Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cooking Efficiently

Bittman raises an excellent tip about cooking efficiently in this recent article of his.

Many of you (ha, as if there are even "many" of you reading my blog!) probably already do this, but essentially the point is that although recipes (mine included) often list ingredients out with the preparation notes incorporated into the list rather than narrating out the prep work in the steps, when you're actually doing the cooking, it's most efficient to do the prep of various ingredients as you go along rather than doing all the peeling, cutting, etc. beforehand and then executing the steps all at once (an exception to this is if the cooking takes place very quickly and you wouldn't have time to do any prep between steps, like with high heat stir-fries).

For example, you might slice onions and set them to sweat or brown in the pan while you prep other ingredients because it takes several minutes for the onions to get to the point where you want to add the next ingredients to the pan. Especially when you're just cooking for yourself, you can be more flexible about the timing and results, meaning you can be more free-flowing in your prep and cooking, and ultimately more efficient in getting your meal on the table, time-wise at least.

Anyway, hopefully that's helpful to you if you don't already do it. I will add, though, that it's much easier when you've got more familiarity with cooking and don't need to rely on recipes very closely.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Food As Sex Or Drugs

Interesting article on the New Republic about what foods get analogized with sex and what foods with drugs.

Just wanna say, I don't think I've ever analogized a food with either sex or drugs, and plan never to do so. You're welcome.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Will's Spicy Chicken Soup

Spicy beef noodle soup (niu rou mian) is a staple of Taiwanese cuisine, but I generally avoid cooking with beef for environmental and health reasons. However, this chicken version I made was a resounding success--so much so that I don't mind not making the beef version!

[Ugg, lost a lot of the red spectrum from the photo when converting to web use. Yes, I did convert to sRGB format first.]

I think a couple things contributed to the soup's deliciousness. One is that I used a whole chicken, so the bones and skin all contributed to the soup's full flavor (though I removed them once cooked). The other thing is that I used a pressure cooker, which I find retains more of the nuances of flavor in whatever you're cooking.

The young mustard greens I tossed in also paired wonderfully with the spicy savory soup. I think you want to avoid older mustard greens, though, as their flavor can be overpowering. The soup works great with a starch tossed in, too, whether noodles, rice, or dumplings.

See below for my recipe. You may not have yellow rock sugar in your pantry, but I'd recommend getting it from a Chinese or other Asian grocery since its flavor is clearer or brighter than white or brown sugar. As Andrea Nguyen puts it in the context of making pho, yellow rock sugar "rounds out all the rough edges and brings the flavors together. Many Viet cooks in the past used granulated sugar and the flavor is just sweet and flat."

Will’s Spicy Chicken Soup

1 whole chicken, giblets, kidneys, and excess fat removed
salt (~1 TBS)

1 pod black cardamom
2 pods (16 points) star anise
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns

1-inch of ginger, sliced into coins
4 large cloves garlic, lightly smashed
1 ounce (1-inch chunk) yellow rock sugar
1 TBS (gluten-free) soy sauce or tamari
2 TBS spicy douban jiang (spicy broad bean sauce)
2 quarts water

additions to the soup to taste
parboiled or steamed bok choy, young mustard greens, or other leafy greens
chopped scallions and/or cilantro
noodles of any sort (rice, cellophane, wheat)
steamed rice

  1. Place chicken in pressure cooker pot. Rub salt under the skin of the chicken all over the breasts and thighs, and onto the back of the chicken.
  2. Place cardamom, star anise, and Sichuan peppercorns in a disposable tea pouch (this makes it easy to remove them after cooking, but isn’t necessary) and add into pot along with ginger and garlic. Add rock sugar, soy sauce or tamari, spicy douban jiang, and water to the pot. Water should just cover chicken. 
  3. Pressure cook on high for 30 minutes. Allow for natural pressure release. (If you don’t have a pressure cooker, bring to a low boil and simmer for an hour, adding more water as needed.) Chicken should be fall-off-the-bone done. Strip the meat from the bones and shred. Discard the bones, skin (if desired), spices, ginger, and garlic.
  4. Serve in individually portioned bowls with greens, rice or noodles, and garnish.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Jammin': Omurice, Latin Edition

This is about as "Williamese" as it gets (my cheesy label for the creative, cross-cultural concoctions I come up with): omurice filled with carnitas and arroz rojo, topped with some chimichurri. These things come about not because I'm specifically trying to make something "fusion", but because when you cook, you end up with excess and leftover components--sauces, sides, stocks, parts of main dishes, raw ingredients--that you can use in preparing your next dish. If you happen to draw on many cultural traditions in your cooking, as I do, then you'll end up combining concepts in novel (and delicious) ways. And really, a lot of concepts carry over between cuisines. Take Argentinian chimichurri, for instance, which I actually plan to write on some time because of this. It shares a similarity in concept to other sauces that I find to be extremely versatile and tasty with many things, like the Chinese scallion-ginger sauce, and the Italian pesto. Well, I'll elaborate next time.

Oh, one more thing: this time with my omurice, I did the roll-up approach, instead of the blanket approach I used last time. Didn't I say the concept's flexible?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Jammin': Stuffed 8 Ball Squash

There's never a neat way to eat these things. The round ones you can't eat like a hot dog, and when you try to slice them into smaller pieces, it's easy for the stuffing to separate from the squash. That's alright, stuffed squash, I forgive younomnomnom.

Well, it's the season of squash, and a friend gave me some of his excess eight ball squash to work with.

I happened to have some Mexican chicken and black bean rice on hand, so I scooped out the innards and stuffed the squash with the rice and baked them until they were tender (about 25 minutes at 400F in my oven).

What'd I do with the innards? Chopped them up, blanched them, and ate them. I already had simmering water going for blanching some excess spinach I had (tossed with garlic and sesame oil, destined for combination with a microwave poached egg in the morning) so it wasn't extra work just for squash innards.

The stuffed squash turned out well. I'm still not entirely sold on stuffed squash as a concept, though. It seems like mostly a presentation thing to me. You end up having to cook the filling separately or it won't cook through while baking in the squash. Some recipes even have you just bake the squash by itself before stuffing with the cooked filling. This just serves to emphasize that you could really just cut up the squash and incorporate it into the filling component directly. It is a very neat presentation, though.

Like my leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

Where'd the lids go? I ate them so everything'd fit.