Monthly Archives: October 2011

It’s Rebooted Beef Stew for Sibling #6

Elaine is sibling number six. She’s tall, curvy & blessed with a wicked set of pipes. She is also generous, smart and kind. I once witnessed a very large frozen mango daiquiri slip off a serving tray and come cascading down her hair and white blouse. She squealed in shock, and then laughed it off to calm the panicked waitress. I can guarantee you that would NOT have been my reaction.

Elaine reminded me that not all comfort food starts out as a childhood favorite.

“One that I remember is Dad’s stew…I remember haaaaating the boiled carrots and huge chunks of potatoes. But of course every time I eat it now I’m transported to when I was 10 and we’d all be sitting at the dinner table laughing about this “crazy western food” dad made for us. Thankfully the stews have gotten better around here. I’m sure dad got the point and incorporated a little Asian flare. I love meaty stews to this day.” 

Now, if you follow this blog you know that my dad’s scrambled eggs have always been spectacular, but I have to agree with Elaine. As kids his stews were a challenge to choke down. You see, in an effort to keep us all healthy our dad would never peel the potatoes or carrots. And so while they were chock-a-block full with all their natural nutrients, they also tasted like bitter dirt. As for the beef, we would dutifully chew the lumps of flesh. Then when our dad wasn’t looking, we’d coyly spit the remaining mass of gristle into a napkin and quickly stuff it under the rim of our plate. I don’t think my dad cooked with wine; perhaps he used stock. However, more than likely the meat and vegetables were vigorously boiled in water with little added flavoring.

Our poor Canadian papa was probably just trying to introduce his own childhood favorite to his rambunctious brood. Unfortunately, our Asian palates were not amused. Thankfully, as Elaine pointed out, over the years the stews have improved—the cuts of beef got better and peeling the vegetables became an acceptable part of the process—and now this very Western dish is a family favorite.

I thought it only appropriate to serve dad’s stew with the Stirling family silver, a lovely gift from my nana on my wedding day. You wouldn’t guess from looking at me that I’m part Scottish but that family crest is my proof!

Serves 2

Ingredients:
1 lb. beef (chuck, boneless ribs, etc.)
Salt & Pepper
1 cup red wine
1 cup tomatoes, peeled and chopped (canned is perfectly acceptable)
1 tsp. sugar
1 Tbs. butter
2 tsp. neutral oil
1 leek, white part only quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 sprigs of thyme
1 fresh bay leaf
1 tsp. celery salt
1 Tbs. flour
2 cups beef stock
3 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1” thick disks
8-10 cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, wiped clean & stems trimmed
Japanese pickled onions (optional)
Parsley (optional)

  • Heat a skillet over high heat. Drizzle with neutral oil. Cut the beef into 2” x 2” cubes. Salt and pepper generously. When the skillet is lightly smoking add the cubes of beef. Sear each piece on all sides.
  • Once all the beef is seared deglaze the pan by adding a cup of red wine. Turn heat down to medium and simmer until the wine has reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes & 1 teaspoon of sugar, simmer another 5 minutes.
  • Meanwhile heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tsp. of neutral oil over medium-high heat in a pot. When the butter has melted add the sliced leeks and ½ tsp. of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until leeks become soft. Add the minced garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Cook another 3 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of flour. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of beef stock. Stirring well to incorporate.
  • Add the beef, wine and tomato mixture. Cover but leave the lid cocked a tad to allow some steam to escape.
  • 1½ hrs in, add the carrots (if you like things extra complicated but more perfect, boil the carrots separately with a little salt and sugar, add them at the end). 15 minutes later, add the mushroom caps. Simmer gently for a total of 2 hours or until the beef is tender.
  • Serve over creamy mashed potatoes. Top with Japanese pickled onions* and minced parsley.

Cook’s Note:
* In Japan curry is eaten with sweet pickled radishes and onions. Here the tiny onions add a great textural contrast and their sweetness pairs perfectly with this stew. My advice: do NOT use Western-style pickled cocktail onions. Maybe it’s my Asian bias but I found the resulting flavor far too sour.

Riffing On Cookbooks: David Chang’s Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes

I have an ever-expanding collection of cookbooks, chef memoirs, food and travel related novels. These hefty volumes used to anchor the bottom rungs of my living room bookshelves, but recently have begun to climb upwards—even threatening to evict my “please-be-in-awe-of-my-intelligence-and-take-me-seriously” foreign policy books.

Given my affinity for Asian cuisine, perhaps it’s not surprising that one of my favorite cookbooks is Chef David Chang’s, Momofuku. His recipe for fried chicken is reason enough to buy the book. Brined, steamed, fried and tossed in a spicy, salty, garlicky, gingery vinaigrette, it just might be the best fried chicken I’ve ever cooked or eaten. Unfortunately, making the delectable fried chicken requires a 2-day commitment (there’s the brining, steaming and drying before you ever get to the actual frying part!), thereby limiting my juicy bird feasts to a few sporadic times a year.

However, there are other recipes of note. One of which is the Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes. Onions, garlic, Sichuan peppercorns, dried chilies, Chinese fermented bean sauce & spicy Korean chili powder make for a complex and highly addictive dish.

As tasty as Chef Chang’s dish is, after a couple times of faithfully following the recipe I began to deviate. In fact I don’t use the recipe any more, rather I use the idea of the dish as inspiration for my own. Each time I riff on the original, simply using whatever I have on hand. Sometimes I’ll use ground pork, the next time bacon (if you use bacon sparingly it won’t overwhelm your dish, just enhance everything with its goodness). This weeks’ version consisted of a shiitake & enoki mushrooms, bok choy, onions, silken tofu, Korean rice sticks and ground pork.

And for a robust vegetarian dish simply cut out the meat completely and colorfully market it as a… Mushroom & Tofu Sichuan Ragù.

Serves 2

Ingredients:
4 Tbs. neutral oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Salt
½ lb. ground pork (or 2 strips of bacon, thinly sliced)
10 shiitake caps, sliced*
1 bunch enoki mushrooms, last inch of the ends removed
1 cup dried chilies
1 Tbs. Sichuan peppercorns
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 Tbs. chili black bean sauce
1 tsp. kochukara (Korean chili powder)**
1 Tbs. soy sauce
½ cup mushroom stock
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 cup mini rice sticks
2 cups roughly chopped Chinese greens (snow pea shoots, tatsoi, bok choy)
1 packet silken tofu, drained
2 scallion stalks, sliced
½ cup fried shallots***

  • Put a large pot of water on to boil (if this boils before you are ready to add the rice sticks just turn it off and keep it covered until it’s needed)
  • Heat 1 Tbs. of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and ½ tsp. of salt. Cook, stirring often until the onions begin to melt and turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until golden. About 10 minutes longer.
  • While the onions are cooking place another large skillet & 1 Tbs. of oil over high heat. When the oil is lightly smoking add the shiitake, cook for 1 min. Add the enoki and cook 1 minute more or until mushrooms are soft. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  • Return the skillet to the stove. Turn the heat to high and add 1 Tbs. oil. Add the ground pork and ½ tsp. of salt and ¼ tsp. of white pepper. Brown the pork, breaking apart any clumps as you go along. Once the meat is brown, about 1-2 minutes, remove & set aside.
  • Buzz the Sichuan peppercorns in a spice or coffee grinder. Pour 1 Tbs. of oil into the skillet. While the oil is still cold add the sliced garlic, dried chilies and ground Sichuan peppercorns. Turn the heat to medium high. When the color of the chilies begins to darken and the garlic becomes fragrant pull the skillet off the heat.
  • Stir in the chili bean sauce & kochukara. Return to the heat. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring quickly. Add the mushroom stock, soy sauce and sugar. Stir.
  • Add the onions, mushrooms, ground pork & sesame oil. Stir through for a quick minute. Remove from the heat.
  • Salt the pot of boiling water generously and add the rice sticks. Cook for 2-3 min. Add the chopped greens. Cook for 30 sec – 1 min. Greens should be slightly wilted but still bright green. Drain.
  • Return the mushroom mixture to the heat. Add the drained rice sticks & Chinese greens.
  • In a separate bowl whisk the tofu until creamy then add it to the mixture on the stove. Stirring through as the ragu returns to a boil.
  • Divide the ragu between 2 bowls. Top with scallions and fried shallots.
  • Serve with steamed rice and enjoy immediately.

A shot of dinner from a couple weeks back… the bacon version

Cooks’ Notes:

*When you bring home the mushrooms remove the stems from each shiitake cap. Place them in a small pot with 2 cups of cold water and ½ tsp. salt. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 30 min. Strain and reserve.

**I found kochukara at Super H Mart in VA. It’s incredibly spicy so be careful when adding it to the dish.

***Readily available at Asian supermarkets

Forbidden Rice with Macadamia Nuts and Garlic

The second best thing about being on vacation (the first being that you’re actually on vacation) is discovering new food—unknown produce, exotic spices, exciting flavor combinations, or even just an ingenious use for a common ingredient. While in Maui this August I was rendered speechless by a beautiful silky coconut and vanilla sauce enveloping delicate prawns at the famous (and somewhat tourist-trappy) Mama’s Fish House. Balancing coconut cream and vanilla in a successful savory dish takes serious skill and restraint. Perhaps even more impressive was the breadfruit gnocchi at Merriman’s, a testament to the chef & proprietor’s dedication to local produce. The cooks no doubt employed a touch of culinary sorcery to turn the starchy tropical fruit into soft pillows for the butter-poached lobster to rest on.

Personally I find the most memorable dishes are often the simplest. Case and point: Merriman’s macadamia nut garlic rice. Simple, obvious and yet surprising—this dish begged to be taken back as a souvenir. Of course when I got home, I couldn’t help but tweak it… just a little. Step one was to bring the macadamia nuts to the forefront. I don’t know why, but at Merriman’s they cooked the nuts and rice together so that although the nuts imparted a deep flavor throughout the dish, texturally you couldn’t differentiate them from the rice. I’ve chosen to highlight the macadamias by toasting the chopped nuts lightly & tossing them with the cooked rice at the end. My second tweak is a splash of walnut oil, a little something to further accentuate the delicious nutty flavor. Lastly, a few slices of scallion finish the dish with a peppery zip.

Forbidden rice is a gorgeous heirloom Chinese grain that turns dark purple when cooked, and has a nice “al dente” texture. This dish is fragrant, exotic, striking & yet straightforward… if it were a woman I think my husband would be tempted to run away with it.

Serves 2

Ingredients:
¾ cup short grain white rice (I use sushi rice)
½ cup forbidden rice
Salt
Handful of macadamia nuts, chopped
2 small cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 tsp. walnut oil
1 scallion, thinly sliced

  • Wash the short grain rice gently in a small pot, drain and repeat until the water is clear (about 10 times). After the final rinse and drain, add ¾ cup of cold water & a pinch of salt. Cover and place on the stove over high heat. When it comes to a boil immediately turn the heat down to low and simmer until done, about 30 minutes.
  • For the forbidden rice simply add the rice, ¾ cup + 1 Tbs. of water and a pinch of salt to a small pot. Again, cover and place on the stove over high heat. When it comes to a boil turn the heat down to low and simmer until done, about 30 minutes.
  • Add the chopped macadamia nuts to a skillet (you can chop them on a cutting board or slip them into a ziplock bag and pound them gently with a meat tenderizer or similarly heavy object). If the nuts are unsalted add a pinch of salt. Lightly toast the nuts over medium high heat. When nuts are golden brown remove and set aside.
  • Pour 1 Tbs. of neutral oil into a skillet. Add the garlic. Carefully cook the garlic over medium high heat. Remove the garlic from the oil once it is golden and fragrant.
  • When both pots of rice are finished fluff the grains with a fork. Combine the forbidden & short grain white rice. Add the walnut oil, cooked garlic and toasted macadamia nuts. Toss to combine. Taste and add a pinch more salt if necessary. Top with scallion slices and serve.