Thursday, February 25, 2010

Grilled Shrimp with Peach Salsa


When our Cooking Light magazine arrived last August with pictures of skewered shrimp on the cover and the headline, “Fire up the coals: Great ideas for grilling tonight", I felt inspired to break out the Smokey Joe and attempt my first grilled seafood and vegetables. The recipe for Fiery Grilled Peach and Habanero Salsa sounded particularly appealing, and although it was suggested as an accompaniment for grilled pork, chicken, or striped bass, I decided that shrimp were the way to go. The Gastronomer and I have been enamored with shrimp for quite some time—their ease of preparation and luxurious flavor and texture when cooked properly put them at the top of our list of weeknight dinner proteins.

I consulted my old friend The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook for tips on grilling the shrimp. The preparation was simple—I placed 5-6 shrimp on each skewer, brushed on vegetable oil and seasoned them with salt and pepper, and then grilled them for about 3 minutes on each side over a medium-hot fire. The peach salsa was a great compliment to the shrimp; we served them together over rice.

Recipe by Cooking Light, August 2009

Peach Habanero Salsa
  • 4 large peeled peaches, halved and pitted (about 1 pound)
  • 2 (1/4 inch thick) slices red onion
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange rind
  • 1 finely chopped seeded habanero pepper (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Prepare grill to medium-high heat. Lightly coat peaches and onion with cooking spray. Place peaches and onion on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill peaches 2 minutes on each side. Cool and chop peaches. Grill onion 3 minutes on each side. Cool and chop onion. Combine peaches, onion, cilantro, and remaining ingredients in a medium bowl; toss well. Let stand 15 minutes.

Yield: 15 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 30 minutes (this included preparing and grilling the shrimp)
Substitutions: The original recipe only called for 1 teaspoon of chopped habanero, but we found that it wasn't too crazy spicy even with twice this much. I left out the cilantro, because while the speckles of green make a dish's appearance more interesting, it doesn't do much for the taste, and it always seems like a waste to buy a big bunch and only use a couple of tablespoons.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Scallion Crepes


These crepes from Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine go wonderfully with Mandarin Pork with Brandy-Infused Hoisin Sauce, and they’re hard to resist eating alone too! They have a nice soft texture, with excellent flavor enhanced by the salt and scallions. I found that it was hard to get both sides of the crepes to look nice and golden brown (the appearance might have been improved if I had chopped the scallions smaller so that the batter was less lumpy), but the taste was right on.

Recipe by Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon coarse or kosher salt
  • 1 cup finely chopped scallions
  • About ½ cup corn oil for frying
Combine the flour, water, eggs, and salt in a food processor and process until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Pour the batter into a medium bowl. Or to mix by hand, whisk the water and eggs together in a large bowl, add the flour and the salt, and mix well.

Add the scallions and mix thoroughly.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat in an 8-inch nonstick skillet. When the oil is medium-hot, ladle ¼ cup of the batter into the skillet. Tilt the pan so that the batter spreads evenly. Cook until the crepe is golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes, then turn and brown on the second side, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a platter and repeat, using the remaining batter and oil as needed.

Serve warm; the crepes are best when freshly made.

Yield: 10-12 crepes
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 40 minutes
Substitutions: I used vegetable oil to fry the crepes, which worked fine.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chocolate Heart Layer Cake with Chocolate-Cinnamon Mousse


Four years ago at the beginning of February, The Gastronomer sent me an email asking, "Will you please make this cake for Valentine's Day?" She was totally kidding---the recipe was crazy complicated, involving repeated siftings, double boilers, overnight chilling, horizontal cake-cutting, alcohol and tea, mousse and ganache, and a strange baking container known as a "cake ring." I had baked a few cakes in my day, but this recipe was clearly way over my head. In the years that followed, we had a running joke about the heart cake being the most difficult recipe ever. Things got funnier in 2007, when a 12-year old had the audacity to post a review online saying that the recipe was easy. Talk about wounded pride...

After gaining experience and confidence in the kitchen over the past couple of years, I decided this would finally be the year that I tackled the challenge. A few weeks ago I purchased a heart-shaped cake ring and presented it to The Gastronomer on her birthday as a prequel to the Valentine's treat. I made the cake over a two-day period this weekend. The recipe was as complicated as it appeared, but the instructions were mostly quite clear, and while the end product wasn't as beautiful as it could have been (it's apparent that I need some more frosting practice), the flavor was excellent. The combination of chocolate, cherry jam, and chai spices works together really well.

I can assure you that if someone makes this cake for you, they probably love you a lot. Happy Valentine's Day, and chúc mừng năm mới!

Recipe by Bon Appetit, February 2003, courtesy of Epicurious

For Cake
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
For Mousse Base
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 4 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
For Mousse
  • 2/3 cup cherry jam
  • 2 tablespoons kirsch (clear cherry brandy)
  • 4 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
For Glaze
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon chai-spiced tea leaves or Lapsang souchong smoked black tea leaves (from 1 tea bag)
  • 5 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
Make Mousse Base

Bring whipping cream and cinnamon sticks just to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat; let steep 1 hour at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate cinnamon cream overnight.

Make Cake

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place 8x8x2-inch heart-shaped cake ring on sheet of foil. Wrap foil up sides of ring. Brush foil and inside of ring with 1 tablespoon butter; dust with flour. Place on baking sheet.

Sift flour, cocoa, and salt into medium bowl. Combine eggs and sugar in large metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water). Whisk until sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove from over water. Using electric mixer, beat mixture until thick and billowy and heavy ribbon falls when beaters are lifted, about 5 minutes. Sift half of dry ingredients over; fold in gently. Repeat with remaining dry ingredients. Transfer 1/4 cup batter to small bowl; fold in 3 tablespoons butter. Gently fold butter mixture into batter; do not overmix or batter will deflate. Transfer batter to ring.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer cake with foil to rack; cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and store at room temperature.)

Make Mousse and Glaze and Assemble Cake

Blend jam and kirsch in small bowl. Cut around sides of cake; lift off ring. Using metal spatula, loosen cake from foil and transfer to rack. Using serrated knife, cut cake horizontally in half. Using tart pan bottom, transfer top cake layer to work surface; turn cut side up. Spread half of jam on cut side of both cake layers.

Strain cinnamon cream into large bowl; beat until soft peaks form. Stir finely chopped chocolate in heavy small saucepan over low heat until smooth. Quickly fold warm chocolate into whipped cream (chocolate must be warm to blend smoothly). Immediately drop mousse by dollops over bottom cake layer; spread to within 3/4 inch of edge. Gently press second layer, jam side down, atop mousse. Smooth sides of cake with offset spatula. Chill assembled cake on rack while preparing glaze.

Bring cream, 1/4 cup water, corn syrup, and tea to boil in small saucepan, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; steep 5 minutes. Strain into another small saucepan; return to boil.

Remove from heat. Add coarsely chopped chocolate; whisk until smooth. Cool glaze until thickened, but still pourable, about 30 minutes. Place rack with cake over baking sheet. Slowly pour glaze over cake to cover, using spatula if necessary to spread evenly. Chill until glaze is firm, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day [during this step, it's a good idea to place the cake in an airtight container. I covered mine with a lid, but the bottom layer dried out a bit because it was still sitting on a cooling rack]. Place cake on platter and serve.

Yield: 1 cake
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 3 1/2 hours (not counting chilling time--this is a serious project)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mandarin Pork with Brandy-Infused Hoisin Sauce


A few posts back, I mentioned that I used to like Susanna Foo's restaurant in downtown Philadelphia. What I did not describe was how much I had to beg and plead to get The Gastronomer to go there with me. When she finally agreed to take me for my 22nd birthday, I eagerly anticipated a wonderful meal prepared by one of America's foremost Chinese chefs. However, as we dug into our appetizers, The Gastronomer couldn't resist raining on my parade with snide comments about "Chinese food for white people" that was five times more expensive but no more delicious than food from her favorite Chinatown haunts. She apologized immediately--she had no intention of tarnishing my birthday meal, but her feelings about how wrong it all was were simply too strong to be denied.

It was fortunate, then, that we ordered the moo shu pork as one of our entrees. When its subtle, perfectly balanced flavors hit our tongues, it was clear that we were experiencing something special--a serious step up from $6 Chinese food. It was truly one of the best dishes I'd ever tasted.

Thus, when I stumbled upon the following recipe in my Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine cookbook and realized that it was essentially the same as her moo shu pork, I knew I absolutely had to give it a try. As expected, it was amazing. I served it with Susanna's scallion crepes for wrapping. A few months later, The Gastronomer and I made the recipe again using mock meat instead of pork, and it was once again excellent.

Recipe by Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine

Brandy-Infused Hoisin Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons corn oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups (16-ounce jar) hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 2 tablespoons red wine or balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup chicken, pork, or beef stock
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the garlic and cook over high heat, stirring, until it is golden, about 2 minutes. Be careful not to let the garlic brown.

Add the hoisin sauce and the sesame oil and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium, add the brandy and vinegar, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly to keep the sauce from sticking to the pan. Add the stock and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes, until the sauce is well blended and thickened.

Cool the sauce and pour into a jar with a tight-fitting lid. This sauce will keep well, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 month.

Mandarin Pork
  • 1/2 pound lean boneless pork loin
  • 1 small leek
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons corn oil
  • 1 tablespoon peeled, julienned gingerroot
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, cored, seeded, and julienned
  • 3 tablespoons Brandy-Infused Hoision Sauce
  • 1 cup finely julienned jicama
  • 1/4 cup chicken or pork stock
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
Cover the pork with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 15 minutes; the semi-frozen meat will be easier to slice and julienne.

Cut off the root end of the leek, and peel off and discard the tough outer green leaves. Cut the leek into 2-inch sections. Cut each section in half lengthwise, the julienne. Wash well in cold water to remove any dirt. Drain and set aside.

Remove the pork from the freezer, cut into 1/8 inch slices, then julienne. Place the julienned pork in a shallow dish.

Combine the brandy and soy sauce in a small bowl. Pour over the pork and mix well. Sprinkle with the cornstarch, and using a fork or chopsticks, mix well to coat. Marinate for 15 minutes.

Heat the oil until it is hot in a large skillet or a wok. Add the pork, along with any marinade, and the gingerroot, and cook over high heat, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the bell pepper and jalapeno peppers and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the hoisin sauce and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes to coat the meat. Add the leek and the jicama.

Pour the stock into the skillet and cook, stirring, over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until all the ingredients are heated through and the pork is cooked. Mix in the tarragon and serve.

Yield: 4 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Substitutions: Susanna recommends using homemade chicken or pork stock, but it didn't seem worth it to me for this dish, so I just used store-brought chicken broth. Her dishes are labor-intensive enough as it is...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Braised Tofu in Caramel Sauce


I absolutely love sweet Chinese sauces, so when The Gastronomer saw this recipe on The New York Times website, she knew it was perfect for me. This was my first foray into caramelizing sugar; unfortunately I haven’t quite mastered it yet. The first time I cooked it a bit too long and the end product tasted slightly burnt, while the second time I was overly conservative and ended up with a sauce that was tasty but ridiculously sweet. It didn’t help that descriptions in the recipe weren’t terribly clear.

Despite my imperfect sauce, we enjoyed the dish and were impressed by how well the tofu soaked up the flavors. The Gastronomer makes caramelizing look so easy when she makes Vietnamese thit kho—I suppose I’ll learn eventually.

Recipe by The New York Times Magazine
  • 1 1-pound block firm tofu
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 5 shallots, peeled and minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons peeled and minced ginger
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 bunch scallions, white and light-green parts only, thinly sliced
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Cooked jasmine rice, for serving (optional).
Slice the tofu in half along its length and then each portion into two thick slices. Place the slices between paper towels to drain, replacing towels as needed.

Meanwhile, dissolve the sugar in 1/4 cup water and cook in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until small bubbles begin to appear around the edges of the pan. Carefully swirl the solution, but do not stir. Continue to heat, as bubbles move inward toward the center of the pan [it didn't happen like this when I made it] and the solution turns darker, 20 to 35 minutes, until the syrup has become a deep, golden caramel color. Carefully add 1/2 cup water to this mixture. (It will sputter violently. If some sugar crystallizes at this point, carefully stir the mixture with a metal spoon. The sugar will remelt.) Turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly.

Transfer the caramel sauce to a wide saucepan, turn the heat to medium and add the shallots, cooking for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and stir again, cooking for about 1 minute. Now stir in the soy sauce. Simmer and stir until the mixture is viscous and the vegetables are well coated, about 10 minutes.

Place the tofu in the sauce in a single layer and simmer uncovered for 7 minutes. Using a spatula, turn the pieces over. Simmer for 3 or 4 minutes more and then transfer to a warmed platter. Pour the sauce over the tofu and sprinkle with scallions and black pepper. Serve with white rice.

Yield: 4 servings
Estimated start-to-finish time: Not given
Actual start-to-finish time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Substitutions: I used onions instead of shallots and cooked them for 4 minutes instead of 2 to make sure their flavor wasn't too sharp.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Brown Butter Gnocchi with Spinach and Pine Nuts


Today almost went down in history as the first time I ever managed to get a meal on the table in the published preparation time. This was possible because the majority of the time was allotted for boiling the water and cooking the gnocchi, and there was minimal chopping and other prep work required. Alas, when I looked at the clock after grating some Parmesan over two servings, I had to admit that it had taken me 35 minutes rather than 30. Maybe next time…

This recipe is quite similar to the spaghetti with spinach and anchovies I made back in December, but it has its own charm due to the unique texture and saltiness of the gnocchi. It’s so easy and delicious, I can definitely see myself making it again and again.

Recipe by Cooking Light, January/February 2009
  • 1 (16-ounce) package vacuum-packed gnocchi (if you prefer to make your own, here's an easy recipe)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (10-ounce) package fresh spinach, torn
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) finely grated Parmesan cheese
Cook gnocchi according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain.

Heat butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add pine nuts to pan; cook 3 minutes or until butter and nuts are lightly browned, stirring constantly. Add garlic to pan; cook 1 minute. Add gnocchi and spinach to pan; cook 1 minute or until spinach wilts, stirring constantly. Stir in salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Yield: 4 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: 30 minutes
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 35 minutes
Substitutions: I didn't bother to tear up the spinach--this saved time, and I didn't feel that the leaves were too big when I was eating it.
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