese is.  You can add more salt but you can not take it out.  Carefully mix it well.  It will be quite full (you can mix it up in a big bowl and then pour in the pan, I prefer to have fewer dishes to wash!).  The mixture will be quite watery but don't be alarmed.  It will work out.  I promise.  Cover the baking pan with plastic wrap and park it in the fridge overnight or at least 8 hours.

When you are ready to bake, pre-heat your oven to 350, and take your mac and cheese out of the fridge.  At this point, it has absorbed most of the liquid.  It should look a bit dry on top but still very moist inside.  Take off the plastic wrap and put more cheese on top.  You want it cheesy, right? Then cover it with a piece of foil that has been sprayed with non stick spray (to prevent the cheese from sticking).  Bake, covered for 35 minutes, then uncover and bake it 20-25 minutes more, until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown on top. Let it cool a bit and enjoy. I like mine very hot so the cheese is still melty and oozy!

My son is coming home for the holidays.  I will be cooking up a storm to feed him and his hungry friends.  I am glad to have this easy dish that feeds a crowd in my repertoire. Aren't you glad you have it too?

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Packages of mac and cheese ready for the freezer.

Packages of mac and cheese ready for the freezer.

Party Nuts

My husband and I generally are in agreement when it comes to food, except for Thanksgiving dinner!

He, sticking to tradition, likes to roast a whole turkey while I prefer to cook white meat and dark meat separately, sous vide for the breast and confit for the thighs. We have been serving two kinds of turkey for the past few years now.  The other issue where we deviate from each other is the appetizer.  He doesn't want to ruin anybody's appetite for this once a year feast while I feel it is proper to have something guests can much on while waiting for meal to be ready.  We came to a compromise that I can make a little something for the guests to nibble on.

After having done nothing for two days due to an eye surgery, I got antsy.  The doctor's prescription was, "Take it easy.  Don't do much." I did nothing but sit, sleep and "watch" movies.  But today I have an urge to make something.  I just realized that I am a hyper person.  I should  feel the same way when it comes to cleaning.  My house would be cleaner!

I searched my brain to come up with what I could make today that is easy and simple with ingredients I have at home.  My husband would think that I am crazy if I had asked him to buy something for me so I could cook. Oh....I can make party nuts!! I have nuts, butter, brown sugar, salt, and chipotle chili powder.

Once my husband left home, I started to get to work.  I measured 4 cups of mixed nuts (1 cup each of walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and peanuts) and put them on a baking tray together with a few sprigs of fresh rosemary. Bake at 325 for 10 minutes until the nuts are very hot and turn a few shades darker.  It's important that your nuts have to be absolutely fresh. While the nuts are roasting, cut 1 stick of butter into small cubes and put in a large mixing bowl, add 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar, 1 teaspoon smoked salt (or regular salt), and 1/2- 1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder (or cayenne pepper). Add the hot nuts to the butter mixture immediately.  The heat of the nuts should melt the butter and sugar considerably.  Taste it.  Does it need more salt? More chili pepper? Now put the nuts back in a 250 oven and bake about 8-10 minutes.  Be careful not to burn the nuts.

The nuts are buttery, sweet, and salty with a little hint of rosemary and heat, perfect with a glass of crisp bubbly.  I particularly love the walnut in this recipe for its unusual shape that allows seasoning to cling to it. Once cool, keep the nuts in a airtight container.  I will warm the nuts in a 250 oven for 5 minutes before serving, just to melt the butter. I can do this while visually impaired, so it would be much easier for you.  Writing this post is a lot harder than making the nuts!

I am going to take it easy now. :)

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Three Ingredient Pasta: The Ultimate!

When it comes to food, I am not to be impressed easily so I don't use the term 'ultimate' lightly.

This is the kind of dish I suggest you make when you want a promotion from your boss, want to impress your in-laws (or soon to be) or to bring someone down to his/her knees and ask you to spend the rest of your life with. This is what I am talking about. :)

If you have been to Tilikum Cafe, you probably know about the tagliatelle with butter and cheese.  I have been in love with this dish from the very first bite.  We actually go there for this dish. I have, for quite a while, been trying to replicate it at home. This dish is so elusive to me.

I was told by a waitress that there were only two ingredients, butter and Parmesan cheese, in this dish! But how could the pasta get creamy?  Butter will turn into oil when heated.  To get creaminess texture, one needs to rely on cream or egg or both (think Alfredo or Carbonara).  Just butter and Parmesan cheese? This doesn't make sense to me.

My first trial was a complete failure.  There was nothing wrong with pasta with tons of European butter and first rated freshly grated Parmesan cheese but it was not what I had in mind.  It didn't have the mouth feel I was looking for. I suspected that there must be some other ingredients to give creaminess to the dish.  Egg yolk?  Maybe! I ruled out cream because it didn't feel right to me.  I added one egg yolk off heat just before serving.  The pasta was creamy and delicious. It's close but I also detected some egginess not present in the Tilikum version. How could they do it? ,

We went back to the restaurant and ordered that elusive pasta dish.  While savoring it, I casually asked for the ingredients. A normal question, right?  "Butter and some Parmesan cheese", the waitress replied.  "No other ingredients in this dish?"  She politely answered with a smile as she poured water into my glass, "No". My investigation just hit the wall! Either she lied to me or there was some other technique that I did not know of?  HELP!!!!

What if I whip the butter until light and fluffy and add that to the cooked pasta. The heat of the pasta will gently melt the whipped butter and it will not get a chance to turn into oil.  Will that work? Umm... This is promising!

First, I need to make fresh pasta.  I wouldn't dream of using dried pasta in this dish. The sauce is too delicate for it. We are experiencing a shortage of our home grown eggs, unlike our experience during summer months.  Now we get one egg a day if we are lucky.  So I am using whole eggs instead of just egg yolks, two cups of flour with two precious eggs plus one yolk and a tablespoon or so of water. The pasta dough should be squeezable but firm. I roll out the dough into the thinnest setting and hand cut it into tagliatelle, just a little wider than fettuccini. The pasta is now ready for my experimentation. If you don't want to make your own pasta, you can buy a pound of fresh fettuccini for this dish.

With only two ingredients in the dish, one needs to use the best ingredients one can find.  For butter, use European butter.  My favorite is grass-fed Irish butter, Kerrigold. It's delicious and is actually good for you.  For Parmesan cheese, buy a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano and grate it yourself with Microplane, one of my favorite kitchen gadgets. The grated cheese should be light, powdery, and fluffy and ready to melt away easily! Forget about the pre-shredded, pre-grated kind. They will not work here.  Set a big pot of water to boil, while working on the butter mixture.

I have only salted Kerrigold butter in the fridge, no unsalted.  This will have to do, I just have to be cautious with seasoning at the end.  I cream 1 cup of butter, yes one cup, until light in color and fluffy in texture,  then add 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, mix until combined.

Once the water comes to a rolling boil, put some salt in the water and then add fresh pasta, stir a couple of times to prevent it from sticking at the bottom of the pot.  This only takes a few minutes. The pasta should be tender but still al dente.  Once cooked, drain the pasta and put it in a big mixing bowl.  Immediately add all of the butter mixture, yes all of it,  to the hot pasta together with 1/4 cup of pasta water.  Mix it quickly and thoroughly until the butter melts and becomes saucy, creamy and coats the pasta. You might have to add a few tablespoons more of water but don't overdo it.  The sauce should be loosely thick and velvety, not watery.  Taste for seasoning.  You can add more grated Parmesan cheese, a squirt of lemon juice, or salt.  Serve it immediately with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese on top as a first course. You want your guests to still be dreaming about it after finishing their last bite!  One pound of pasta should serve 4-6 people.  At Tillikum cafe, this dish is served as an appetizer, topped with fried sage and chopped roasted hazelnuts!

Today is my happy day!  I finally cracked the code of this elusive dish.  I made creamy pasta with two ingredients, butter and Parmesan cheese! Yes, there is a lot of butter in it but they put just as much at the restaurant, you just don't see it.  Just savor a small portion and don't make it too often! This dish is a special occasion dish.  I will definitely make this for my kids for Christmas dinner, together with the requested rack of lamb and some foie gras.  I might have to double recipe!  If nothing has changed, my son will be hungry soon after we finish dinner!  And certainly, I don't want him to be disappointed!

Nothing says 'I love you' better than a bowl of velvety, buttery, creamy pasta!  I hope you agree. :)


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See creaminess?  Yes, just two ingredients-butter and Parmesan! Delicious with fried sage leaves and chopped hazelnuts.

Homemade, hand cut pasta.

Homemade, hand cut pasta.

Four Ingredient Soup!...Mexican Cashew Nut Soup

But after having tasted the soup, I am not sure if I should call it Mexican soup or Thai soup?!? And this is made out of only 4 ingredients!

I have a lot of homemade tomatillo salsa in my fridge.  I make it by roasting tomatillos, garlic cloves, onions, and jalapenos in 425F oven until they are somewhat charred, about 20 minutes.  Then I blend the whole thing in my Vitamix (blender) with some chopped cilantro.  Add some salt, and your salsa is done.  You can use this to make green chili verde, or as a condiment for tacos.

I want to turn some of the salsa into soup.  To give body to the soup, I need to add some nuts and cream.  Pistachio nuts would be great but I don't think I have any! I saw a bag of Thai Lime Chili Cashews from Trader Joe's.  Um... that might work!  So I combine 1 cup tomatillo salsa (feel free to use a store-bought one, normally called (Mexican) salsa verde) with 1 can of low salt chicken broth or vegetable broth if you want it to be vegetarian (I use Swanson's which won a taste test in Cook's Illustrated, that's good enough for me), and 1 cup of cashews in my Vitamix.  Blend until the mixture is smooth.

Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan over medium high heat to boil.  Taste for seasoning.  I only have to add some salt and a dash of maple syrup to balance the flavor.  Now reduce the heat and add in about 1/2 cup of cream.  Heat the soup up, but do not boil vigorously.  Adjust seasoning again. Delicious, right?

To my surprise, it tastes more like Thai tom kha soup. I am thrilled to have made this discovery. That's why cooking is fun for me. I learn something new every day. I certainly will make tomatillo salsa so I can make this soup again. It is very rich and flavorful, perfect in a little shot glass on your holiday buffet table. It will wake up your guests' palate with a little kick! But I am not sure about the name....

May be I should call it Tom Kha Tomatillo Soup! We can put it up for a vote. :)

Mexican Cashew Nut Soup or Tom Kha Tomatillo Soup?  Topped with a drizzle of avocado oil, chopped cashew nuts, cilantro, and pickled red onion.

Mexican Cashew Nut Soup or Tom Kha Tomatillo Soup?  Topped with a drizzle of avocado oil, chopped cashew nuts, cilantro, and pickled red onion.

Game-Changer Polenta!

I am talking about no stir polenta!  Leave it in the oven and it will cook itself. No stirring, no splattering, no spitting!  Sound good?

I love polenta but I avoid making it because it's too labor intensive.  I don't want to be standing in front of the stove, continuously stirring thick polenta that will spit at me.  But cornmeal (polenta) is very inexpensive and  is a great way to feed a crowd.  It's versatile and perfect for holiday parties. This cooking method solves all of those problems associated with stove top cooking.. 

I have some ratios in my head when it comes to cooking.  When I cook polenta, the ratio is one part cornmeal to three parts water or broth, the same ratio as when I make garbanzo bean fritters (that's another story).  This ratio will yield firm polenta, the kind that will set when cold. After it's chilled, cut it into pieces and pan fry it before topping it with tomato sauce, creamy sausage and mushroom sauce, or some greens, etc.  This can also be used instead of toast as appetizers for your gluten-free guests. If you want soft polenta, the kind you plop on your plate similar to mashed potatoes, the ratio will be 1:5.  That is one part cornmeal and 5 parts liquid, preferably broth.

First preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease a 4 quart or larger dutch oven, then add 2 cups medium coarse ground cornmeal, 6-10 cups of broth (depending upon how soft you want your polenta to be), preferably low-salt broth, 2 tablespoons soft butter and 2 teaspoons salt, mix well. It doesn't look like it's going to work but have faith.  Bake uncovered for one hour and a half. It will take only an hour if you use fine ground cornmeal. Using a long handle spoon, stir the mixture a couple of times during cooking. The polenta will be creamy and soft. Magical!

Take the cooked polenta out of the oven, stir it well and adjust seasonings: Does it need salt?  I will definitely add more butter and Parmesan cheese. Butter makes everything better! If you are making firm polenta, grease a 9x13 baking pan and pour the hot polenta into the prepared pan.  Use a spatula to smooth out the top.  Sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top if you want.  Let it cool completely before cutting into pieces. If you make soft polenta, serve immediately.  Soft polenta doesn't wait for anyone.

See how easy it is?  I don't know about you but it's a game changer for me :)

Pan-fried polenta, Bunashimeji mushroom sauce with truffle oil!

Pan-fried polenta, Bunashimeji mushroom sauce with truffle oil!

Cooled polenta waiting to be cut.

Cooled polenta waiting to be cut.

Sweet Potato Noodle Salad with Teriyaki Sauce and BBQ Duck

I adore Anthony Bourdain's shows.  I love to see his excitement and his lustful look when he is about to devour Guinness, his pork sausages, especially blood sausages or any pork products, and noodles!

The other night, his show was on Borneo, after a quick stop in Singapore, the Disneyland of street food.  He was chowing away on all kinds of noodle, Malay fried noodle, Laksa, etc. Oh, how I wish I had some noodles right now, but making noodles and eating at 10 pm. is unreasonable even for me.

Today, I have some crispy duck leftovers from our brunch this morning, as well as some cucumbers, green onions, pickled red onions and jalapeno (see my post "Easy Peasy Crispy Duck"). I can use these ingredients to make some kind of noodle. I am determined to make teriyaki duck noodle for my dinner.  I search my pantry and find a bag of dried sweet potato noodle, the kind that Koreans use to make chop chae. I love its slippery, chewy texture. 

First I set out to make teriyaki sauce.  I realize that I do not have any ginger.  I can't make teriyaki sauce without ginger!!  Not to worry,  there is a bottle of Trader Joe's Soyaki in my pantry.  This is perfect.  I will get to eat teriyaki noodle after all.

I cook about 8 oz. of sweet potato noodle (half of a 16 oz. package) in a big pot of boiling water until soft but still with a chewy texture (follow instructions on the back of the package). Once cooked, I drain the noodle and put it in a big mixing bowl with 1/2 cup of Soyaki teriyaki sauce. Once the noodle cools down a bit, I add about two cups of julienne vegetables (cucumber, green onion, carrot), Chinese chili pepper in oil, and chopped cilantro.  Mix everything together very well.  I serve myself a pile of glistening noodles topped with pickled red onions, jalapenos, and last but not least the crispy salty duck pieces. 

That does take the edge off my cravings and I still have enough leftovers for my lunch tomorrow :).

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Party Food!.....Crepes with Crispy Duck

I made this dish many times and my friends always express their appreciation.  Some even suggested that I offer this dish on Dyne!

I haven't made this dish for probably a year or so.  It's one of my family's favorites.  This week I hosted a dinner on Saturday and then I also invited a friend over for brunch on Sunday.  I could have made the same thing or something slightly different from dinner I serve on Saturday to make my life easier but the idea of eating similar meals twice doesn't excite me.  I am thinking duck crepes!

After my dinner on Saturday was under controlled, my house was cleaned and the table set.  I rushed out to the closest Chinese BBQ shop to buy a whole duck. The duck is to be de-boned and slowly seared until skin is completely crispy, sliced into pieces to be served on crepes with hoisin Sriracha sauce, cucumber, green onion, and, not to be missed, pickled red onions and jalapenos. As you can imagine, it's party in your mouth in very bite.  Luscious soft crepes, salty umami crispy duck, sweet spicy hoisin sauce, crunchy cucumbers, and pungent green onion, balanced by sweet, sour, spicy from pickled red onion and jalapeno.  I haven't found anybody who do not like this dish.  I don't think I will ever find one.

I started my Sunday morning with a cup of coffee and the making of crepe batter. In a blender, put in 2 eggs, 3/4 cup milk, 1/2 cup water, 2 cups all purpose flour, 1 tablespoon furikake (Japanese seaweed seasoning),1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Blend everything very well, until smooth, and leave it rest in the fridge for an hour or so.  After an hour is up, heat a non stick pan on medium heat.  Wipe your pan well with butter. When the pan is hot , ladle enough batter (about three tablespoon) to make a 5' round crepe. When you see the crepe batter starts to dry out on the top, flip to cook another side. Cook for a minute or so until the crepe has some golden brown specks. Keep making crepes this way until the batter is all gone.  This makes about 15 crepes. Cover them with plastic wrap or foil.

Now it's time to prepare the duck, it's easy! (find my other post, "Easy Peasy Crispy Duch" for full details).

Crepes are good, crispy duck is good but now you need something to tie the two together into a harmonious marriage. Slather a warm crepe with 1 teaspoon of sauce (a mixture of 1/4 cup hoisin, 2 tablespoon plum sauce, and 1 teaspoon or more Sriracha sauce), then top with a piece of duck a piece of cucumber, green onion, and last but not least pickled red onion and jalapeno.  Enjoy! Keep repeating until you are full and satiated.

Now you can have a nap.  It's Sunday after all :)



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Furikake crepe with crispy duck and all trimmings

Crispy duck with trimmings

Easy Peasy Crispy Duck

Crispy duck in less than half an hour from start to finish?  Is it possible? You betcha!

I have made roast ducks before, numerous times.  When I eat duck what I want is crispy skin. I don't care as much about the meat. Think Peking duck! To get crispy duck skin, it's quite an involved process.  You have to rub the skin first with salt and baking soda and leave it to dry. You have to poke the skin before roasting and keep poking the skin and draining the fat many times before the golden duck emerges!

Even so, I have not been totally satisfied with my homemade crispy duck.  They are not crispy enough for me. I want thick crispy skin that makes crunchy noise when you bite on it!  Will that be possible?

It's easier than you think.  I will let you in on my secret.

I don't get my duck from grocery stores.  I get mine at........Chinese BBQ joints.  Just buy a whole one from a BBQ place that you like. Tell them not to cut up your duck!  Chinese BBQ duck is very reasonably priced, just a couple of dollars more than the frozen one at a grocery store. I think it's a very smart way to enjoy the duck without much work. There are plenty of Chinese BBQ joints now in Seattle.  There are even a couple of them near where I live.  Hallelujah! I remember when we had to go to the International District every time we wanted BBQ duck.  No more!

Once you have secured a nice golden brown plump roasted duck, restrain yourself from nibbling on it. I know I am guilty of that. First you need to remove the bones . This is how to do it: Remove the head with neck attached first. Cut the duck down the breast bone then open it up like a book and remove all the bones.  This is easier to do when the duck is cold so I normally buy my duck the day before.  Once all the bones are removed, flip it over and cut off the two drumsticks and the wings. That could be your snack, cook's prerogative!  Now you have a flat piece of boneless duck, ready to be crisped up.  Don't forget to save all those bones and make soup with a tablespoon or so of miso.  You now have another item to serve with your duck dish.

Put the boneless duck in a big pan that holds the duck comfortably over medium heat, once you hear sizzling sounds, reduce the heat to medium low or low. Do not use high heat, you will burn the skin before it gets a chance to crisp up. No need to put any oil in the pan. Let the duck cook slowly to draw out the excess fat and to crisp up the skin.  This might seem like forever but be patient, a good five minutes or so.  You will be rewarded with thoroughly golden crispy crackly duck skin.  Then turn the duck over to heat the other side, which should take only a minute or so otherwise your duck will dry out. Take the duck out of the pan and rest it skin side up on a cutting board.  Once it's cool enough to handle, slice the duck into pieces or however you would like to serve it.  One duck should be enough to serve 4 people, unless one of the the diner is my son!

Here are some suggestions.

Crepes with crispy duck and spicy hoisin sauce (fashioned after Peking duck with Chinese pancakes) (search for my post on this one!)

Teriyaki sweet potato noodle salad with crispy duck (search for my post on this one too!)

Crispy duck spring rolls with hoisin, fig, chipotle sauce (coming soon)

Crispy duck with Chinese steamed buns and crushed sweet peanuts (coming soon)

Crispy duck with sweet green tea sauce

Crispy duck with tamarind maple glaze.

Crispy duck tacos..........

I don't know about you but I see another duck in the very near future!

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Crispy duck resting before serving.

De-boned duck

De-boned duck

My Cranberry Sauce

Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away!

My first Thanksgiving meal was something hard to forget.  It was in a diner in Ann Arbor, Michigan! I wanted to find out what the fuss was all about Thanksgiving dinners. I'll tell you that story in another post. After that first meal, my Thanksgiving dinners have drastically improved.

I also thought it was strange that sweet fruit sauce was served with roast turkey, something Thais don't do.  Most cranberry sauces I have encountered are very sweet. I also think it's anti climactic when people serve it straight out of a can complete with ridges, to go with otherwise home made food!. You know what I am talking about.  I have always make my own cranberry sauces. It varies every year. This year I am going to push the envelope.

Most cranberry sauce recipes call for orange juice or sweet spice, like cinnamon.  I am taking my sauce the savory route.  I also want to give more body to my sauce. A cup of dried cranberries and diced apple will do that for me.  Making cranberry sauce is so easy.  You dump everything in the pot and cook until the cranberries burst and glue to each other in a homogeneous mass.  The sauce will thicken as it cools so the sauce consistency should be looser than what you want your final product to be. This year I am going to serve my cranberry sauce warm.

Put everything in a medium sauce pan, except pecans and Szechuan oil.                                                                                             

12 oz. fresh cranberries, 1 cup dried cranberries, ½ cup white wine, or sweet red wine, 1 medium sized apple, peeled, cored, and diced, ½ cup sugar, 2 T. maple syrup, 1 1tsp. grated ginger,  ½-1 jalapeno, diced finely, depending how spicy you want, ½ tsp. salt plus a couple more pinches, 1 cup chopped candied pecans.

A few drops of Szechuan peppercorn oil before serving (optional)

You can make this cranberry sauce in only 25 minutes, it's easy. Use high heat first and then reduce to medium once the cranberries are all popped. Turn off the heat when you reach the desired consistency. You might have to add 1/4 cup of water or so. Taste your sauce along the way.  If you want it sweeter, add more sugar.  Fold in chopped candied pecans at the end, to add some crunchy, nutty dimension to your sauce. If you don't like pecans, you can leave them out or substitute with other nuts that you like. It's your sauce!  Make it the way you like it.  Like I said earlier, this year I will go wild with my cranberry sauce.  I will fold in a few drops of Szechuan peppercorn oil just before serving. I don't want the numbing sensation but I want my sauce to be somewhat mysterious, something different that my guests cannot identify.  I think you can add up to 1/8 tsp. of the oil per a cup of cranberry sauce.  I will serve my cranberry sauce warm with some fresh chopped cilantro mixed in.

I think you will see your guests raise their eyebrows in amazement after their first bite!  Happy Thanksgiving :)


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Som's Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Party Food!.........Carnitas Bites with Sweet Chili Jam and Chipotle

I love this time of year.  I think I am like many Thais who like to celebrate all kinds of holidays as long as it gives us an excuse to eat and celebrate.  As long as it's fun, Thais will do it.   

Now Halloween just passed and I am gearing up for my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving.  More cooking, eating, drinking will continue until the year passes! That means I have to come up with different appetizers to dazzle my friends with.  

I love to cook but I am an optimizing kind of cook.  My effort in the kitchen has to be met with maximum result. I will not make ten things to compose just one dish.  I love to make one thing that can be spun into many different dishes.  I have variety of sauces, pickled vegetables, condiments, cheese, waiting in my fridge ready to be transformed.  For meats, I always have some sous vide pork belly, sous vide steak, sous vide pork butt, duck confit, etc. in my freezer.  Homemade broths are also on a standby for soup emergencies. Most of the time, I can make something just at a drop of the hat which is very convenient because I do entertain a lot. My kids, when they were young, always complained that we didn't have enough "ready to eat" food in our house.  Bags of chips, boxes of cookies, cans of soup, frozen "ready to eat" food, etc, were not to be found around here.  If they brought some friends over and mom was not home, they were out of luck! 

I can understand if you have to start from zero every time you cook, it will be quite a daunting task.  I suggest you make some condiments, sauces, pickled vegetables to keep in your "food bank".  For a dish to be divine, it has to have a balance of flavors, sweet, salty, spicy, sour, umami, and even bitter as well as different textures.  The food needs to dance in your mouth. Go to your fridge and find what ingredients that have those flavors and put them together. For those reasons, I don't use recipes. Recipes/cookbooks are used as inspirations.  It's more fun to come up with your own combinations, with what you have around, rather than running around town to chase down ingredients.

This morning, I convinced my husband to skip his fast to try my carnitas tostada with fried eggs.  A few days ago, I sous vide pork butt seasoned with just salt and a little bit of sugar for 12 hours at 158F.  This tender pork, still with good texture, can be used in variety of dishes.  If I want to turn this into carnitas, I will rub it with some ground cumin, coriander, and chili powder before searing in a hot pan.  This same pork can also be basted with teriyaki sauce, or shredded and mixed with some kind of BBQ sauce for pulled pork sandwiches.  Possibilities are endless.

I still have some pork left over from this morning and I want to use it to come up with a new appetizer.  I still have corn tortilla so I cut it into little rounds (1 1/2 inch round) and deep fry them.  I shred the pork and pan fry it until it has some crispy edges.  I pile it on top of the tortilla rounds, topped with a sauce, a mixture of sweet chili jam and chipotle. Pickled red onions, red cherry peppers, and cilantro give this bite bright, spicy, acidic crunch and an herbaceous note.  Finally I crumbled cotija cheese all over the top, for a little salt and creamy mouth feel.  This appetizer has all the elements of a delicious bite with different flavors and textures.  Next time I want to make it with duck confit with fig chipotle sauce.  

Does that sound good to you?


Today, I threw down some money to mess around with bottled sauces.

Never in a million years that I thought I would buy bottled Thai red curry, Thai sweet chili, peanut sauce, yellow curry sauces.  I usually walk past that aisle without paying any attention with my nose turned up.  I make these sauces myself, which are hard to beat! BUT I am taking this task as a challenge.

My friends often ask me how I made this dish, that dish.  I told them and concluded that they were easy.  Most often than not, I would hear this response, "I am not you, Som."  When I told my friends about this blog, they told me they wanted something easy and uncomplicated.  But good food is about layering flavors, and balancing them into harmonious orchestra of taste. How can I simplify my dishes but still have flavors that hit it out of the park? 

If you are not new to my blog, you know that my food has many elements to them but these "elements" are often waiting for me in the fridge.  When an inspiration strikes, I can rummage through my fridge to find something that excites me, something that makes a light bulb go off in my head.  But for many people, when they cook, they start from zero. So I understand why it's easy for me but not for them.  

At Trader Joe's today, I bought variety of sauces to see what they taste like and how to fix them up so they would be acceptable to use. Mind you, I do not get paid from Trader Joe's for doing this.  I just like the store and feel that their products are decent and reasonably priced and many people I know shop there. Of all the bottled sauces I bought, the only sauce that doesn't need fixing is Green Dragon Hot Sauce.  Yay!!! I will use that in a pinch if I don't have my salsa verde in the fridge.

1. Thai Sweet Chili Sauce

This is very cloyingly sweet with too much of xanthum gum so it's quite goopy.  Actually every bottled sauce I bought today were goopy.  I need to fix this into homemade consistency look and feel.  This are how I fix it by using ingredients people normally have in the kitchen. I have balanced cloying sweet sauce with some fire! Choose one of these and use it for a sweet, spicy element in your dish.

Option one - 2 Tbs. Sweet chili sauce+1 Tbs. canned adobo chili (chopped finely)

Option two - 1 Tbs. Sweet chili sauce + 1 tsp. Sriracha sauce.

2. Hot & Sweet Chili Jam

Oh, I hate the texture of this jam.  Loaded with hard chili seeds, not good mouth feel.  One can not use a lot of this.

Option one - 1 Tbs. Sweet Chili Sauce + 1 tsp. Sriracha sauce + 1 tsp. Hot & Sweet Chili Jam.  This one has a balance of sweetness, heat, and smokiness.

Option two - 1 Tbs. Hot & Sweet Chili Jam +1 Tbs. fish sauce + 1 tsp. ground dried chili peppers + 1 tsp. maple syrup + juice from 1/2 lime + 1/2 tsp. ground rice powder + 1/2 tsp. tamarind paste +chopped cilantro. (ground rice powder-roast uncooked rice on dry skillet until golden brown, then grind them into rough powder). This sauce is good with grilled meats. Think Thai street food!  Make grilled marinaded pork on a stick to go with this sauce and don't forget sticky rice!

3. Thai Red Curry Sauce

This is not too bad. I can taste lemongrass but it is one dimensional.  It doesn't have other spices to balance it. I need to add more spices and fix its consistency. When using canned coconut, shake the can first. You can use the recipe below in my Cheesy Mock Enchiladas or serve with grilled meat or fish.  For these cases, you need to heat up the sauce.

1/2 cup Thai Red Curry Sauce + 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk + 1 1/2 tsps. maple syrup + 1/2 tsp. fish sauce + 1/2 tsp. each garlic powder, onion powder, coriander powder + 1/4 tsp. each cayenne peppers, cumin powder

4. Enchilada Sauce

This is one of the worst sauces I tried today.  It's so bland. The flavor goes nowhere. I can't believe they bottled this crap! In this fixed recipe I am trying to mimic chipotle cream sauce.  You can use this in my Cheesy Mock Enchiladas as well.

1/2 cup Enchilada Sauce + 1/4 cup cream + 1 Tbs. canned adobo, chopped finely + 2 tsp. ground cumin + 1 tsp. ground coriander + 1 tsp. garlic powder + 1 tsp. salt + 2 1/2 tsps. maple syrup.

5. Satay Peanut Sauce

This sauce is just sweet and sour and lacks complexity.  Chopped roasted peanuts and kaffir lime leaves (which can be purchased at many Asian groceries) are essential here.  Use this with your grilled meats or as vegetable dip or in your peanut noodle salad. It will work in your Bathing Rama, a piled of steamed spinach topped with stir fried chicken and peanut sauce.

1/2 cup Peanut Sauce + 1 Tbs. coconut cream, not milk + 1 tsp. fish sauce + 2 tsp. maple syrup + 1/2 tsp. tamarind paste +1 Tbs. chopped roasted peanuts + 1 kaffir lime leave, sliced finely.

6. Thai Yellow Curry Sauce

This one is the best of the bunch.  It has curry flavor but I hate the consistency of the sauce.

1/2 cup Thai Yellow Curry Sauce + 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk + 1/4 tsp. cayenne peppers.

Now I did it!  You can substitute this sauce in your cooking to help you get delicious food on the table.  Admittedly, it's not as good as homemade sauce.  But if you serve these sauce to me, I will be happy to get a repeated invitation for dinner at your house!

An update: I used the fixed red curry sauce and the enchilada sauce in my cheesy mock tamales to test the recipes this morning.  My guinea pig husband loves it.  He said he would not have known that they were not homemade sauces.  This came from someone who has eaten my food for 30 years!  My mission is accomplished.  Now I have to convince you to try them yourself!