Friday, October 31, 2008

Sometimes Simple is Best

Cleanig out the fridge before this weekend's farmaner market trip found a head of Tatsoi from last Sunday. It was late, and I didn't have a lot of time so went simple which in this case also means delicious.

Cut and cleaned, and added to a wok with 1 TBSP of vegetable oil and 5 sliced cloves of garlic. As it wilted, added 1 TBSP of soy sauce, 1 TBSP of brown rice vinegar and 1 Tsp of kosher salt. Served with lightly sauteed firm tofu and white rice.

Simple, healthy, quick and tasty. What else can you ask for?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fresh, Local, Healthy and, most importantly, GOOOOD

Low-calorie Chinese Style Eggplant

So I’ve started a calorie counting process with a nutritionist. Seems years of loving food has led me to a point where I either have to lose weight or consider amputation. But I am unwilling to stop eating good food. And with my other newfound locavore/organic obsession, I’ve been trying old recipes with lower fat approaches.

As usual, I let the farmer’s market dictate the main ingredient. Today was the last day for eggplant at the Dupont Market. I have not had them in a while and they looked so good, I had to buy a whole bag full.

So I launched into a low fat version of Szechuan-Style Spicy Eggplant. The key here is to use as little oil (down from 5 Tbsp to only 2) as possible, and substitute chicken stock for the moisture required to stew the eggplant until they are nice and soft.

This dish came out really well, if I do say so myself. Tart, spicy with a hint of sweetness and a very thick, viscous sauce. Filling too, which is a good think on my limited calorie count.

2 cups sliced Asian eggplants, cut on the bias (1 ½” – 2”)
3 mild green chilis
5 cloves Garlic, minced
3 scallions diced
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp Szechuan chili oil
3 Tbsp sugar
¼ cup vinegar (white or brown rice)
½ cup chicken stock, plus more as needed
1 Tbsp corn starch

Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a wok and stir fry eggplant for 2 minutes
Add 2 tbsp chicken stock, stir for 2 minutes and then set eggplant aside

Add 1Tbsp chili oil to wok and add garlic, scallion, peppers and saute until just brown
Return eggplant to wok and add all other ingredients, bring to a boil and then turn down to simmer and cover for 7-10 minutes or until eggplant is just soft. Add more chicken stock as needed to keep moist and soften eggplant.

Serve over white rice (in my case, just ½ cup).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

the fresher the better

Last Sunday's farmer's market had a wonderful assortment of peppers, so I decided to make a basic beef with fresh chili peppers. Using some mild green chilis and a free range, grass fed sirloin steak, along with a massive amount of garlic, ginger and some szechuan chili oil I made this spring, I made a basic stir fry and it was terrific. I have not done a side by side, but I feel better knowing I am eating the very freshest of foods with no additives, chemicals, anti-biotics, etc. And since taste, like beauty, is a personal thing if I think it tastes better, then I guess it does.

Beef with Fresh Green Chili

1 10oz Sirloin - sliced into strips
4 green chilis, sliced into rings, seeds and all (more if you like)
4 cloves garlic (more if you like)
3 coins ginger, minced
1 TBSP chili oil
1 TSPN veg oil
1 TBSP soy sauce
1/2 TSPN corn starch diluted in water

Stir fry beef in oil until just rare, drain and set beef aside

stir fry garlic, ginger and peppers until just soft
add beef back in, and cook until just cooked
add in soy and corn starch, and stir

serve with white rice.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A (good) Chicken in Every Pot

The Minimalist entry from the NYTimes got me thinking about this dish, and since my wife and I have been in Europe all week, I knew we could both use a bit of home-made Asian for dinner.

The dish starts out with one of the most under-appreciated chicken preparations of all time - poached (which I originally learned about from my mother in law Lucia). It is too easy not to do more often. Throw a chicken (organic free-range, please) in a pot, cover with water, a bit of soy, some ginger, garlic and spices (whatever you want, really from cloves to peppercorns, some chinese cooking wine, whatever) and bring to a boil, the simmer for 45 minutes (turn a few times to make sure the whole chicken is cooked). Then pull the chicken and let it cool.

The side benefit is the chicken broth that results. Some save it for next time the make poached chicken, using it to make an increasingly concentrated poaching liquid. I like to use mine for soup - it makes an amazing Ramen broth.

The chicken was used tonight to make Hainan chicken, which is really just shredded chicken over rice with a dipping sauce. The poached chicken is allowed to cool and then shredded by hand to be served over a bed of rice.

I liked the idea of making the rice with the poaching-produced chicken broth. Kind of like a Chinese chicken Risotto. But it was much easier. Just sautee some garlic and ginger (I used some chicken fat skimmed from the broth) and then add 1 1/2 cups of rice and 2 cups of broth. Bring to a boil and them simmer for 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

The key to this dish is the flavored oil dipping sauce. I used 3/4 cup of veggie oil and about 1 tbsp of sesame oil which I heated until smoking. When done, I poured over chopped garlic, ginger, one chopped serrano pepper and scallions.

It must be hot enough to really sizzle. When done, I added some salt (1 teaspoon) and poured over the shredded chicken which was layered over the rice. I topped with the seasoned oil and diced cucumber.

I have to admit, in all humility - - this was goooooooood home cooking.

Oh yeah, and form a 10 dollar chicken, I have leftover chicken for chicken salad, some robust chicken broth and a second days worth of some kick ass hainan chicken. Not too shabby in these trying economic times.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Off topic, but important

I had a revelation this week. You know how we joke that everything sort of tastes like chicken? Well, I now know why. It is because what we have been eating does not taste like chicken at all. What we have been eating tastes like nothing at all. You know what does taste like chicken? CHICKEN. Real chicken. Chickens that have been fed what chicken eat (grain, grubs, bugs), who get to walk around, who are not “cooped” up all the time (think about the expression, who do not have their beaks removed, who see sunlight, etc.) You know – animals, birds, living things.

This weekend – spurred by my recent readings of Omnivore's Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (both excellent books that have their pros and cons. They should not be taken at face value, but like all good books force you to think and ask yourself questions. They also made me hungry) – I purchased a fresh, totally organic free range, never frozen, locally raised chicken at our local farmers market. It had been “harvested” on Thursday and on Tuesday was on the grill. I butterflied it and spiced the skin heavily with salt, pepper, some other spices and used bricks to press it down on the grill. Inspired by Georgian chicken I have had in Moscow.

Not only did it look fabulous, and smell terrific, but it tasted like – well it tasted what I can only assume chicken tastes like. The texture was smoother and richer, the taste was fuller and more complex. It did not taste like nothing, or like the sauce it was served with – it tasted like - heaven help me – MEAT - with flavor, texture, complexity and nuance.

At first, the taste bugged me. It did not taste like chicken. It tasted weird. And then I realized, everything else I had been eating for 41 years did not taste like chicken and this was the real thing. I feel liberated, but angry (and hungry, but what else is new). I’ve been duped all my life by people I have never met who have robbed me of flavor and taste experiences all for a cheaper product. I robbed myself by buying an inferior product, and not knowing enough to ask what I was eating.

Well, enough is enough. I am onto something good and hope I never go back. What’s for dinner? Chicken . . . mmmmmmmm, chicken.