Sunday, September 27, 2009

Slowing Things Down

Summer has come and gone (although this year, I really feel like I completely missed it. Besides those three weeks in August, where was it?). With the fall season and cooler weather upon us, there's nothing that makes me more giddy than slow cooking. Whether it's something roasting in the oven or bubbling on the stovetop, the warmth and smells that emanate throughout your home. And cool weather screams a hot bowl of homestyle soup to snuggle up with.

sept27_01 copy

Chinese soups in the Canton cuisine (the cuisine I grew up with at home and am most familiar with out of all the various types in Chinese cooking) are slow affairs. Called "老火湯" (literally translated as "old fire soup"), these Cantonese soups are often boiled for hours over a hot stove with some form of protein and bones (pork bones, chicken, chicken feet, etc.) and vegetables for flavouring. Additional Chinese herbs will then be added, making these soups not only delicious, but beneficial to one's health as well. By cooking the soup for a long period of time, the water evaporates, leaving a very concentrated and incredibly flavourful (and nutritional!) broth by the end.

Best of all, slow-cooked Chinese soups are the easiest thing to make. Simply throw everything into a pot and let the stove do all the work for you! You have the rest of the day to clean the house, do the laundry, run some errands or just sit back and catch up on your reading.

If making a pork-based soup, I often like using shoulder ribs. It has bone to give the soup that depth of flavour you want, but also carries with it a good portion of meaty goodness which you can munch on later (while still remaining tender without being all dried out). Ask your butcher to cut them into smaller pieces for you. And be sure to blanch the pork ribs before you make the soup—you don't want to end up with a bloody and metallic tasting soup. When serving the soup, be sure to serve some of the meat and vegetables alongside it (we Chinese folks love that!). Sprinkle with some sesame oil and soy sauce if you wish. Give this sweet corn and pork ribs soup a try. It's good for you, and the naturally sweet broth will be a nice surprise for you.

sept27_02 copy

Sweet Corn, Carrot and Pork Ribs Soup
Serves 4

500 g pork shoulder ribs, cut into large chunks (ask your butcher to do that)
2 corn on the cob
2 large carrots
4 dried red dates **
5 to 6 dried logan (optional) **
3 litres filtered water
Salt, to taste

Before you begin to make the soup, blanch the pork ribs in a large pot of water for about 10 minutes to get rid of the blood and any impurities. Rinse and set aside.

In a large stockpot, bring water to a boil. Add all the ingredients and bring to a boil again, then reduce to a simmer over medium-low and let simmer for about 3 to 4 hours. The water should have reduced by at least half by the time it is ready. If water has reduced too fast, just add a little more.

Before serving, season with salt. Serve immediately, and serve the meat and vegetables on the side, sprinkling with some sesame oil and soy sauce if desired.

** NB. Available in Asian supermarkets and Chinese herbal medicine shops.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Wannabe "Cake"

sept25_01 copy

There hasn't been much action in the baking department here, all thanks to my diet and my avoidance of sweets. But with two overripe bananas lying around, it was time to turn my oven back on and to work out my mixer.

If the granola bar were to become a cake, this would be it. Moist and chewy, it's packed with a lot of flavour, lots of texture, and a lot of good stuff for you. I couldn't resist when I saw Sugar Plum's Skinny Peanut Butter-Banana Oatmeal Bars, and made a few changes to the recipe. They're wonderfully hearty and make a great school time snack for kids. Best of all, you won't feel as guilty when you sneak a taste of one of these bars!

sept25_02 copy

Hearty Peanut Butter and Banana Oatmeal Bars
Adapted from Sugar Plum
Makes 9 large or 12 small bars

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup rice krispies
1/4 cup sliced almonds, or finely chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted
2 large very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp honey
3 tbsp smooth peanut butter
2 large egg whites
2 tbsp chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together whole wheat flour, cinnamon, ginger, salt, oast, coconut, rice krispies and nuts. Stir and set aside.

In another large bowl, combine bananas, sugar, vanilla, honey, peanut butter and egg whites. Beat until well combined, about 2 minutes. Slowly stir in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top, being sure to press the chips down into the batter a little. Bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown on the edges.

Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for about 15 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool on a rack for at least another 15 minutes before cutting.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Tomato Marathon

"Double, double toil and trouble,
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble."
-- William Shakespeare, Macbeth (IV.i.10-1)

sept22_03 copy

So I did roast a double batch of tomatoes. The cauldron (er...the dutch oven) did bubble just a little. And if you imagine my electric oven to be the fire, then yeah, it was burning pretty much all day. But this tomato sauce is anything but toil and trouble, and thank goodness for that!

I went to St. Jacobs' Farmers' Market last week (just outside of Waterloo). I used to love going to that market--it is always bustling with people, there is loads of beautiful fresh produce available for a cheap price, and the fact that it's out in the open and practically out in the countryside makes the atmosphere that much more charming. But ever since my brother graduated from university and left Waterloo for bigger and better things, I haven't had the chance to go back until now. It's still as I remembered it, and still just as bustling, even on a weekday.

sept22_01 copy

I used to always watch others haul around large sacks of tomatoes and peppers from the market. St. Jacobs' likes to sell things by the bushel, any home canners' and preservers' dream. So I thought, "What the heck, why don't I buy a bushel of tomatoes myself? Make some tomato sauce. In my teeny, tiny closet of a kitchen..."

I found this wonderful Slow-Roasted Tomato Sauce recipe over at Cuizoo, and I knew they were just calling out to my own plum tomatoes. Best of all, it required minimal work: no blanching, no peeling, and no seeding! Three steps saved--and those steps are usually the most painful process of making tomato sauce. By slow roasting them, you also allow the sugar in the tomatoes to caramelize, creating a richer, sweeter flavour. It may seem like a long time in the oven, but trust me, all you have to do is cut up the tomatoes and other vegetables, stick it in the oven, and sit back and relax while the tomatoes do their magic. Tomato sauce has never been this easy.

sept22_02 copy

The smell that is created from the tomatoes, onions, garlic, oregano and balsamic is absolutely divine! And when they come out of the oven, they are so soft and ready to be pureed into some fabulous sauce. Once pureed and back in the pot, add a good slug of red wine and any other herbs and additions you'd like (ground meat, meatballs, red chilli flakes, mushrooms, etc.). It's a little sweeter than your usual tomato sauce you'd find in a can or a jar, but the flavours will blow you out of this world. If you prefer your sauce on the acidic side though, perk it up with a little lemon juice, red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar. Enjoy immediately with some pasta, and can or freeze the rest for later in the winter!

sept22_04 copy

With the abundance of tomatoes I brought home, I still had lots leftover to make some soup. I apparently didn't get enough roasting action yesterday so I roasted some more today to make a Roasted Tomato Soup, served alongside a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich. A classic combination, and perfect for welcoming the first day of autumn.

sept22_06 copy

Roasted Tomato Soup
Adapted from Gourmet, March 1993
Serves 4

3 lbs plum tomatoes, quartered lenghtwise
5 to 6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 large shallot, finely chopped
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano, crumbled (or 1 tbsp fresh oregano)
2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed from stalks
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus more if needed
1 to 2 tbsp honey (optional) **
Handful fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the tomatoes, skin side down, in one layer in a roasting pan, add the garlic. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake the tomatoes and garlic for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the tomatoes are very soft and their skin is dark brown and blistered. Let the tomatoes and garlic cool a little in the pans.

Heat some olive oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook the shallot, oregano and thyme, stirring, until the shallot is soft. Add the tomatoes, garlic (skins discarded), bay leaf, and 1 1/2 cups of the broth. Season with salt and pepper, and simmer the mixture, covered, for 15 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf. In a blender, puree the soup in batches until very smooth. Force pureed mixture through a fine sieve set over the clean saucepan. If soup appears a little thick, thin it out with some broth. Add the honey (if needed), stir in the basil, and season again with salt and pepper if required. Serve hot sprinkled with some freshly grated parmiggiano-reggiano.

** NB: I find the honey helps cut back on the acidity of the tomatoes, giving for a much smoother taste overall. You may find that honey is unnecessary if you have extra sweet tomatoes, so be sure to taste the soup before deciding whether it is needed or not. Alternatively, you can add a dash of cream, which will also help mellow out the acidity.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Eggs For Dinner

sept13_01 copy

Tomatoes and eggs (西红柿炒鸡蛋) are such a classic combination in this simple but tasty traditional Chinese dish. I actually didn’t grow up eating a whole lot of this, as it’s actually a dish that’s more popular in the mainland (and I grew up with Guangzhou/Canton region cuisine), but I have often heard of it, and my mom did sometimes make a variation on this. She would stir-fry the tomatoes and pour it over eggs that were fried over-easy, and serve it with ham and rice.

It may seem like an odd combination, but the velvetiness of the tomatoes works really well with the creaminess of the eggs. The natural sweetness of the tomatoes also helps balanced the seasoned eggs. This dish is so easy to make, is super healthy and won’t chew away at your wallet, especially when you’re buying fresh ripe tomatoes at the peak of its season (right now!). It was certainly a great way for me to use up my overripe tomatoes. For a more refined version, you can always blanch and peel the skins off the tomatoes, but I’m not too picky. Find the recipe at Rasa Malaysia.

sept13_02 copy

Friday, September 11, 2009

Playing Hostess

I’ve missed hosting. It’s been over a year since I’ve hosted any real form of a party or gathering. You’d think that moving to the big city would invite more opportunities for such, but the truth is, my place just isn’t fit to host a whole lot of people. So it was a great feeling to once again tap into my inner Martha Stewart last night as I played host to a couple of girlfriends as we held out our book club meeting.

sept11_01 copy

As we discussed and analyzed Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo, we munched on pita chips with white bean dip from Giada de Laurentiis’ Everyday Italian (a great variation on hummus!) and pigs in a blanket, inspired by the mini corn dogs over at A Dash of Sass. Basically, I omitted the use of skewers, which would no longer made my version a “corn dog” in essence. I also replaced half the flour with whole wheat flour, and that seemed to help with the stickiness of the dough since it helped absorb a lot of the moisture, along with making these little bites healthier!

sept11_03 copy

Dessert was inspired by Ceramic Canvas' pistachio icebox butter cookies. The gorgeous photos of the cookies immediately had me salivating, and I knew they would be the perfect little sweet bites for our meeting. My recipe is a hazelnut variation, in ode of the Nutella used to sandwich the cookies. Next time, I think I’d love to throw in some finely chopped chocolate as well to make these extra divine. And while these are not true shortbread cookies, as it does call for one egg, it still has that melt-in-your-mouth texture that we so love in shortbread. Served with Nutella, it’s a little bite of decadence.

Next hosting goal in mind: dinner party!

sept11_04 copy

Hazelnut Shortbread with Nutella
Adapted from Ceramic Canvas and Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook
Makes about 30 sandwich cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup granulated sugar, plus ¼ to ½ cup for rolling
1 large egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 ½ cups + 2 tbsp sifted all-purpose flour **
¾ cups chopped toasted and skinned hazelnuts
1 tsp salt
1 jar Nutella

In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and ¼ cup of granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add egg and vanilla extract, and beat to combine. Add flour and salt; mix on low speed until just combined. Add chopped hazelnuts until combined.

Turn dough onto a clean work surface. Divide dough in half and roll each piece into a log about 1 ½-inches in diameter (I like to wrap a paper towel tube around the dough to help with the rolling and shaping process. Be sure to wrap the dough in plastic wrap before you roll in tube!). Wrap well in parchment paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F, with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Let dough stand at room temperature until soft enough to slice, about 15 minutes. Roll dough logs in remaining sugar, coating them evenly, and slice into ¼-inch-thick rounds. Place about 1 inch apart on prepared sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through until golden brown around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

When cooled, spread about 1 teaspoon of Nutella on the bottom side of one cookie and top each with another cookie, creating a sandwich. Enjoy!

** NB: Be sure to sift your flour and then measure again for accuracy; otherwise, you risk getting a dry dough that'll want to crumble on you.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Autumn Comforts

Is it September already? Where did the summer go? Oh wait, we didn’t get a summer! As much as summer was disappointing this year, I’m glad fall is slowly encroaching upon us. The fall colours, the harvest, the cool, crisp air--it’s perhaps my favourite season, and the cooler weather always brings to mind warm comfort food. I couldn’t help picking up some beautiful sausages at the farmer’s market the other day, and with some sauerkraut sitting in my pantry, it was time to whip up a batch of sausages and sauerkraut.

sept07_01 copy

Sauerkraut is a bit of an acquired taste if you’re not used to it. It is a type of fermented cabbage, and because of its fermentation, contains a number of lactic acid bacteria, vitamin C, and other nutritional benefits. I was introduced to sauerkraut at a fairly young age, so I never had a problem with it, although I have known others who are put off by the smell and taste. Cooked with some bacon, sausages and apples though, the sauerkraut absorbs the smokiness and savouriness of the sausages as well as the sweetness of the apples, making for a delightful combination of flavours. I also find that it’s the perfect accompaniment to sausages, as the sweetness and sourness of the sauerkraut cuts the saltiness and fattiness of the meat.

I didn’t have all the ingredients in my pantry to make a traditional choucroute garni, but here’s my adaptation for quick and easy sausages and sauerkraut.

sept07_02 copy

Sausages and Sauerkraut
Serves 2 to 3

4 to 6 assorted sausages, scored 3 to 4 times to prevent bursting
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 to 3 slices bacon, chopped
1 796-ml jar sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
1 cup white wine
1 cup apple cider (or apple juice)
¼ tsp ground allspice
1 tsp crushed whole peppercorns
½ tsp whole cloves (optional)
½ tsp caraway seeds (optional)
1 to 2 cooking apples, cored and sliced (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Prevent oven to 350°F. Heat some olive oil in a heavy ovenproof pan over medium heat and brown the sausages, about two to three minutes per side. Remove the sausages, add the onion and bacon and cook until the onion is translucent and the bacon crispy, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer.

Place the sausages on top of the sauerkraut, cover the pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Serve immediately with Dijon or whole-grain mustard and fresh bread.

  © Blogger templates 'Neuronic' by 2008

Back to TOP