Thursday, April 28, 2011

Minestrone? More Like...

Chicken and rice soup. And a tasty one, if simple, but not minestrone. So I went back and tried the minestrone soup from the "Hearty" section of Mark Bittman's soup guide. Things started off promisingly; the smell of the onions sautéing with the celery was very fragrant, and a particular smell I hadn't really come across before. Well, the carrots and garlic were sautéing at the same time, but I think what I was trying to identify was a blending of the onion and celery's scents. Then in went the potatoes, salt and pepper. A moment later in went the tomatoes and water, too. Finally, a while later, I added the green beans. I made sure to add enough salt and pepper at the end. But still, when I tasted the broth it really was missing something--like the other soups from the guide. I thought I had it figured out when I left the lid off to allow for more reduction of the soup and concentration of flavor, but no. Maybe that's just the way things are with vegetable broths if you don't load up on tomatoes and/or mushrooms. There was flavor, but it felt thin. Also, all the minestrone soups I ever had growing up had beans in them (in addition to green beans). Probably other herbs or spices, too. [I mean, I like Bittman's minimalist approach a lot, but in this case something seems lacking.]

And so I added the canned chicken breast...

Instantly--instantly!--the soup was fuller in flavor, with more body and depth of flavor. Alright, instantly plus some stirring and bringing up to heat. I'm actually surprised at how quickly adding the chicken transformed the flavor. I would have thought long boiling needed to render the stock. Well, I don't know, but it worked. Wonders.

I'm going to try the straight up vegetable broth from the guide. I note that the vegetable broth recipe calls for a lot of mushrooms, as well as larger quantities of the vegetables involved in the other recipes in general. Hmm.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Subbing Spaghetti: ShaCha Stir Fry

It works! Subbing spaghetti (linguini) in place of your la mian (technically hand pulled noodles, but I'm thinking just the dried, manufactured la mian) works. And it makes sense, given that they're both wheat noodles. I imagine maybe typically made from different kinds of wheat or with other variation in process, but it ends up being very similar. So what I did here was to make a mixed noodle dish--what we might call 拌面 ban mian in Chinese--with linguini noodles instead of la mian or other rice or wheat noodle. I say "might" because often times in my family we'd just straight up say "mian" or plain old "noodles" unless it was a cold noodle dish, in which case we'd specify "liang ban mian" or cold mixed noodles. But I digress-

I was inspired by the Japanese-Italian fusion restaurants in Japan. In particular, when I went once with a friend while in Kyoto, the dish she had has stuck in my memory since. I can't even remember what I had (I think it wasn't so fusion; some seafood pasta dish), but my friend had a linguini tossed with I think it was pork belly and bok choy. Very savory and delicious, a little too oily. But it was great! So, given that driving out to the Asian markets is inconvenient for me, I thought I'd finally give it a shot. On top of that, I've had this container of shacha sauce for a long time and haven't gotten around to using it. Niutou (Bull Head) brand is the awesome. I've actually only had two kinds that I can think of, those being Niutou and LeeKumKee, but in my opinion Niutou is vastly superior. LeeKumKee's is weirdly sweet to me. Shacha's great as a dip for hot pot (beat with a raw egg!) or as a sauce in general.

So tasty.
As with "mixed" or "tossed" noodles in general, I cooked the noodles and the rest of the ingredients separately from each other and tossed the noodles with the rest of the cooked ingredients and some additional seasoning in the wok at the end. The noodles worked and it was good, all in all. I would say I should have added more soy sauce than I did at the end with the noodles, though.

 Veggies are good to go.

Looks appetizing, huh? Kinda like maguro sashimi. But it's raw pork, rather than fish.

Mmm, ginger and pork are so great together. I considered, just momentarily, stopping at this point and eating.

So if you're ever wanting to make an Asian influenced noodle dish and only have spaghetti (or any other pasta, really) in your cupboard, don't despair! Cook up the noodles and toss 'em in the dish; they'll probably be just fine, though the texture will be a little different.

[this is adjusted with increased soy sauce and decreased oil mentioned above]

Sha Cha Pork Stir Fry Linguini 拌麵

Serves 4
16oz. linguini

.75 lbs pork loin, thick cut (or thin sliced for stir fry from Asian markets, pork belly, it’s all good; I’m speaking for if you’ve only got your typical western market) 
1 TBS ginger, grated 
1 TBS soy sauce
1 TBS rice wine
1 tsp oyster sauce

2 jalapenos (or 1 bell pepper), cored, deseeded, cut into narrow strips
2 carrots, peeled, cut into narrow strips
1 medium onion, sliced thin
~3 cloves garlic, minced
a couple handfuls snow peas, tips removed
1 TBS shacha sauce 沙茶醬

4 TBS soy sauce
1 TBS shacha sauce
1.5 TBS sesame oil

canola oil

  1. Put pork in freezer 30 minutes to firm up so it’s easier to slice it thin. Remove from freezer and slice thin (about 3 mm).
  2. In medium bowl, toss pork with the ginger, soy sauce, rice wine, and oyster sauce (listed directly beneath pork in ingredients list). Set aside to marinate.
  3. While pork is marinating, bowl water and cook noodles per directions on package or to desired doneness.
  4. While the noodles are cooking (keep an eye on it while you’re working), do the cutting and prep work for the vegetables.
  5. When the noodles are done, remove from heat, put in colander with cold water. Once cooled, strain out the water and set the noodles aside.
  6. With the vegetables cut, noodles cooked, and meat marinated, you’re ready to start stir frying:
  7. Heat wok over high heat until smoke starts to rise from the seasoned metal and swirl in about 1-2 TBS oil.
  8. Add half of pork and sautée, browning both sides until pink is just gone, then remove from wok. Repeat for the second half (may not need add oil), also removing meat from wok.
  9. Heat wok to medium high heat, adding a little more oil. Add garlic and stir fry until fragrant.
  10. Add onions, turn heat to high, stir fry til fragrant.
  11. Add shacha sauce, carrots and jalapenos. Stir fry until carrots are tender crisp.
  12. Add snow peas and toss until snow peas are bright green.
  13. Add meat and noodles in, along with the soy sauce, shacha, and sesame oil listed under “sauce.” Toss to coat noodles, adjust seasoning as needed, remove from heat and serve.

Friday, April 15, 2011

New Favorite Concept

It's not a new idea, but it is a great idea. Basically, when you cook rice in your rice cooker, throwing in other things to cook with it adds flavor and is convenient. Some things might just be for convenience and adding a nice touch, like chunky cuts of sweet potato or yam with the rice. On the other end of the spectrum, you could make a fully fledged rice based dish, adding in a protein, mushrooms, whatever suits your fancy, and a soup base instead of water. And then there's everything in between. So what prompted me to do this?

Well, previously on Escapades, I talked about Bittman's customizable soups. I've been underwhelmed by the flavor, but I think the main this is just not adding enough salt. My bad. The last of the three Earthy Soups was a spicy black bean soup. When I added enough salt it was actually pretty good. [note to self: get "chili powder" so you don't have to use cayenne chili powder...cayenne seems kind-of sour to me] Of course, for me, just beans and vegetables isn't enough; I need carbs. With the first earthy soup, I just cooked the rice separately and added it into the soup afterward. Soupy rice reminded me of congee, which reminded me of the savory congee that Hong Kongese restaurants will make, which made me think of using the rice cooker with other things added in (which I'd previously seen in other home cooking dishes). So what I did with the spicy black bean soup was to strain the soup and set the beans and vegetables aside so I could use the bean soup to cook the rice. I added some salt, pepper, and chopped rosemary [brilliant!], pressed the cook button, and off the rice cooker went. All told, when I added enough salt and made my rosemary black bean rice to go with the beans and vegetables, it really turned into a nice--earthy dish. The enhanced rice cooker concept looks like fertile grounds for future experimentation!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Earthy Soups and Flat Bread

I decided to work through some of the soups from Mark Bittman's Customizable Soups list. I've done two from the Earthy section so far, and I'm kinda underwhelmed. The first one, "Bean Soup," was pretty bland. Even with the salt and pepper you're supposed to add at the end to kick it up, it's pretty plain. I'm wondering if the kind of bean I used (that not-black bean) was partly to blame. The other thing is, well, I think it's intentional. In the Earthy section, you don't sautée any of the ingredients beforehand, so you don't get the browning flavors which make things so much better. The second soup, pictured above, is "Chickpea-and-Pasta Soup." This was better, thanks in part to the addition of tomatoes to the mix, and maybe also because I doubled the tomatoes called for, added an extra carrot, and made sure to get a very big onion. I didn't compensate with more water, so there was less "soup" than may have been ideal, but the flavors were stronger. Anyway, I'm looking forward to the Hearty soups section, where you do sautée ingredients beforehand.

As for the "bread" part, I don't remember what got me looking, but I came across a simple recipe for rosemary flatbread. I have to say, since I've been working with rosemary these past several days, I've come to like the smell a lot. I mean, it was nice before, but the almost savory smell of freshly baking rosemary won me over. The flatbread was pretty simple to make, and came out nicely. However, it seems either our rosemary leaves are sized differently, or 10-inch rounds are smaller in DC than in New York City. Next time I buy flour, I'm going for whole wheat since it'll be healthier, if grainier. I'm a complete newb, though, and have been using plain all-purpose flour. What kind of flour do you like to use? Reasons why?



Alright, so this one pictured was more like an 8- or 9-inch round. But the next two I made were at least 10-inches and as you can imagine, one or two extra-inches on the diameter at that point didn't change the visual proportions of these leaves to the size of the bread much.