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Archive for the ‘Food Porn’ Category

I miss a WHOLE LOT about living in Chicago, but one of the top three things is having easy access to a broad array of markets & stores catering to all kinds of nationalities besides white bread American. You can keep your Trader Joe’s & your Whole Paycheck – give me a decent Korean/Polish/Caribbean supermarket & I will cook you under the table on half the money. I’d been making trips to Maryland to get my squishy tea bun fix, but last year, a new Asian market opened across the river in Lancaster. We are now less than half an hour away from house made tofu, fifteen varieties of soy sauce, & every other ingredient I’ve been missing. To be fair, this level of shopping really doesn’t fall under the #eatlocal banner when just about everything is shipped in from overseas, so I don’t rely on it, but it is a delicious & economical indulgence that I am taking full advantage of.

dumplings1

Chinese Chive & Faux Pork Dumplings

Yields about 3 dozen

36+ frozen dumpling skins/wonton skins/gyoza wrappers, defrosted

1/2 c cold water

2 t corn starch

Keep your dumpling skins wrapped, but put them out to bring to room temperature. Mix cold water & corn starch until fully combined & set aside. Have ready a sheet pan, a few damp paper towels, & a small, clean paintbrush.

Appx 1/2 pound Chinese chives

Rinse chives & chop into 1/2 inch lengths, discarding the thick root ends. Bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil, add 1 t salt & the chives & stir. Cook 1 minute, just to blanch the greens, & strain, rinsing the chives under cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain thoroughly, squeezing out as much moisture as you can to prevent a soggy filling.

1/2 c dried TVP

1/2 c boiling water (use the chive water if you’re organized enough to save some)

1 T hoisin sauce

2 T soy sauce

1 t sugar

2 t toasted sesame oil

A few dashes of rice vinegar

A squirt of sriracha

Combine TVP, boiling water, & seasonings in a heat proof bowl, stir to combine, & cover with a plate to keep the steam in while the TVP rehydrates. After 6-8 minutes, stir & add the chives. Taste for seasoning – you want a nice tasty filling, so add a bit of salt & more sriracha if it tastes a little flat.

1 t corn starch, more as needed

Add 1 t corn starch to your filling & combine. If your filling is really juicy, add a second teaspoon to help thicken things up.

dumplings2

To fill & shape dumplings (right handers):

Stir up your corn starch water with your brush, & put it to your right on your work surface. Unwrap your dumpling skins, cover them lightly with a damp paper towel to keep them from drying out as you work, & put them to your left. Place your bowl of filling in front of you, & your clean sheet pan in easy reach.

Cup a dumpling skin in your left hand & paint a little corn starch water around the edge to help your dumpling seal. Put about 2 t filling in the center of your dumpling skin – the amount will vary depending on the size of your wrapper. Fold your wrapper over into a half moon shape & press to seal, easing out any trapped air. Fold & firmly pinch the edges into 4-5 pleats, & place your happy little dumpling on the sheet tray under another damp paper towel. Repeat until you run out of either filling or dumpling skins!

Here’s a quick IG video that SB took while I was making dumplings last night that should help you visualize the process.

At this point, you can cook your dumplings right away, wrap & chill them for a few hours until you’re ready, or freeze them for later – slide the whole pan in the freezer until your dumplings are frozen solid, then transfer them to a ziploc bag or freezer-safe container.

To cook your dumplings, you can boil them in a wide saute pan until tender, steam them over boiling water, or do potstickers, which is my favorite:

Heat 3 T oil in a wide saute pan over medium high heat until the oil shimmers, then carefully place 10-12 dumplings into the pan. Fry undisturbed until the bottoms are golden brown, then carefully add about 1/4 c cold water to the pan & quickly cover with a lid. Let the dumplings cook undisturbed until the water has steamed off. Flip the dumplings & let them brown slightly on the other side before transferring to a plate.

Eat dumplings hot with friends & some good dumpling sauce! (Eat the sauce, not your friends. Unless your friends are into that, I don’t know.)

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olives

I started making baked olives a few years ago, and they’ve grown to be a hotly anticipated part of our holiday feasting. Plush & aromatic & salty & luxurious, they are a quick, easy contribution to pot lucks & parties that make you look like Someone With Their Shit Together.

First, buy a mess of your favorite olives: jarred or from the grocery store olive bar, whichever you like. For the batch pictured, I used all jarred olives, available on the shelf at our local supermarket: jumbo Spanish, kalamatas, unpitted oil cured, & super mild & buttery castelvetranos.

Preheat your oven to 350F, drain your olives, & dump them into an oven safe baking dish. Toss them with a big slosh of good olive oil, a smaller slosh of balsamic vinegar, lots of pepper, and your favorite aromatics. (I use a ton of fresh sliced garlic, orange or lemon zest, fennel seeds, rosemary, & a pinch of red pepper flakes.) Spread your olives out evenly in the dish, & slide it (uncovered) in the oven. Stir them once in a while as they bake, & pull them once all the olives look nice and relaxed & the garlic has softened, maybe 30-45 minutes depending on the size of your dish.

You can also totally cheat and do them in the microwave – cook in 2-minute intervals, stirring regularly, until soft and yummy.

Let your olives cool a little before serving, or cool completely, cover & refrigerate until needed – they’ll keep about a month before the garlic starts to go mushy. Reheat in a low oven, or just let them come to room temperature before serving.

Serve with fancy cheeses & salamis & crusty bread – use the bread to sop up the olivey juices left in the dish, because life is too short to waste that kind of deliciousness. Pack up the leftovers for work the next day & revel in your grown-up Lunchable.

oli

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Yeah. I know. I’m reviving a four-years-latent blog. Shut up.

Leek & Feta Bourek

Yields one 12-inch bourek, enough for a modest dinner/healthy lunch for 4

8 ounces phyllo pastry sheets, defrosted overnight in the refrigerator & brought to room temperature

2 T unsalted butter

2 T olive oil

1 pound leeks, washed & sliced thinly

1/2 t salt

1 T dried oregano

2 t smoked paprika

2 cloves garlic, crushed

4 c baby spinach leaves, chopped roughly

Ground pepper to taste

8 ounces feta, crumbled (use full fat if you can, it’s absolutely worth it)

For assembly:

3 T unsalted butter, melted

3 T olive oil

 

Preheat oven to 375F, & oil a 12-inch round pan – I used a cake pan, but you can use anything oven-safe with a solid bottom (no springforms/tart pans) at least 1 inch deep.

Heat the butter & oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, & add the leeks & salt. Saute, stirring frequently, until the leeks are very soft & starting to gently brown, about 10 minutes. Add the seasonings & spinach, lower the heat a little, & stir & cook until the spinach is wilted. The mixture should be moist, but not wet – if there’s a lot of moisture in the pan, raise the heat again & cook off some of it for a minute or two. Transfer leek mixture to a bowl & let cool 10 minutes before adding the feta & stirring gently just to combine. Add pepper to taste.

Unwrap & unroll the defrosted phyllo & cover it immediately with a layer of moist paper towels or a damp tea towel – keep it covered at all times or it will dry out & split & be a complete pain in the butt. Combine the melted butter & oil & have ready a large soft pastry brush. Arrange the prepared baking pan in easy reach, with the phyllo, oil/butter, & filling at the ready.

Place one sheet of phyllo horizontally on your work surface & quickly brush with oil & butter – it doesn’t have to be sopping, just a few generous swipes with the brush. Spread about 3 T of filling in a rough line along the bottom of the phyllo – it doesn’t have to be perfect. Add another sheet of phyllo to cover the first, & brush this one with oil & butter as well.

Working gently & quickly, start at the bottom edge & roll the phyllo into a cylinder, enclosing the filling. Coil it into a spiral & place it in the center of your prepared pan. Continue with more phyllo & filling, continuing the spiral to fill the pan – you should use all the phyllo & filling, so pack things in firmly.

When you’ve filled the pan & run out of phyllo & filling, gently brush the remaining oil over the top of your bourek & slide it in the oven. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until very golden brown with no pale doughy spots left in the phyllo. Cool on a rack for ten minutes or so before serving, cut into wedges. Bourek is super good with a fresh crunchy salad & some olives.

You can totally experiment with other fillings – finely chopped mushrooms, ground meat/TVP, fresh herbs, harissa paste, leftover mashed potatoes, go nuts!

 

 

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Okonomiyaki

When we lived in Chicago, I had an awesome friend who used to drive me out of the city in search of random entertainment. This usually involved some kind of food, & one of our favorite destinations came to be Mitsuwa, a mega-store for all things Japanese. We’d stroll the aisles, trying to decipher product names & sneaking oddities into each other’s baskets (rainbow tapioca cubes? Pocari Sweat? I Think It’s Fish Paste?). Inevitably we’d end up at the food court, where K’s time teaching in Japan made her fairly adventurous in her lunch choices. I’d stick to safe but tasty tofu steaks, but she’d come back with all manner of things. I have vivid memories of the day she brought back okonomiyaki, aka Japanese pizza, covered in bonito flakes. The steam rising from the hot pancake made the translucent bonito flakes undulate & shiver, & it looked like her plate was crawling with winged insects… Once I got over the initial freak out (& the bonito stopped moving), it smelled really good – eggy & savory & satisfying.

Okonomiyaki (“your choice”) looks & feels like street food, the kind of thing you wouldn’t know you wanted until you smelled it wafting down the road after a long day of work/travel/drinking. It’s deeply satisfying, & surprisingly easy to put together. You can top it with all manner of things, bacon & Kewpie mayo being rather traditional, but I did ours garbage style, using odds & ends from the crisper drawer.

***

Okonomiyaki, gaikoku no kata style

Makes 1 10-inch okonomiyaki, enough for 2-4 people

2 c thinly shredded cabbage (I used regular white/green, but I bet Napa would work well, too)

1 c thinly sliced leeks, rinsed well

2/3 c flour (I used half white, half whole wheat)

A few pinches of salt

2-3 eggs, beaten

Toss the cabbage & leeks with the flour & salt until evenly coated. Add most of the egg mixture, stirring with your hands to get everything evenly mixed & adding more egg if it seems dry. You want the veggies to have a light coating of batter, not too thick & pasty. When in doubt, add a bit more egg.

Heat a heavy 10-inch skillet over medium heat with about 3 T vegetable oil. When the pan is hot enough to scatter a drop of water flicked onto the surface, add the okonomiyaki batter, spreading it out evenly to cover the bottom of the pan & pressing it flat with the back of a spatula. You should hear it gently sizzling – turn the heat back if it seems to be cooking very quickly. Cover the pan with a lid or a spare plate & let it cook while you prepare your toppings & sauce:

I sauteed a julienned carrot & a handful of turnip greens in a bit of oil & soy til they were tender, then fried two eggs to slide on the top. The veggies added a nice bittersweet element, the eggs a bit of savory richness. Use what you have in the house – a few rashers of bacon or ham, some fried tofu, a few shrimp, or even just a pile of scallions. Whatever you decide, keep it warm until the okonomiyaki is ready.

Okonomiyaki sauce is easy to find if you have access to an Asian grocer, but I made my own out of pantry staples:

Okonomiyaki Sauce

3 T ketchup

4-5 T worcestershire sauce

1 T soy sauce

2 t sugar

Mix well in a small bowl & adjust for sweetness. It should be equally salty, sweet & vinegary. A blob of hoisin sauce might be nice, too.

 

After 5-8 minutes, check your kokonomiyaki. The top should look translucent & slightly set, the bottom golden & crisp. Put a clean plate over the pan & invert quickly & carefully; slide the okonomiyaki back into the pan, this time with the uncooked side down. (This isn’t as terrifying as it sounds, I promise.) Cover & cook for another 5 minutes or so. You’re looking for both sides to be deep gold & crisp, & the cabbage & leeks to have cooked through – undercooking leaves the flour raw & unpleasantly doughy.

When it’s cooked to your satisfaction, slide the okonomiyaki onto a large plate & pile on your toppings. Drizzle the whole thing with okonomiyaki sauce & a squiggle of mayonnaise, then cut it into wedges. Crack open a cold, pale beer. Enjoy.

 

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Hot damn, this was a good meal…

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C & I spirited J off to a riverside park for a Father’s Day picnic on Sunday, a welcome respite from the occasional claustrophobia that accompanies life in the city. We needed something tasty & packable for lunch, & I was inspired to try my hand at a vegetarian version of the ubiquitous bánh mì.

While the final assembly was fairly simple, I did a bit of advance prep on Saturday afternoon & stumbled upon a pretty fantastic treatment for tofu…

***

Spicy Glazed Tofu

Makes enough for 4 bánh mì

Preheat the oven to 425F

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper & give it a light misting of oil

1 pound extra firm tofu, drained

1/2 c barbeque sauce (we used an extra spicy bottle from our Texas relatives)

1/4 c ketchup

1 T soy sauce

1 T vegetarian worcestershire sauce

Maple syrup or honey to taste

Slice tofu into 8 vertical slices & press between paper towels for 10 minutes to drain excess moisture.

Combine marinade ingredients, adjusting quantities as needed to yield a sweet/spicy/savory sauce. Paint 8 wide stripes of marinade on the oiled parchment, top each stripe with a strip of tofu, & spread the rest of the marinade evenly over the tofu.

Bake for 20 minutes, flipping the tofu strips halfway through. (Watch them carefully, as a sweeter glaze is prone to burning.) Let cool & chill.

***

Marinated Carrots

1 large carrot, cut or shredded into fine julienne

1/2 c water

1/4 c sugar

1/4 c rice vinegar

Pinch salt

Bring the water, sugar, vinegar & salt to a boil in a small sauce pan. Pour over the shredded carrots, let cool to room temperature & chill.

***

To assemble the bánh mì:

4 large steak rolls

Mayonnaise

Thinly sliced cucumber

Marinated carrots

Optional julienned daikon radish

Glazed tofu, cut into 1/4-inch strips

Fresh cilantro

Split the steak rolls, pulling out a bit of the interior to allow for ample filling. Spread mayonnaise on each side, then layer the cucumber, carrot & tofu. Top with fresh cilantro. Wrap each roll tightly in foil & chill for an hour or two.

Enjoy. Heaven knows, we did – expect to see bánh mì popping up on our summer What’s for Dinner lists…

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As a busy little family, I like having a few small rituals to circle the wagons once in a while, things we do together that help us slow down & enjoy each others company. Home made pizza night, Movie Mondays, our Saturday morning trips to the farmers’ market… not big, flashy activities, just simple moments we can all enjoy.

For us, Sunday mornings mean a lie in, a leisurely pot of coffee, some records on the hi-fi, & home made pancakes.

For some reason, I resisted making pancakes from scratch until well into my 20s. I chalk it up to my work as a short order cook – I knew which commercial mixes I liked, & got glowing reviews on my pancakes from my patrons, so why mess with success?

It wasn’t until we got married & a dear friend gave me a copy of Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess that I stepped away from the bag mix & started making my own. Irony of ironies, it took an English woman to get this Anglo-Canadian to make American-style pancakes. But she made it sound so effortless, & I could hardly call myself a cook whilst being cowed by such a simple recipe, so off I went.

10 years later, my copy of Nigella’s book has a conspicuous film of flour & oil over the pages involving her pancakes. Let the book drop & it falls open naturally to that spot. I have made literally hundreds of batches, & have the recipe (& several variations) committed to memory. C routinely helps me, standing on a kitchen chair & asking to taste everything, including the flour. It’s one of those recipes I hope my boys beg for some day when they want to make breakfast for a special someone.

***

Classic American Pancakes

Makes 6-8 large cakes

3/4 c all purpose flour

3/4 c whole wheat flour

1/3 c quick oats

1 T baking powder

1/4 t salt

A shake or two of ground cinnamon or nutmeg

3/4 c plain yoghurt

3/4 c milk

2 eggs, beaten

2 T unsalted butter, melted

First, pre-heat your cooking surface. If you can at all manage it, well seasoned cast iron is the way to go. Heated thoroughly, it provides an even but intense heat that yields crisp, tender cakes. That said, a heavy non-stick pan will work fine. Cast iron needs a good 10 minutes to pre-heat over a low to medium flame; non-stick should only be heated for a few minutes before cooking.

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl – use a whisk to aerate the mixture & thoroughly distribute the baking powder. Don’t bother sifting – this is breakfast, let’s not get over complicated. (Yes, you can use all white flour, & skip the oats if you want. I think they add a really nice texture, so try them once, at least.)

In a smaller bowl or jug, combine the milk, yoghurt & eggs. You can add a splash of vanilla or lemon oil here, if you want to be fancy. Beat the mixture thoroughly so the eggs are broken up completely.

Pour the egg & milk mixture into the dry ingredients, & use a fork or your whisk to roughly stir them together. Add the melted butter once all the flour’s moistened. Don’t fuss about lumps, but do make sure there are no dry pockets lurking at the bottom of the bowl.

Now, adjust your batter to get the texture you want… thick, pillowy batter will give you thick, high cakes; slightly smoother, thinner batter will give you low, flippy cakes. There’s no right or wrong way, just add a slosh of milk or another tablespoon of flour until it looks right.

I like to let my batter rest for a few minutes, to let the baking powder start to activate. Go top up your coffee & get the butter & syrup ready.

Mist or brush your pan with a tiny bit of vegetable oil (not butter – it has a low smoke point, & is prone to burn if not monitored closely), & ladle about half a cup of batter onto your nice hot pan. This will give you a 6-7-inch cake. Use a quarter cup or less if you like the smaller-&-more-of-them approach.

Let your cake cook gently until you see bubbles begin to pop on the surface, & the edge just starts to set. Lift up an edge to make sure the bottom isn’t getting too brown too fast – lower the heat a bit if it is. Use a nice wide, sturdy turner to flip your cake & cook the other side. Check the color on the bottom again, & when it bounces back from a finger-prod in the middle it’s done. Transfer your cake to a plate & pop it in a low oven to keep warm while you cook the rest. Or eat as you go – that’s what we do in our house.

I like mine with fruit-rich jam, J has his with maple syrup & butter, & C is besotted with Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Dress your cakes as you will…

Variations:

  • Replace half the whole wheat flour with another flour – buckwheat is the obvious choice, but quinoa flour, very fine cornmeal, barley flour, even potato flour could be used for new exciting textures.
  • Use all buttermilk instead of the milk & yoghurt. Confession: I never, ever have buttermilk in the house, so the milk & yoghurt thing was my way of faking it. The acidity boosts the baking powder’s oomf & gives a lovely tang to the batter that counterbalances any sweet toppings.
  • Oats, wheat flakes, barley flakes, leftover rice, have at you. Or none of the above.
  • To do blueberry cakes, scatter a handful of fresh/frozen berries over the batter once it’s on the pan – don’t mix them into the batter, they’ll just bleed & go green. Treat blackberries/raspberries/chocolate chips the same way. And rainbow sprinkles, but they tend to melt into the batter & not look as cool as you’d expected.
  • Want to make your kids’ heads explode? TIGER PANCAKES. Or leopard/giraffe/dalmatian. Pull out about a cup of batter into a small bowl, & add a tablespoon of cocoa powder. Pour a ladle of plain batter onto the pan, then use a squeeze bottle/pastry bag/zip-loc with the corner cut off to pipe chocolate batter designs over it. Write their names, draw smiley faces, or make stripes/spots. Seriously fun, & it blows their tiny minds.

Fry ’em up!

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