more of that other white meat: pork loin and pomegranate

10 Aug

If you know me, you’re probably familiar with my disdain for chicken. The only white meat I’ll eat is oinkin’ delicious swine — so there.

Pork loin is pretty much the leanest, healthiest cut that can come from a pig, and therefore it’s often cooked to dry chewy oblivion. In case that happens (as it often happens to me), nothing masks your booboo better than a delightfully complex sauce. It must be the Frenchwomen in me.

pork loin and pomegranate sauce
from the pages of gourmet magazine, cause i’m fancy sometimes

* 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
* 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
* 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 2 pork tenderloins (each about 3/4 pound)
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 cup plain pomegranate juice
* 3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
* 1 tablespoon water
* 1 to 2 teaspoons Sherry vinegar
* 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Stir together cumin, coriander, pepper, cinnamon, and salt in a shallow bowl. Pat tenderloins dry and dredge in spice mixture until evenly coated.

Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Reduce heat to moderate and cook pork, turning occasionally, until meat is browned on all sides and thermometer inserted diagonally into center of each tenderloin registers 145°F, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer pork with tongs to a cutting board (reserve skillet) and let stand 10 minutes.

While pork stands, pour off and discard any fat from skillet, then add pomegranate juice to skillet and boil over moderately high heat until reduced to about 2/3 cup, about 3 minutes (if side of skillet begins to scorch, reduce heat to moderate). Stir together cornstarch and water and whisk into juice, then boil sauce until thickened slightly, 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and add Sherry vinegar to taste, then swirl in butter until incorporated. Pour sauce through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and skim off any fat. Season with salt. Slice pork and serve with sauce.

how not to make flan

1 Aug

I don’t know how to make flan.
I still don’t know how to make flan.

But, this recipe is super easy, and it came out pretty well—it’s worth a shot if you have a passion for custard.

Fail 1: I opted to stir the caramel as it was bubbling… I don’t know why I did it, I know how to make caramel! At any rate, it thickened out of control, and I poured it off into a hot baking pan. After a moment of indecision, I poured my custard into the hot baking pan on top of the custard—no curdles to be seen—and foiled tight.

Fail 2: I think I left my pan in the oven slightly longer than recommended (blame it on the wine), so the outer ring of my flan was a bit bubbly and scrambled egg-like. The center was creamy and the caramel was dark and delicious. The trickiest thing was deciding on the doneness of the caramel, and if it would be okay to pour the custard right over the hot caramel.

At unveil, the flan clung to the pan and a small section ripped out upon inversion. Luckily, the deluge of caramel sauce that followed handily masked the botch…flan-tastic!

really easy flan
don’t flan-it-up (like me)

* 1 cup white sugar
* 3 eggs
* 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
* 1 (12 fluid ounce) can evaporated milk
* 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt sugar until liquefied and golden in color. Carefully pour hot syrup into a 9 inch round glass baking dish, turning the dish to evenly coat the bottom and sides. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat eggs. Beat in condensed milk, evaporated milk and vanilla until smooth. Pour egg mixture into baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil.

Bake in preheated oven 60 minutes. Let cool completely. To serve, carefully invert on serving plate with edges when completely cool. Serves 8.

chawanmushi: savory japanese custard

25 Jul

My Chinese grandma always made delicate, silky, steamed egg custard in a large ramen bowl that she would swirl a spoonful of oyster sauce over before serving. We’d scoop a jiggly portion onto our rice to eat alongside our meal.

The Japanese have their own version called chawanmushi, which is served in individual lidded cups at the conclusion of a meal. Traditionally, each cup of custard contains a piece of shrimp, chicken, ginko nut, and vegetable such as mushroom or snow pea.

Recently, J and I decided to try our hand at a mushroom chawanmushi as part of our Shabu Sunday ritual. Since we were boiling a large pot of water for our shabu shabu, we steamed the chawanmushi in the same pot beforehand.

Unlike the Chinese-style steamed custard, chawanmushi uses dashi stock and sake instead of chicken broth, plus a little soy sauce and sugar.

The secret to making any great custard is proper cooking. For steamed eggs, you want to put your heatproof dish in at a high boil, then a couple minutes later, turn it down to low—or completely turn it off, as my grandma does—and let it slowly cook for the majority of the cooking time.

Traditionalists will also tell you to gently whisk the eggs with a pair of chopsticks in a figure-8 pattern for an hour, so no bubbles form, but I tend to believe a quick pour through a fine mesh sieve and a skim with a spoon does just as well. When you add mushrooms as we did, you can hardly tell where any bubbles form on the surface.

Our first time around, our chawanmushi came our flawlessly. Silky, delicate heavenly spoonfuls of custard and perfectly plump mushrooms. Like sunshine in a cup!
chawanmushi: savory japanese custard
sunshine in a cup

* 3 eggs
* 2 cup dashi soup stock
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 1 tsp soy sauce
* 1 tsp sugar
* 1 tsp sake
* 1/2 cup enoki mushrooms or 4 shiitake mushrooms, stem removed and thinly sliced

Lightly beat eggs in a large bowl. Try not to bubble the eggs. Mix cool dashi soup stock, soy sauce, salt, sake, and sugar in another bowl. Add the dashi mixture in the egg mixture gradually. Strain the egg mixture.

Put mushrooms in four chawanmushi cups. Fill each cup to 3/4 full with the egg mixture. Cover the cups.

Preheat a steamer on high heat. Carefully place cups in the steamer and steam on high heat for three minutes. Turn down the heat to low and steam for about 10-15 minutes or until custard is set. Serves 4.

mom’s spicy gobo

18 Jul

One of my favorite questions to ask: “If you had to eat one cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be?”

I’ve heard a range of answers, but most Asians, including myself, agree the only logical answer is Japanese food: sushi, ramen, izakaya, bento boxes, yakitori, donburi, chawanmushi, shabu shabu, curry, mochi, green tea ice cream… the variety is immense and the favors range from homey to refined.

Of the many Japanese munchies I love, spicy gobo (also known as burdock root), is a toothsome side dish–perfectly salty, a little crunchy and spicy to boot. I love it as a vegetable side for any Japanese-inspired meal.

Gobo is a fibrous root vegetable that tastes like a very earthy potato. You’ll find it in the grocery store in 1-2 foot lengths with a brown hairy exterior. You need peel it and slice it into matchsticks for this stir-fried recipe. You can also cut it into thicker diagonal disks for cooking in stews like Kabocha, Pork & Gobo Stew. Either way, gobo is delicious, healthy, and Japanese(!), so you should try it.

mom’s spicy gobo
root-toot-toot!

1/2 lb. gobo root (peeled, silvered and soaked in water for 15 mins)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon dried shrimp, soaked to soften then drained
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
dash of black pepper
1 large carrot, julienned (optional)

Sauté shrimp in oil on high heat in a large skillet.
Drain the gobo and add to pan with shrimp. Stir fry for about two minutes, then add all other ingredients and cook over medium heat until the liquid is absorbed. Test gobo — it should be firm, but comfortably chewable. Serve as a side dish for two.

momofuku’s tomato tofu caprese salad

16 Jul

I love eating garnishes. Growing up, we often ate dinner at Zippy’s—a popular diner chain in Hawaii. Typically, I’d order the “Broasted Chicken” kid’s plate (don’t ask my why they call it ‘Broasted,’ it’s just fried) and my grandparents would order spaghetti or a mushroom burger upgraded to the “complete meal,” which included a drink and Jello or pudding.

I coveted the adult “complete meal,” especially for its grown-up adornments – a dark green curly-leafed parsley bush accenting each plate or pickle spear and black olive duo tossed wayside a burger. In my most annoying kid voice, I’d shriek, “can I have that?!”

As an adult dining at high-end sushi joints, I adore sashimi of mild, white fish nestled on a delicate shiso leaf. Unlike the plastic grass comb in a cheap bento box, shiso leaves are a prized garnish – thin like tissue, but intense in flavor. This bright green leaf with a jagged edge is sold for upwards of $0.50 per leaf at specialty grocery stores like Berkeley Bowl. The Japanese use it namely to garnish sashimi and sushi, though also pickled with ume. Shiso’s tomato-meets-mint flavor is uniquely pungent, and somewhat of an acquired taste.

Recently, I went to see Momofuku’s David Chang at the launch party of his new food magazine published by the McSweeney’s gang. Lucky Peach is a wonderful ode to literarily inclined rebel chefs turned author/tv personalities. In a transcribed conversation between Chang, Anthony Bourdain, and Wiley Du Fray, the three ridicule the non-talent of simplistic, local-ingredient focused menus—an assertation they can back up with their own cuisine successes.

For example, Momofuku’s Tofu, Tomato, and Shiso Salad—an Asian twist on Capri’s famed tomato, mozzarella and Basil combination. Brilliant! I don’t need much of a reason to go buy shiso in the first place, so this recipe was the perfect excuse. Instead of cherry tomatoes, I used sweet heirlooms and the very best locally-made medium-firm tofu. The result? An airy salad, sweet, salty and acidic with the soy vinaigrette. Perfect for a summer meal.

momofuku’s tomato tofu caprese salad
a salad that meets my high garnishing standards

One 12-ounce block silken tofu, drained
2 pints (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds) mixed cherry tomatoes (I opted for normal heirlooms)
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon usukuchi (light soy sauce – I used regular)
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1/2 cup grapeseed oil or other neutral oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
6 shiso leaves, stacked atop one another, rolled into a tight cigar, and thinly sliced crosswise

I didn’t bother to cut the tofu nicely, but if you want to:
With your knife blade parallel to the cutting board, cut the block of tofu in half. Using a 2- to 2 1/2-inch ring mold (or a narrow straight-sided glass), cut cylinders of tofu out of each slab. Carefully turn each cylinder on its side and slice in half, yielding 8 rounds of tofu. Save the tofu scraps for another use.

I also skipped skinning the tomatoes, but if you want to:
Bring a large saucepan of salted water into a boil. Prepare an ice batch in a large mixing bowl. Cut a tiny X or slash into the bottom of about two-thirds of the tomatoes. Drop them, in batches, into the boiling water, and after 10 seconds, remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the ice bath to cool. Slip the skin off the blanched tomatoes, put them in a bowl, and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the remaining cherry tomatoes in half.

Stir together the vinegar, soy sauce and sesame and grapeseed oils in a large mixing bowl. Add all the tomatoes and toss to coat.

To serve, place 2 slices of tofu in each of four shallow serving bowls, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Top each portion with about a cup of dressed tomatoes, season with a pinch of salt and a few turns of freshly ground black pepper, and garnish, generously with the shiso chiffonade. I went the stacked route (see pic). Serves 4.

choco ‘stachio bark

3 May

I’m pretty much obsessed with my Canon S95 camera (thanks again, J!). It’s a slick black point-and-shoot with a ring around the lens that you move to control the manual settings. It’s super high tech AND retro cool…. dream!

The S95 also takes kick ass macro shots like this one of chocolate pistachio bark. Now I can cook food that looks like caca and it still looks stunning!

Speaking caca, this bark was not a sparkling culinary achievement. I used too much of a semi-sweet chocolate that tasted like Hershey’s, and birthed a tooth-disintegrating saccharine stump versus delicately shattering cocoa bark. Waaah!

Alas, I will share the recipe, but it will be up to you to buy the right kind of chocolate — I’d go bittersweet if in doubt!

layered pistachio bark
go green

* 17 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped and divided into two equal portions
* 7 ounces high quality white chocolate (Lindt or Perugina)
* 6 ounces roasted pistachio meat, coarsely chopped
* 6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
* fancy sea salt (fleur de sel, if you’ve got it)

Turn large baking sheet bottom up. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Mark a 12″ x 9″ rectangle on foil.

Combine half of the bittersweet chocolate and 3 tablespoons of whipping cream in heavy saucepan over medium-low heat until just melted and smooth. Remove from heat and pour onto foil. Using a spatula, spread chocolate to fill rectangle and sprinkle with half of the pistachios. Lightly press pistachios into chocolate and refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes.

Melt white chocolate in double-boiler or medium metal bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water. When chocolate is melted and smooth or candy thermometer registers 110-degrees F, remove from heat. Cool to lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Pour white chocolate in long lines over the dark chocolate layer. Using a spatula, spread white chocolate into an even layer. Refrigerate until cold and firm, about 25 minutes.

For final layer, repeat dark chocolate process: Combine remaining half of bittersweet chocolate and 3 tablespoons of whipping cream in heavy saucepan over medium-low heat until just melted and smooth. Remove from heat and quickly pour in long lines over the white chocolate layer. Immediately top with remaining pistachios, press into chocolate, and sprinkle with a generous amount of sea salt. Chill until just firm, about 20 minutes.

Lift foil with bark onto work surface; trim edges. Cut bark crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips. Using a metal spatula, slide bark off foil and onto the work surface. Cut each strip crosswise into three sections and diagonally into two triangles.

Serve immediately or store in a tupperware in the fridge for up to two weeks. Bring back to room temperature before serving. Yields 36 pieces. Adapted from Bon Appetit.

japchae: yummy korean noodles

13 Apr

Whenever I start a new job, my biggest concern is food. Feeding times. Snacks. Packing lunches. How my hours will affect weeknight dinner plans. What can I say, I’m a primate and I gotta EAT!

As an adieu to the fancy weeknight cooking I’ve become accustomed to working from home for the past year, I whipped up one fabulous weeknight “last supper” — Chinese-style steamed halibut, sauteed pea shoots, sukjunamul, and a Korean-style noodle dish called japchae.

This kind of Chinese-Korean hodgepodge meal is my favorite, probably because I am a hodgepodge of these ethnicities myself. Add a couple sides of kimchi or sashimi, and you’ll find me clapping with excitement.

I had never attempted japchae before, but it seemed pretty straightforward — sweet potato noodles, veggies, and some beef. I happened to have a scattering of leftover veggies and beef from Shabu Sunday (a new tradition), so this recipe also helped clean out the fridge!

japchae: korean noodles
chewy happy food

* 8 ounces sweet potato noodles
* 1/2 bunch spinach (about 4 ounces), rinsed and trimmed
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
* 6 ounces beef rib-eye, cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick strips
* 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
* 1/4 medium onion, sliced into thin wedges
* 4 fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
* 1 carrot, julienned
* 3 green onions, cut into 1-inch lengths, whites halved and separated
* 1/4 cup sugar (I used agave nectar to avoid dissolving issues)
* Toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Cook the sweet potato noodles in a large pot of boiling water for 4 to 5 minutes. Immediately drain and rinse thoroughly under cold water. Be sure not to overcook the noodles, or they will lose their chewy texture. If you like, cut the noodles with scissors into 6- to 7-inch lengths for easier eating.

Blanch the spinach in boiling water. Rinse immediately under cold water, squeeze the water from the leaves and form into a ball, and then cut the ball in half. Combine the spinach, half the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of the sesame oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Set aside to let the flavors soak in.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the beef, the remaining garlic, 1 teaspoon of the soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil. Stir-fry until the beef is cooked, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the onion, mushrooms, and carrot and cook until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the green onions and stir-fry for another minute. Remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, thoroughly combine the noodles, beef mixture, spinach, remaining 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, and the sugar. Serve warm, sprinkled with sesame seeds. Serves 4 to 5 as a side dish. Adapted from Quick and Easy Korean Cooking.

whole foods tofu caesar dressing

4 Apr

Lowfat creamy dressings rarely taste delicious, especially when they’re made with corn syrup and wacky gums. When blended, soft or silken tofu makes for an excellent non-dairy, lowfat ingredient that adds creaminess to any dressing or even a fruit smoothie.

The only problem is most packaged tofu you find in the grocery store tastes like bland sponge. If you’re lucky enough to live in the SF Bay Area, however, you can get your hands on the quality stuff — specifically, Hodo Soy Beanery’s Nama Yuba, a creamy, burrata-like soy cheese made from the fat and proteins that rise to the top of heated soy bean milk.

I was browsing through the Whole Foods iPhone app recently, and noticed a recipe for lowfat Caesar dressing made with tofu. After giving it a whirl, I have to say it does NOT taste like Caesar — more like a tangy garlic dressing, which was still yummy. With the addition of a couple anchovies, I think this could be a dressing Julius would be proud of.

tofu caesar dressing
et tu tofu?

2/3 cup (about 5 ounces) firm silken tofu (or the good stuff, if you’ve got it!)
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons light soy or chickpea miso (I used white miso and cut down to 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove of garlic
2 anchovies (packed in oil)
Ground black pepper, to taste

Put all ingredients into a blender and purée until smooth. Makes about 1 cup.

sukjunamul: korean-style bean sprouts

30 Mar

My goodness it’s hot out! According to the needle of my 1970’s thermostat, it reached a tropical 80-degrees in my western-facing apartment today.

As I sit here in my little greenhouse, sweating more than is appropriate in March, all I can think of is vegetables. Cool, crisp, watery plants. I want to shove as many as possible into my mouth, pronto. This must be how it feels to be a brontosaurus — giant and slowed by climate assault, and all you want to do is eat trees.

My refreshing vegetable of choice is the mung bean sprout. Mung beans are recognized in Asian culture as a “cool” food, which is easy to digest and has a cooling effect on the body. In Korean cooking, mung bean sprouts are blanched, seasoned, and served in an appetizer set of small dishes (including kimchi) called banchan.

I love Korean food because it’s so simple to prepare. It seems Koreans are only aware of five spices: garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, and red pepper paste. Once you have these basics in your cupboard, you can make almost any Korean dish, including this refreshing vegetable side.

sukjunamul: korean-style bean sprouts
a crispy oasis

* 1 lb bean sprouts
* 2 teaspoons salt
* 3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
* 2 teaspoons sesame oil
* 2 teaspoons minced garlic
* 1/3 cup finely chopped green onion

Add bean sprouts to boiling water and simmer for five minutes. Drain well.

Stir in the salt, sesame seeds, sesame oil, garlic, and green onions. Saute in a saucepan for a minute. Serve room temperature or cold.

bon appétit’s browned butter brownies

28 Mar

I feel particularly devilish watching an entire stick of butter melt into a frothy pool. If you wait a little longer, foam gives way to reveal brown specks with a distinct toasty aroma. It brings me great joy to pour this liquid gold over pasta, especially homemade butternut squash ravioli.

On a recent cover, Bon Appétit featured a nefarious stack of Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts. Browned butter in a brownie? Yes, please!

I whipped up a batch for a trip to wine country knowing they’d pair nicely with my favorite late harvest zin at Bella. I love that these brownies achieve the chewy and fudgey texture of a store-bought mix with a unique dimension of nutty flavor from the browned butter. I used unsweetened cocoa power from Scharffen Berger and substituted semi-sweet chocolate chips for the walnuts. Perhaps the extra chocolate chips were a bit over-the-top, but I’m sure any stoner would whole-heartedly approve.

browned butter brownies
gnaw-ty chocolate treat

* 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
* 1 1/4 cups sugar
* 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Scharffen Berger)
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 2 large eggs, chilled
* 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
* 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or walnuts)

Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 325°F. Line 8 x 8 x 2-inch metal baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. Coat foil with nonstick spray. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and 1⁄4 teaspoon (generous) salt. Stir to blend. Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot). Add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. Stir in chocolate chips (or nuts). Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), about 35 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan. Cut into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 4 brownies. Makes 16 pieces.