Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pizza Sojourn

A couple of years ago, I left the world of private practice to work at the Attorney General's Office.  Having not had a vacation in years, I asked the AGO if they could wait a few weeks before I started my new post.  I wanted to travel.  Big time.  I had no particular destination in mind, but wanted the place to be completely disconnected from anything familiar.  Although I ultimately ended up in Ecuador, I'd had my eyes set on places far and wide, from Tibet to Congo to Georgia.  Opting to eject any locales that were politically unstable, Tibet and Congo were out.  Georgia was not so stable either, but it is, if one believes what one reads online, a beautiful country with regal landscapes, centuries of fascinating Eurasian history, and diverse ethnic cultures.  I might have risked military coups had the photographs of their cuisine not looked so, ahem, dull.
Adjarian (or acharuli/adjaruli) khachapuri
This image of Georgian khachapuri, devoid of any seasoning, herb, or color, consoled me as I ate my way around Ecuador.  Ecuador is not known for its cuisine.  In the highlands, they have their own brand of meat and potatoes and lentil stew.  On the coast in Guayaquil en route to the Galapagos Islands, there is ceviche.  In the jungle, they have some interesting fruit that looked like it came from some Klingon colony planet.  They even have a certain South American delicacy: Cuy (guinea pig).  But that's it.  None of the food in Ecuador is all that exotic or mind-blowing.  So as I sat by the side of the road between Otavalo and the sacred Peguche Falls, sipping a Fanta while an old woman worked over a coal fire to cook the crap out of my spiced meat and potato dish, wondering why I had stubbornly decided to spend three weeks in Ecuador rather than, say, Tuscany, I remembered the khachapuri of Georgia.
That meal of dried up meat and potatoes was the 5th such meal I had eaten that week -- I desperately craved vegetables, ironic considering that Otavalo sits amidst a lush green countryside.  But at least I wasn't eating meal after meal after meal of boat-shaped pizza dough topped with butter and an egg.

Which brings me to the purpose of this post.  Project Foodbuzz's challenge this week is Pizza.  Everyone's putting their own spin on it, including one of my favorite contestants, Asha of Fork Spoon Knife.  Her pide from Turkey is remarkably similar in shape to khachapuri from, you guessed it, neighboring Georgia.  But of course every country and every ethnic culture puts their own spin on the pizza.  So as my own little side project, I'm going to take Asha's lead and follow the footsteps of pizza around the world (with a nod to Jules Vernes' Around the World in 80 Days).  From Italian pizza to Turkish pide to Georgian khachaprui, who knows where our versatile sauce-topped flatbread will end up.  If you, Readers, have some suggestions on where to go next from Georgia, let me know.

For now, I'm heading to northern India.  I'll do a little bit of research on the fate of the pizza in South Asia.  The only flatbreads I can think of at the moment are naan and poppadum.  Those flatbreads are perfect for putting stuff on, but neither of them come with the sauce and stuff already on them.  Somewhere between Georgia and India, the stuff fell off the dough (or did it go on... which came first, the naan or the khachapuri?).  It's about time I go investigate...

To be continued...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Turkey Pastries

It would not be a Thanksgiving feast if there were not heaps of leftovers to provide you with the challenge of how to make them into something delicious but different by the end of the first week.  It also would not be a Thanksgiving feast if some version of turkey pot pie was not attempted.  This year, we had turkey pot pies AND turkey empanadas.
They were stuffed with the same mixture of turkey and vegetables, but something about the portability of the empanadas make them an attractive option.  Maybe it's the grab 'n' go single-serving aspect of them.  Maybe it's the fact that they remind me of the delicious alternative-to-dollar-slice-pizza late-night snacks that I used to enjoy across from the 18th Street Lounge after a long night of, um, lounging.  Maybe it's just another vehicle by which to dispose of delicious deep-fried turkey.
Either way, the pastry dough I came up with was versatile enough to serve as both double crust pie and empanada dough.  The recipe creates a light and crispy crust, a perfect envelope for the savory filling.  In hindsight, I should have made a gravy to mix in with the pie filling (it wouldn't be necessary or, for that matter, neat for the empanadas), but the pies were not dry and were tasty nonetheless. 
Here's how to do it.

Turkey Pot Pies and Empanadas
Makes 2 double-crust pies and 4 generously sized empanadas
3 c unbleached white flour
1/4 c water
3 eggs
6 oz butter, cut into 12 pieces
4 lbs cooked turkey, shredded*
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 lb cremini mushrooms, brushed, de-stemmed, and sliced
4-6 multi-colored abominable carrots, chopped (approx. 2 c chopped carrots)
2 c chopped celery (approx. 4 stalks)
1-2 c turkey or chicken broth (I actually used turkey aspic because that's what I had after boiling the Thanksgiving carcasses)
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp ground coriander
salt and pepper to taste
*If the turkey is unseasoned, I would also add 1 tsp orange zest and 1 tsp chopped sage.

Pulse flour, 2 eggs, and butter in a food processor until well mixed.  Gradually add water through the feed tube, pulsing until the dough just comes together in a clumpy ball.  Take the dough out, press it into a ball, then wrap tightly with plastic wrap and let sit for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.  Over medium-high heat, sautee the mushrooms in the olive oil (I had the foresight to do this step in two deep-sided skillets -- this recipe simply makes two much to fit into one).  Once brown, add the onions, carrots, and celery, and sautee till tender.  Add the shredded turkey, broth, coriander, and salt/pepper to taste.  Stir to incorporate, lower heat, and let simmer under a lid for 10 minutes.  Then remove lid to let cool.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Unwrap the dough and roll out as thinly as possible on a lightly floured surface.  Cut four pieces to fit two pie pans such that some dough flops over the sides of the pan.  Set aside the remainder of the dough for empanadas.  Press one piece of dough into the bottom of a pie pan.  Fill the pie pan with cooled turkey filling.  Lay a second piece of dough over the pie pan.   Working around the edge of the pie pan, roll the edges of the first piece, together with the edges of the first piece, over the edge of the pie pan, and tuck the dough just between the side of the pan and the outer edge of the pie.  Cut some vents into the top pie crust.  In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg with 1 tbsp water to make an egg wash.  Brush the egg wash over the top crust.  Repeat with a second pie pan.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the top crust is golden and lightly browned.

For the empanadas, cut 6" diameter (or whatever sized bowl you can use as a template) circles out of the remaining dough.  Place a 1/2 c of turkey filling onto the center of each circle.  Fold the dough over and crimp the edges.  Lay the empanadas on a baking sheet lined with foil and brush them with egg wash.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Let cool for 5 minutes, then serve, unless you like burning off the roof of your mouth (ahem, Mr. Rose).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pre-Thanksgiving Feast: Cassoulet


You may have heard that 30 people RSVP'd to attend my annual Canadian Thanksgiving dinner.  I did not pull this off without help.  In addition to Mr. Rose, three out-of-town family members were among the attendees: my middle sister and my in-laws.  For the sake of storytelling, we'll call them Daffy, and Mr. and Mrs. Rose, Sr.  They arrived a day before the festivities to offer a helping hand and earn their turkey dinners.  In exchange, I decided to serve up a hearty cassoulet for dinner the night before, so that they'd have their energy for the work ahead of them.

The meal took all day to prepare.  I gave Daffy a tour of my garden full of abominable carrots.  She was impressed by the selection of herbs we had, and the convenience of having an herb garden, rather than having to buy packets of stale stuff at the store.  But as I pulled up each colorful, abominable carrot, she laughed at the color and shape of it, pausing only to squeak, "Most people... just... buy... carrots... And they don't look like that."  

Undaunted by the mockery in the garden, I showed her my knife skills with onions.  Thanks again to Gordon Ramsay and Graham Elliot for making me chop onions for over 90 minutes and paralyzing my tear ducts.  I now have the best kitchen trick ever -- being able to chop an onion without crying.

The largest sweet onion I have ever seen.  For scale, that is my left hand, the hand of a former concert pianist.
The thing that Mr. & Mrs. Rose, Sr. and Daffy found most astonishing was that I would go through this entire mutli-hour, multi-step process with nothing but my dutch oven and cast iron skillet.  As I walked Mrs. Rose, Sr. and Daffy through each step, there was a look of wonderment that we still hadn't arrived at our final destination.

But, this was one of the tastiest one-pot meal we'd all had in a while.  I'm sure everyone agreed it was well worth the wait, and a good way to kick off a weekend in the kitchen.  You might even call it a feast before the feast.

Cassoulet (adapted from Saveur magazine)
1 lb dried great northern beans
8 tbsp duck fat
16 cloves garlic, smashed
1 extra-large sweet onion, chopped
2 abominable carrots, chopped
1 smoked pork shank
2 lb bone-in shoulder, meat cut off bone and cut into 1" cubes
1⁄2 lb pancetta, cubed
4 sprigs oregano
4 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves
1 c whole peeled canned tomatoes
1/2 c vermouth
1/2 c macintosh apple sauce
2 cups chicken broth
4 confit duck legs
1 lb pork sausages (I used rustic bratwurst)
2 cups bread crumbs

Soak beans in a 4-qt bowl in 7-1⁄2 cups water overnight.

Soak the smoked pork shank in a medium bowl of water.  Heat 2 tbsp duck fat in a 5-qt dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add half the garlic, onions, and carrots and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.  Add pork shank and the pork shoulder bone along with beans and their water and boil. Reduce heat and simmer beans until tender, about 1 1⁄2 hours.

Remove contents of the dutch oven, including the liquids, and set the pot aside.  Pull meat of the shank, discarding skin, bone, and gristle.  Also discard the pork shoulder bone (rumor has it, your dogs will thank you for the discarded bones.).  Chop meat and add to beans.  Set aside.

Heat 2 tbsp duck fat in the dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add pork shoulder cubes and brown for 8 minutes.  Add pancetta cubes and cook for 5 minutes.  Add remaining garlic, onions, and carrots and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.  Tie together oregano, thyme, and bay leaves with a bit of cheesecloth, add to pan with tomatoes, and cook until liquid thickens, 8–10 minutes.  Add vermouth and apple sauce, and let simmer for 15 minutes.  Add broth, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low.  Cook, uncovered, until liquid has thickened, about 1 hour.  Discard bouquet-garni and set dutch oven aside.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.  In a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, sear the duck legs in 2 tbsp duck fat for 8 minutes.  Transfer to a plate.  Brown sausages in the fat, about 8 minutes.  Cut sausages into 1⁄2" slices.  Pull duck meat off bones. Discard bones (the fat can go into a baking dish, covered with aluminum foil, into the oven to render additional fat... yum.).  Stir the duck, sausages, and reserved beans and pork shank into the pork stew in the dutch oven.  Cover the mixture with bread crumbs.  Drizzle with duck fat from the cast iron skillet.  Bake, uncovered, for 3 hours (or 2 hours in the convection oven).  Raise oven temperature to 500 degrees F for the last 5 minutes.

Canadian Thanksgiving 2010

It's 2010, my 10th year in America, and the 9th anniversary of the biggest dinner party of the year.  Each year, my American friends ask me for the story behind Canadian Thanksgiving.  I tell them, "It's just like American Thanksgiving, except in Canada, we just call it 'Thanksgiving.'  Kinda like how in China, they don't call it 'Chinese checkers,' it's just 'checkers.'"

And despite my smartassery, each year, the same people keep coming back for Canadian Thanksgiving.  Each year, it grows.  This year, we had 30 people RSVP.  Had it occurred to me that, if we didn't have enough china for 30 people and if I believed that eating off Chinet destroyed the sanctity of a Thanksgiving feast, I shouldn't have invited 30+ people to dinner?  Perhaps.  But it was just a fleeting thought.  After all, I now have a beast of a range, with 6 gas burners, 2 convection ovens, and a separate broiler tray.  And if I rented china (elegant ivory, with gold rim) and wine glasses, I wouldn't have to wash it or worry about breaking my own bone china or stemware.  Piece. Of. Cake.

Since the number of people in attendance each year has escalated, the comfort level never remains the same.  Dinner for 20 would have been a piece of cake.  I'm not sure how I noodled it out in my head than 30 would be the same as 20.  Maybe it's because I opted to do two smaller birds this year, 18 lbs a piece, instead of one giant one.  Certainly, the brawn required to cook a pair of 18 lb birds is much easier to muster up than the brawn required for a single 36 lb bird.  A bird that size would be more than a quarter of my size.  That's just ridiculous.  I know my limits and I can no longer bench press my own body weight any more than I can bicep curl 36 lbs.  Either way, I didn't anticipate that I'd be solely responsible for the bird(s) this year because of two simple words.  1) Deep, and 2) Fryer.

The thought of handling something combustible adjacent to our 120 year old wood frame house was so dangerous and manly that Mr. Rose accepted the task with great gusto, driving across all of God's green Denver/Aurora to find peanut oil ("It's out of season.  Come back closer to real Thanksgiving," was what he heard time and time again), procuring a second tank of propane to fuel the burner, and using all his ingenious faculties to fashion some kind of insulating layer to protect the deep fryer from the cold, wet wind.  I'm sorry to say I have no photographic documentation to share, but suffice it to say that the final setup included a patio umbrella, a roll of aluminum foil, and some moving boxes -- it looked akin to something I would have made as an 8 year old and called my make-believe spaceship.  It rocked.

And it did the trick.  I'd made a dry rub out of orange zest, chopped sage, salt and pepper, and spread it between the flesh and the skin of the birds and let it sit in the fridge over night.  The next day, when the peanut oil was up to 375 degrees F, Mr. Rose put the birds into the basket, one at a time, and lowered it into the oil.  About an hour later, the perfectly roasted birds were on the butcher block, cooling a bit, rejuicing themselves, and waiting to be carved.

While Mr. Rose was doing all these things, I was setting the tables in the dining/living room, and making side dishes.  We had cranberry sausage bread stuffing, Chinese sticky rice with shiitake, scallions, and lap cheong sausages, creamed kale from the garden, garlicky mashed potatoes, rich turkey gravy, tangy cranberry sauce, and a sweet and sour plum sauce.  Despite the fact that I had the help of some out of town guests (my sister and my in-laws), there are no more photos to accompany this story (unless any of the guests happened to have taken some and, upon reading this right now, decided to email those photos to me) because I kinda had my hands full with dinner for 30.  It's true -- photography is not my strong suit.  However, I do have the recipe for the Chinese sticky rice, which should be enough to satisfy your curiosity AND your cravings.

Chinese Sticky Rice
2 cups sweet rice (also called glutinous rice -- you get it at the Asian grocers)
4 cups chicken stock
6-8 lap cheong sausages (pork sausages cured with soy sauce and booze -- while you're at the Asian grocer, pick some of these up as well)
1-1/2 bunches of scallions
1-1/2 oz dried shiitake mushrooms
3 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp canola oil

Boil 2 cups of water.  In a medium bowl, soak the mushrooms in the boiling water and cover the bowl with a dish to keep the heat in.  While the mushrooms are soaking, quarter sausages lengthwise, then chop to 1/4" dice.  Chop the scallions into 1/4" lengths.  In a wok, heat canola oil over medium-high heat.  Stir in sweet rice till well-coated and hot, about 2 minutes.  Add chicken stock, stir, and drop the lid on the wok.  Bring the stock to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer.  Simmer for 10 minutes with lid on the wok.  While that is simmering, dice the mushrooms, which should be tender by now.  Add mushrooms, sausage, and scallions to the rice, stirring gently to mix well.  Add soy and oyster sauce, stirring to incorporate sauces into all of the rice.  Return lid and let simmer till the rice is tender.

This sticky rice was something my Shanghainese mom uses as stuffing/dressing inside the turkey at Canadian Thanksgiving.  It is delicious out of the turkey as well, and the following morning, I like to fry little patties of them, and serve them with an egg over easy.  Best breakfast this side of Shanghai.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A little something for the dogs: Bok-bok-bok Choy Love Biscuits

It's no secret that we love our dogs and spoil them rotten.  But, unlike the rest of the helicopter parents our generation is known for, our children wag their happy tails when they hear the jangle of a leash or think there might be left overs from last night's dinner for breakfast today.  Simple, cost-free things make them so happy.  And I'm happy to indulge.
The won ton we made with Zoe was served in a luscious, home-made broth.  It started with a coarse mirepoix, topped with six chicken backs, a couple of heads of bok choy, a hunk of ginger root, a handful of parsley, and enough water to cover.  The mixture was boiled for a couple of hours, then the solids were drained and -- here's where we differ from other households -- set aside for doggie treats.
I cannot stress enough how lovely and fragrant the broth was.  All the goodness from the cornucopia of ingredients were completely absorbed into the water, needing only a little bit of salt to finish it off.  Yet, somehow, the oft-discarded solids can be picked free of bones and mixed with a few other bland ingredients to make the most scrumptious treats my girls have ever eaten. 
Taking a page out of Mark Bittman's book, I have moved my food processor to an easily accessible location and now use it now fewer than 2-3 times weekly.  Today, I threw the chicken bok choy broth solids into my food processor with some cooked rice and egg, and gave it all a hearty whirl to make a lumpy sludge.  I put small handfuls of the sludge on wax paper-lined baking sheets and threw them in the convection oven at 350 degrees till they were stiff enough to be peeled off without breaking apart.  (No, I don't have any idea how long that was.  I was too busy writing this blog and giving love biscuits out to all the doggie neighbors that have stopped by this morning to note the time.)  Behold, the bok-bok-bok choy love biscuit!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Kid-friendly cooking: Won ton

We don't have kids, Mr. Rose and I, nor do our most frequent dinner guests.  So the idea of a kid-friendly meal, much less a meal prepared with the aid of a kid, is mostly foreign to me.  That is, in part, because we find most children to be fussy eaters and sub-par conversationalists -- when friends bring children to dinner, I feel my anxiety level rising: What do I feed them?  What do I say to them?  Our house is doggie-proof, but is it kiddie-proof also?
Then I met Zoe.  Zoe is a delightful child.  She's good-natured, curious, and has the wittiest things to say.  And, when we went to dim sum, she happily noshed on the food few adults would try.  The chicken feet.  She popped the chicken toes right into her mouth and spit the bones out clean.  Like a champ.  Nothing grosses Zoe out.  Not even ground pork.
Zoe's mom asked if they could help me make dinner sometime.  Maybe something Chinese?  You're on, ZM.  I enlisted the help of Ku and we made a meal that would test the dexterity of Zoe's 5-year old fingers: Won ton.
The tough part of cooking for kids is that some are picky eaters and it's difficult to predict what they will and will not eat -- I could agonize for days in advance over what to put on the menu, then toil all day to cook it, only to find the kids feeding my dogs under the table.  I don't take it personally though.  My food is unfamiliar to them and I don't cook like their mom does.  My theory is that children are more likely to be open to new foods if they know what goes into it.  Zoe doesn't strike me as a picky eater at all.  Nevertheless, I brought Zoe in from the beginning, starting with mixing the won ton filling.
One thing that was really cool about Zoe is that she is able to focus like no other child I've ever seen.  She watched Ku demonstrate the wrapping of one won ton, then pushed up her sleeves and went to town.  She did the lion's share of the won ton wrapping and invented a couple of alternative methods of wrapping that were adorable.
She even helped me make a spicy soy dipping sauce for the scallion pancakes.  ZD (Zoe's dad) fed her little wedges of scallion pancakes while she worked diligently on wrapping won ton.
The meal was delicious.  And we had a lot of fun making scallion pancakes and won tons!  There was just barely enough space after dinner for a little nibble of sweet cream filled pastries that ZM brought.  At the end of the evening, when Zoe had her fill of excitement (and hard work -- she wrapped more won ton than ZM or I did), she did the only sensible thing she could: she curled up in ZM's lap and fell asleep.  The kid is wise beyond her years.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Continuing on a theme: Stuffed Tofu

Since our garden exploded with cucumbers, kale, tomatoes, tomatillos, and plums this season, home-grown produce has been predominant in my cooking.  If you've been reading, you'll know that it started with fresh salads where we could taste every squirt of tomatoey freshness a couple of months back.  Then the tomatoes started getting sauced.  Then roasted.  Then roasted and sauced.  Same goes for the rest of the vegetables.  While I was working late one night, Mr. Rose blanched and pitted 30 lbs of plums, then threw them in the freezer where they still await their final fate.  I created a kale chip addiction among the 60 or so attorneys and staff on my floor -- I bring in large batches once a week to feed the addiction (I would not be a very successful crack dealer -- I know I should be charging money for this).  I cannot cook all the vegetables fast enough and I certainly cannot eat them all.  I know.  This is not exactly a tragedy.  But. It's. Just. Too. Much.
Though I resent today's formidable volume of vegetables, I know that I'll miss them in a few months when the garden goes into hibernation. 

Still.  Now that I'm off my grocery shopping moratorium, I'm back at it, making whatever I feel like eating, whenever I feel like it.
It just so happens that I am still on a Chinese food kick from the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival.  It also happens that there was a scrumptious mixture of ground pork, chopped shrimp, and shiitake mushrooms in my fridge (left over from a certain meal of wontons that you'll read about soon).  A splash of oyster sauce, a pound and a half of silken tofu, and a few leaves of napa cabbage would transform the pork-shrimp-shiitake mixture into a totally new meal.
I lined bamboo steamers with a bed of napa cabbage, which would make the bottom of the steamer a slightly softer place on which to set silken tofu.  Then, I carved out cylinders of tofu in which I would stuff the meat-mushroom mixture.  What did I do with the cylinders?  It's a little known fact that dogs love cylinders of silken tofu.
I had enough to space to steam two well-spaced baskets of stuffed tofu.  This little experiment yielded delicately-fragranced entrees for four.  Since the meat mixture was made of left over won ton stuffing, the recipe quantities are approximate.
Stuffed Tofu
2/3 lb ground pork and chopped shrimp (my mixture was about 2/3 pork with 1/3 shrimp, though it could easily be the other way around)
1/2 c minced shiitake caps
1/2 c watercress, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp minced ginger
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp ground white pepper

2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 1/2 lb silken tofu
6-8 napa cabbage leaves

In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients but the last two.  Line the bottoms of two 8" bamboo steamer baskets with the softer green parts of the napa cabbage leaves.  I fed the bottom white parts to my dogs, but they could have gone into the compost just as well.  Cut the silken tofu into 2" x 2" cubes that are 1-1/2" deep.  With a small paring knife, cut 1/2" diameter holes into the top of the 2" x 2" squares, being sure not to cut all the way through the entire 1-1/2" depth.  Take a small amount of the meat mixture and gently stuff it into the hole, allowing a larger quantity of the meat mixture to sit on top of the tofu.  Set the stuffed tofu on the napa cabbage in the bamboo steamer basket.  Stack the baskets and place a lid on the top steamer basket.  Place 1-2" of water in the bottom of a stock pot and place a rack on the bottom so that when you set the baskets in the pot, they will not be sitting in the water.  Place the baskets on the rack and put a lid on the pot.  Bring the water to a vigorous boil and let steam for 20 minutes.

Be careful when removing the steamer basket from the pot.  Use a good pair of tongs to lift the lid.  Then grip the side of steamer baskets, removing the baskets one at a time.

The stuffed tofu is good with extra oyster sauce or hot sauce (yay Sriracha!) on basmati rice.