A mixture of several things in no particular order

When I reminisce about my time in New Orleans, one of the things I miss the most is having impromptu cook outs in the backyard with friends. One of our friends, Thomas, had the perfect backyard for such occasions. His house was actually raised one story up in the air. His backyard contained a menagerie of chickens, ducks, dogs, and a guinea fowl (which we ended up eating, but that’s a story for later). He also had an enviable garden brimming with assorted herbs and vegetables. A few banana trees ringed the perimeter whose leaves we harvested to protect delicate foods from the heat of the grill. To top it all off, underneath his raised house was an area that served as a clubhouse of sorts and was the perfect hideaway during tropical thunderstorms. It was walled off with wooden screens, and he had strung lights all around the inside. It had a beat-up couch and, of course, a custom table used for games of the alcoholic variety.

I have to thank Thomas for introducing me to this particular recipe as I had never heard of it prior to him having me chop copious amounts of garlic and parsley to create the magic that is chimichurri. Chimichurri has got to be one of my top 5 favorite sauces. It is so ridiculously versatile – Sarah and I put it on beef (the original usage), chicken, eggs, fish, sweet potatoes, etc. When I cooked for my resident class during our beach retreat, I made a large bowl of chimichurri to serve along with some grilled chicken kabobs. It adds a perfect amount of freshness and heat to almost anything. Chimichurri originally comes from Argentina, and the name is believed to be derived from the Basque tximitxurri , meaning “a mixture of several things in no particular order.” I’ve since riffed on Thomas’ recipe and made my own version that I thinks bears homage to the spirit of the name.

Flank Steak with Chimichurri

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Ingredients:

  • Flank steak                                1 lb
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Chipotle chili powder

For the chimichurri :

  • Parsley                                       1 cup, chopped
  • Cilantro                                      1 cup, chopped
  • Garlic                                          3 cloves, minced
  • Jalapeno (optional)                   1-2, seeded and chopped
  • Lime                                            2, juiced
  • Olive oil                                       1/4 cup
  • Water                                           3 T
  • Vinegar                                        1 T
  • Sugar                                            1.5 T
  • Salt                                                To taste
  • Pepper                                          To taste

Let’s start with the chimichurri. If you want to take the easy way, you can always just put everything into the food processor and run it. I happen to like the end texture that comes with chopping everything yourself. Chop your parsley, cilantro, and jalapeno. Mince your garlic. Add everything into a bowl. Add lime juice, olive oil, water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. Mix well and really try to incorporate everything into one big slurry. Set mixture in refrigerator to cool.

In the meantime, allow your flank steak to come to room temperature. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and chipotle chili. Heat up a large grill/grill pan on high. Lay your seasoned flank steak on it and cook for 2 minutes on one side. You may press down lightly on a few sections of the flank steak with your tongs to get those nice grill marks. Immediately flip and cook for another 2 minutes on the other side. It is important to only cook the flank steak for 4 minutes total. If you over-cook it, it turns incredibly rough and chewy. Remove from grill/grill pan and gently score the top of the flank steak with a small knife. Spoon over some chimichurri and let the flavor incorporate into the meat. Let rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Enjoy and use the leftover chimichurri on everything else.

-D

Braised Beef Noodle Soup (紅燒牛肉麵) and the Common Cold

Today was the first day I have ever had to use an ice scraper to chip the nice sheen of ice that had encased my entire car overnight. Quite the right of passage for a west coast boy.

With the cold weather inevitably come colds, flu, URIs. Although medical science would say that there is no cure for the common cold, if you grew up in my household, you would beg to differ.

I was a fairly sickly kid growing up. I had my share of upper respiratory infections, bronchitis, asthma. I’ve choked down Chinese traditional medicine concoctions, copious quantities of orange juice and grapefruit juice, taken multiple Vitamin C and Zinc tablets. Every family has some cocktail of juices, pills, foods, soups, and medicine that they swear by.  For me, I must have my beef noodle soup, and that sentiment is shared by many.

Spicy beef noodle soup has existed since the Tang Dynasty (618 to 906 AD) and was popularized by a Chinese Muslim ethnic group (who also made some bad ass hand-pulled noodles). Many Asians today still consider this dish prophylaxis against cold and flu.  I can’t comment about the the actual research behind any of these claims, but believe it or not, there’s really no harm in treating yourself to a delicious and warm meal.

Hong Shao Niu Rou Mian (紅燒牛肉麵)

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Ingredients:

  • Beef shank                                     2  lb, cut into chunks
  • Oil                                                     2 T
  • Garlic                                               8 cloves, chopped
  • Ginger                                             2 T, minced
  • Star Anise                                      3
  • Sichuan peppercorns                 1 T
  • Chili black bean sauce               2 T
  • Dark soy sauce                             4 T
  • Light soy sauce                            2 T
  • Five spice powder                        1 T
  • Tomato                                            1 large, cut into segments
  • Water                                               6 cups
  • Bok choy                                         6, halved
  • Noodles
  • Salt
  • Green onion                                  chopped

Begin by heating up a wok on high heat and season your chunks of beef with salt. In the meantime, add garlic, ginger, five spice, sichuan peppercorns, chili black bean sauce, dark and light soy sauce to a small bowl and mix well. Once the wok is hot, add oil and beef, making sure the beef is nicely seared. Add contents from the small bowl, tomato, and water. Add star anise. Bring to a boil and then lower heat and let simmer for at least 1.5-2 hours. The longer you simmer, the more tender the beef will be and the better the flavor. In the meantime, cook your noodles and bok choy in separate pots of water. Place noodles, bok choy, and desired beef in a bowl. Pour broth through a sieve over it. Garnish with green onions and enjoy.

Stay warm!

D

 

I Yam a Sweet Potato

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” -R+J

Sarah stole my thunder and already talked about our Thanksgiving/Friendsgiving, but I figure for a holiday filled with food, it warrants at least one more post…plus I have all the pictures.

Growing up, Thanksgiving was the epitome of Asian fusion cuisine. Our stuffing was composed of glutinous rice, Chinese sausage, mushrooms, peanuts, lotus seeds, and dates instead of the typical breadcrumbs. We had no need for gravy as our turkey was basted with a teriyaki sauce that permeated the bird and created a lovely dark brown/black-colored skin. Instead of the typical sides, we’d have an assortment of my mother’s amazing Chinese dishes. The following day, the leftover turkey transformed itself into an amazing rice porridge that I still dream about.

As years went on, I brought the typical garlic mashed potatos and green beans into the mix and started spending some Thanksgivings away from home. The smells that I typically associated with Thanksgiving began to morph and evolve as did my friendships and relationships.

Ultimately, I find myself in a blissfully confusing amalgam of food and people from all aspects of my life. Delineations between friends, family, and home have blurred, and each of the people pictured and mentioned have played some pivotal role in my life and molded who I have become. I feel truly fortunate to be surrounded by these people.

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This year Sarah and I were lucky enough to be able to celebrate with my co-interns and our friends in NOLA and my sister. I’m really not a fan of the traditional candied yams so thought I would try to create something with a nice blend of savory and sweet while still paying homage to some of the classic smells and seasonings of the holiday. Ultimately, I came up with this mashed sweet potato recipe that I brought to both celebrations.

Ginger and Garlic Mashed Sweet Potatoes

  • Sweet potatoes                  4-5, peeled and cut into chunks
  • Garlic                                    5 cloves, minced
  • Ginger                                  3 Tbsp, minced
  • Butter                                   4 Tbsp
  • Milk                                       1/4 cup or less
  • Cinnamon                           1/2 Tbsp
  • Cloves                                   1 tsp
  • Nutmeg                                1/2 Tbsp
  • Salt                                        To taste

In a large pot, add chunks of sweet potato and cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook until pieces of sweet potato are easily pierced with a fork. As sweet potatoes are boiling, in a small pan, saute garlic and ginger until lightly golden brown and set aside. After sweet potatoes are done, drain all water and place back in pot. Add butter, sauteed garlic and ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, and begin mashing. Add milk a little at a time until reaching desired consistency. Add salt as needed.

-D

Oh yeah, yams vs sweet potatoes.

Yams and sweet potatoes are actually not related at all. They are also not related to potatos. Confused yet? Sweet potatoes hail from Central and South America while yams come from Africa, Asia, and tropical regions. Chances are that whatever you picked up for Thanksgiving is actually a sweet potato. It also doesn’t help that many grocery stores label an orange-colored sweet potato a yam.

 

Souper Flavorful Broth

An undeniable new coolness and crispness in the air undoubtedly signals the beginning of my favorite season. If I wrote a dictionary entry for fall, it would probably read: Fall (noun): A time for tromping through leaves, apple picking, root vegetables, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and all kinds of soup! See also: the best season.

Unfortunately, I’ve been spending most of these past weeks working the night shift from 5PM-6AM. Oddly enough, based on Sarah’s usual hours on transplant surgery from 6 AM-6 (usually 7 or 8)PM, I still get to see a bit more sunlight than she does now that our days are getting shorter. Being on opposite schedules sucks as I was also just working nights in the ED prior. In the past 2 weeks, I think we’ve only logged a total of 1.25 days where we’ve both been conscious in-person at the same time and able to carry on a conversation. So we definitely had to take advantage of this past Sunday by spending a good chunk of it wandering through Rock Creek Park. The leaves are already starting to fall and change color. We tromped through the park, scaling up rock faces, and catching each other up on the occurrences of the last 2 weeks as I occasionally dashed off to pursue a preying mantis. And of course, we had to talk about what recipes we want to try out this season as well.

Chances are if you’ve been to a ramen restaurant, you’ve noticed that many of them feature a 12-24 hour broth that is packed with flavor. Chances are that most of us also do not have that much time to spare when it comes to creating a broth/soup base. So here’s a little work around to get the most flavor in the least amount of time. One of my most utilized wedding gifts has to be the Instapot. This contraption  is awesome. Its easy pressure cooker function is key.

What is pressure cooking? 

Be nice to your pressure cooker and read the safety instructions prior to use. Rule of thumb to avoid explosive results: if the lid doesn’t want to come off, don’t pry it off and sure as hell don’t stick your face over the pot if you’re foolish enough to try to force the lid off.  Fun fact: the first pressure cooker was invented back in the 1600s by a French guy named Denis! In a pressure cooker, the closed system does not allow for liquid to boil in the conventional sense. Instead, as the temperature increases in the liquid, the pressure build up in the pot forces the heat energy/steam generated by liquid back into the food, raising the actual cooking temperature and forcing a lot of flavor back into the liquid. Another cool trick for pho broth which is supposed to be nice and clear is to make it in the pressure cooker so you can avoid having to constantly skim the top of the broth for impurities. All this because you never raise the temp to a boil which makes your broth cloudy.

The best part of making your own broth is that you can customize the flavors exactly how you want and end up cross utilizing a lot of vegetable or chicken scraps. Below is just an example of some ingredients I use for a chicken broth.

Asian-style chicken Broth

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Noodles, sliced shiitake mushrooms, Chinese mustard greens, bean sprouts, scallions, and a soft boiled egg

  • chicken bones/carcass scraps (you may roast prior for extra flavor)
  • carrots
  • ginger
  • garlic
  • onion
  • lemon grass
  • thai basil
  • shiitake mushrooms
  • white pepper
  • salt

Throw all of this into your pressure cooker. Fill it up with water and salt to taste and let the contraption do its thing. After it’s done, sieve out all of the scraps which should leave you a nice flavorful broth.

If you want the most flavor out of your ramen, everything (noodles, vegetables, egg) should be cooked in the broth after it comes out of the pressure cooker. Put your ingredients in a bowl and scoop some more broth on top of it to finish.

D

 

 

 

Aspics of Soup Dumplings (小籠包)

I’ll start this post off by warning you that this post does NOT contain a recipe. Rest assured, I definitely plan on posting one at a future date once I work out some kinks.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of soup dumplings aka xiaolongbao (xlb), they look something like this:

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Vegetarian mushroom medley soup dumplings from scratch

The act of consuming xlb is an experience in and of itself. The surgical precision necessary to pluck the dumpling out of the steamer basket with chopsticks requires the perfect balance of gentle manipulation and assertive force. Too soft a touch and you’ll never liberate the xlb from the bottom of the basket. Too rough and a tear liberates the liquid magic inside. Should you be successful in transferring the xlb to your soup spoon, you are nearly ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor. The smallest nibble unleashes the hot, savory soup from inside. As you finally consume the leftover filling, dumpling skin, with a combination of dark vinegar and ginger, you know you have made it in the world.

Although the last paragraph borders (okay fine…shamelessly dives headfirst into) the melodramatic, it is not an exaggeration to say that this particular food has launched an empire. But let’s switch gears and talk about the thing that makes soup dumplings special…namely, the soup. I used to believe that the incorporation of the soup involved the finest syringe injecting broth straight into a finished dumpling. This is decidedly NOT the case and instead involves a concept we discussed briefly in another post, hydrocolloids.

If you have ever bought a rotisserie chicken from the store and put it in your fridge, you may have noticed a gelatinous yellow glaze on the bottom of the container when you opened it the next day. If you tasted it, you would have noticed that this “meat jello” contained a lot of that chicken flavor. Therein lies the secret to soup dumplings. Back in the day broth would be made containing a lot of animal bones and/or skin. These particular parts contain a lot of collagen. Upon cooling the finished broth, one could skim the surface of it for all the leftover broth-flavored gelatin. Take a cube of gelatin, stick it into a dumpling with the filling, steam it, and the gelatin block liquifies and becomes the soup in the soup dumpling.

In the modern food industry, it is a hassle to continuously make broth, let it cool down, and skim the surface for the soup gelatin. So I asked Chef McCue how we do it today. He didn’t know for sure so did me a solid and called up his chef buddy in Taiwan who revealed that they utilize something called aspic.

Aspic is very simply gelatinized stock – stock + unflavored clear gelatin. Just like how your mom used to make jello, you heat up your stock with the gelatin mixed in, stir until it dissolves, and put it into a container that you put into the fridge. After a while the mixture turns to a broth jello that you can cut into cubes and use in your soup dumplings. Keep in mind that gelatin is a reversible hydrocolloid which is why it can turn back to a liquid upon heating. Another great thing about making aspic is that you can use it with a veggie stock (like we did with a mushroom stock) with great results.

D

 

 

 

Ball so hard

One of the perks of taking culinary classes is being able to experiment with techniques I would otherwise never have a chance to practice at home. This week, we had the opportunity to practice “spherification” with Chef Crawley in our spa cuisine class. I don’t know about you, but prior to this class the only “spherifying” I could do was use a melon baller. Look at me now!

Sadly, I can’t provide any specific recipes for these dishes because we made them up on the go and adjusted spices to taste, but I did want to talk a little about the technique of spherification and some of the nerdy science behind it all.

***CAUTION: FOOD SCIENCE AHEAD***

Spherification involves the use of something called hydrocolloids which are polysaccharides/proteins that have an affinity for water. Translated practically, they are used to gel/thicken. There are many examples of these substances which include agar, carrageenan, alginate, pectin, xanthum gum (which apparently is a byproduct of microbial fermentation), and gelatin. Deciding the exact proportions of each to use can be very nitpicky. Chefs pick and choose which one to use based on many factors which include personal preference, pH, and reversibility.

There are various techniques of spherification the scope of which is a bit beyond that of this blog, but suffice it to say, you can end up with some really cool textural and flavor components in a dish. The outside of the sphere has a somewhat gummy texture but breaking the membrane releases a torrent of flavor.

Unfortunately, this is probably not one of those things you will be replicating at home anytime soon. The ingredients are expensive. The technique takes some practice. I’d personally feel a little bit pretentious serving spherified food at a dinner party. Leave this one to the fancy restaurants.

D