Szechwan Hot and Sour Soup

>> Tuesday, October 17, 2017





Szechwan Hot and Sour Soup


Joe's test of a good Asian restaurant is the quality of their Sichuan hot and sour soup, so I gave him a kitchen challenge: impress me with your version of hot and sour soup. Oh, and I've been craving Thai shrimp spring rolls, can you do anything to help?

He exceeded my expectations.

I hear that this soup is one of those concoctions that can cure a cold, or just make you feel a whole lot better while you're eating it. Maybe we should start a new category for medicinal recipes.

Ingredients

1/3 lb pork
1 tbsp dried wood ear mushrooms
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup shiitake mushrooms
1/4 cup bamboo shoots
1 small carrot
3 oz. tofu
1 green onion
2 tsp grated ginger
2 tbsp (30ml) Sichuan preserved vegetables, or 2 tbsp chili-garlic paste
5 cups pork broth
2 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 eggs


Garnish:
Red pepper flakes
Sesame oil
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup sliced green onions

Instructions

Place the pork, salt, and woodear mushrooms into a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until cooked, about 30 minutes. Reserve the cooking liquid, adding more if necessary to make the 5 cups of broth you'll need at the end.

Cut the pork, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tofu, scallion, carrot, and Sichuan preserved vegetables into matchstick slices. Add to the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer.

Whisk together the cornstarch, soy sauce, and vinegar, then slowly stir into the broth. Whisk the eggs.
Pour them in a thin stream into the soup while stirring the broth, so that it forms flaky threads as it swirls into the soup.

Serve in single bowls with the garnishes on the side for the diners to add as they choose.

Serves 4-6.

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Sausage & Apple Skewers with Honey-Mustard Glaze

>> Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Sausage & Apple Skewers with Honey-Mustard Glaze


A few weeks ago, I gave a cooking demonstration on fall appetizers. We got to talking about how to combine herbs and seasonings with complimentary foods - one of my favorite subjects! Among other pairings, I mentioned how well sage compliments sausage and poultry. It was interesting that sage is so often used for a Thanksgiving dinner herb in stuffings and seasonings, because it is one of the last herbs in the garden to succumb to frost in the fall.

A few days later, one of my friends gave me an enormous bouquet of sage and kale from her garden. I fried up some of the sage, Italian-fashion, but saved some for these luscious fall-flavored sausage skewers. We used firm honeycrisp apples, as they hold their shape well when cooking, along with curls of white onion and slices of those fresh sage leaves. A super-easy honey-mustard sauce goes over the top - so delicious.

Ingredients

10-12 wooden skewers

1 pound mild Italian Sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound hot Italian Sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups firm tart apples, like Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, or Jonathan, cored and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup onion, cut into quarters, then separated into leaves or curls
5 large sage leaves, torn into small pieces
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup stone ground mustard
3 tbsp apple cider viegar
2 tsp garlic powder

Directions

Soak the wooden skewers for about 15 minutes, to prevent burning. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, or the grill to medium heat.

Thread the sausage, apple chunks, onion, and sage pieces onto the skewers. Whisk together the honey, mustard, vinegar, and garlic powder, then drizzle half over the skewers.

If roasting in the oven, place the skewers on a baking sheet and cook for 15 minutes. Flip them over, drizzle with the remaining glaze, then roast until the sausage is fully cooked, about 15 to 20 minutes more.

If grilling the skewers, place directly on the grill and cook them, turning frequently, for about 30 minutes, basting them with the honey-mustard glaze occasionally.

Serves 4.

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Broiled Tomatoes, Arrabiata-Style

>> Sunday, October 1, 2017


Broiled Tomatoes, Arriabiata-Style



According to people who probably know what they're talking about, arrabiata means something like "angry"; cooking something arrabiata-style ("all'arabiata") means it's in a fiery tomato sauce. This pepper-laced topping on luscious summer tomatoes is inspired by spicy red arrabiata sauce. If you're talented at cupping the breading over tops of the tomatoes so it sticks, this entire dish will take about 3 minutes to prepare, and 30-40 minutes of hands-off cooking time.

That's enough time to take a bubble bath with a glass of wine before dinner. Just sayin'.

Ingredients

8 medium ripe tomatoes
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (to taste)
2 tsp capers, chopped
1 tsp basil, chopped
1 tsp parsley, chopped
2 tbsp Asiago cheese, grated
6 Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced


Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil a baking pan.

Wash the tomatoes and cut the core out of the top of each one. If desired, slice a little off the bottom of each tomato so it will sit steady on the pan. Place the tomatoes an equal distance apart on the baking sheet.

Stir together all ingredients except the olives, and spoon onto the tops of the tomatoes, pressing the topping down so it stays in place. Top with the sliced olives.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and fully cooked. Turn on the broiler to 500 degrees and set the pan under the broiler 4 inches from the heat. Broil for 3-5 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.

Serves 4-8.

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Seared Ahi Tuna with Wasabi Pea Crust

>> Friday, September 22, 2017



Seared Ahi Tuna with Wasabi Pea Crust


My first sushi experience was around 1990, and I really had to choke it down while distracting my mind screaming, "Oh gah, I'm eating raw meat! Raw meat! My mom told me not to do this!"

The saner half of my mind was saying, "Shhh, come on now, people eat this all the time and they like it - don't think about it, don't think about it, you're eating unicorn bubbles and sun rays and it's GOOD!"

Yeah, it's like that in my mind a lot, and I hope you're not clicking away right now before I tell you how amazing this ahi tuna recipe is.

Obviously I conquered my squeamishness over sushi and seafood in general (I ate way too much Lake Michigan trout and salmon off my dad's boat when I was a kid). Now tuna has a very special place in my taste buds. Once I appreciated that velvety mouthfeel and gorgeous watermelon-colored flesh, and the buttery white slices of yellowfin tuna you get in a good sashimi bento box, I didn't care for cooked tuna at all. Cooked tuna can be dry, because ahi is fairly lean, and the fishy taste is intensified.

Seared Ahi Tuna with Wasabi Pea Crust


The week before Valentine's Day, I started developing a menu that would surprise Joe, stretch my cooking repertoire, be as healthy as possible, and use up a lot of items in our pantry and freezer as part of our yearly spring cleaning. I made seven courses in the classic French tradition, where the salad is served after the main course. The fish course featured these seared tuna steaks with a crunchy wasabi-pea crust.

We have made this several times since then. Ahi is a low -fat, high-protein meat, and flash-frozen fish fillets tasted just as good in this recipe as high-priced fresh ahi tuna. This is also extremely quick to make, so be sure everything's ready to go before you start cooking.

P.S. We used this delicious Ginger-Wasabi Sauce from Pampered Chef,  a gift from Joe's sister. However, Pampered Chef has just discontinued the sauce, so if you don't have a jar lying around, try our easy version!

Ingredients

For the tuna
3 3-4 oz. ahi tuna steaks
2/3 cup wasabi peas - you can often find these in the snack section of an Asian aisle
1 tbsp canola oil

For wasabi-ginger sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger (about 1 inch)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
1 1/2 tsp wasabi paste (or wasabi powder mixed with 1/4 tsp water)
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp light molasses (or light brown sugar mixed with 1 tsp water)

Instructions

Let tuna fillets dry on paper towels - the more moisture you absorb, the easier it will be to sear them without moisture seeping out and poaching them instead. This will also ensure they don't soak up much oil.

Put all the sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Keep at room temperature until ready to serve.

Crush the wasabi peas in a blender, or coffee grinder. You can also put them in a plastic bag and crush them by rolling a rolling pin over them. When you're done, they should be the texture of coarse crumbs. Spread the peas onto a plate.

Heat a wide skillet on medium-high, then add the oil. Press the tuna fillets into the wasabi peas until coated on both sides. When the oil shimmers, place the fish in the pan and make sure they aren't touching each other.

Cook until there's a good sear on one side, then flip over and sear the other side for a minute or so.  You want the sear to be about a millimeter deep, and the center rare at room temperature

That's it! We like to serve them by slicing them across the grain, sort of like a slice of sashimi at a fancy restaurant. This shows the gorgeous contrast between that pretty ruby flesh and the bright green pea crust. 

Serves 4.

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Quick Italian Eggplant Towers

>> Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Italian Eggplant Towers


Have I mentioned before that my parents raise an enormous garden every year? Even more cool, they grow things like eggplant, which look pretty odd as they come up, and which I'm sure I never ate growing up and even more sure my parents never tasted as kids. Did you grow up with eggplant? Even the word is a little odd, and ick-inducing, isn't it? I think I prefer names like aubergines (French) or melanzane (Italian).

This super-quick recipe from my mom is impressive if you have the skills to make it look like a spirally tower (look at how pretty Joe made it look!). This is a go-to recipe if you've got about 20 minutes to make dinner and you really need to eat something healthy.

If you're one of the fortunate ones that can splurge on something higher calorie, I highly recommend using one of those shredded cheese blends with mozzarella, asiago, and other good things. You could also add cooked and crumbled Italian sausage...actually, I can think of about 10 other things that would be awesome in this dish.

If you do have a bit more time, you can simmer up your own marinara sauce with a couple of cans of crushed tomatoes and your favorite Italian herbs and spices. This weekend we were a bit rushed for time, between errands and that Honey-Do list and all...but we did whip up some of our own sauce. Next time we'll make a double recipe of sauce so we have some frozen on hand when we're really busy.

homemade marinara sauce


Ingredients

2 medium eggplants
1 jar spaghetti sauce or homemade marinara
1 small jar of roasted red peppers, drained
2 cups fat-free shredded mozzarella

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and spray a baking sheet. Put the sauce in the microwave and heat until bubbly.

While it's heating, slice up the eggplant into 1/2" disks. We prefer to peel ours because we don't like the texture of the cooked skins. Place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave until it's tender, about 3-4 minutes.

Place the pepper into the microwave and heat up for about 1 1/2 minutes. While it's heating, place a layer of eggplant onto the greased pan. Sprinkle with 1/4 of the cheese, then drizzle some of the sauce over the layer. Add a second layer, then top it with the red pepper. Add a third and fourth layer. 

Cover with foil and place in the oven. Cook for 10 minutes, then remove the foil and cook for 5 more, or until the towers are cooked through.

Serves 4.

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