Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tofu rolls

I'm on a diet.  Well more specifically, I'm reverting to dietary habits I used to exercise which allowed me to get my weight down to something way closer to reasonable than it is right now.  The problem is that I like to eat.  Alot.  So I'm trying the Dukan Diet, sort of like Atkins which worked for me in the past, but with significant tweaks like the variety of veggies and the inclusion of ooat bran - which I think are going to make a huge difference for me.

So you might notice a lack of carbs for a while, and a reduction in the fats I use, leaner cuts of meat, and the inclusion of non-fat dairy (milk was a no-no on Atkins, I can't even explain how much I missed milk!!) .  Hopefully I can come up with some fun things to eat that work for everyone!  Starting with these tofu rolls...

I woke up today jonsing for dim sum - unfortunately dim sum relies heavily on carbohydrates so I had to figure out a way to rejigger things to be on track and still satisfy my cravings.  Totally worth the effort.

Stuff you'll need;

  • 4 Chicken thighs
  • 1 large chicken breast
  • 6-8 medium sized dried shitake mushrooms
  • half a can of water chestnuts
  • half a can of bamboo shoots
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Tofu skin also known as Yuba (Dried or refrigerated - I prefer the refrigerated, because I think it's easier to deal with)

You can substitute pre-ground chicken for whole thighs and breast, but since I'm supposed to be paying attention to the fat content, I'm grinding my own.  The mushrooms bamboo and water chestnuts have next to no carbs, so adding just a little bit acts as a flavoring rather than adding a vegetable, - totally phase one friendly!

Also - for a vegan/vegetarian friendly version, substitute extra firm tofu (crumbled) or seitan, or meat substitute like smart grounds for the chicken.

Rehydrate the mushrooms in warm water in a medium sized bowl.  Reserve the water to use when steaming the finished rolls.

Chop the chicken parts (sans skin) into 1-2 inch cubes, and whiz them in a food processor until ground (it should look like hamburger meat).  Mix the breast with the thighs and set aside.
Put the water chestnuts, bamboo and re-hydrated shitake in the processor (no reason to rinse it really) and run briefly for a rough chop. Add to the ground chicken.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and mix.

Tofu skin looks something like this;
It comes either completely dry and crisp like paper think crackers, or mostly dry but still pliable.  If you have a good Asian market nearby, you can usually find it either with other noodles and dried goods, or in the refrigerated section with the other tofu.  The completely dry sheets will need to be soaked until pliable.

the sheets may need to be cut down to a manageable size - they tend to come in one ginormous circular sheet - I find you can cut them down to about 6 pieces for a fair sized roll , that make great single servings.

Place about 4 - 6  table spoons of the chicken mix on each tofu sheet, and roll like a burrito
I made these large enough so one would work as a small meal, two for a large meal.

Once you've constructed the rolls, prepare your steamer - I use the water from soaking the shitake mushrooms in the pot I'm using to steam for a little extra flavor.  Place the rolls on your steamer carefully - if you're using a metal or other kind of steamer that's not treated to be non stick, a quick spray of oil will ensure smooth removal of the roll when you're done cooking.

Steam the rolls for 5 to 7 minutes, they should be firm to the touch when they're done.  The skins will range from a pale whitish to yellow in color when they're done - it tends to depend on the manufacturer.  In the interest of staying away from carbs I drizzle a bit of soy sauce over the top
 Dim sum craving?  Handled.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Fish Chowdah (Chowder)!

So having sorted out a delicious fish stock, I wanted to figure out a yummy way to eat it.  Plain broth is great but I get hungry again quickly and this stock was screaming for additions.  Like many of my recipes there are no hard fast rules to this, just suggestions that I think will result in a yummy dish.

Stuff you'll need;

I've made this chowder twice - once with stuff I had lying around, the second time I went to the market and made conscious decisions about what I wanted to include.  The photos you see here are from the second batch - the first one just looked boring...

  • Red potatoes (I choose red for the color, any kind of potato will do - maybe purple if you have any lying around?)
  • Peas (mine were frozen)
  • Corn (also frozen)
  • White Beans (canned - any kind of beans will do, I was considering butter beans first)
  • Splash (about 4 tablespoons more or less to taste) of heavy cream
  • Bacon -diced and lightly browned (this is to keep the color from going grey and unappetizing...)
  • Several large shrimp per serving (thawed if using frozen)
  • Additionally, this chowder would be delicious with some chunks of fish (monkfish, seabass, salmon etc.) or shell fish like clams!
  • Fish stock  (click here for the recipe)

This part is so easy it's nearly criminal. Dice up the bacon and give it a good toss up in a pan - you want a light browning. Set it aside and prep your veggies - you want fairly uniform chunks of vegetables based on their density - that is to say carrots and potatoes should be cut to about the same size.  This helps you with the cooking time to ensure everything is cooked through equally.  

Thaw the fish stock in a heavy bottom pot, I usually make a vat of it at a time, and freeze it in single serving containers - I thawed 2 for this batch (resulting in about 5 cups).

Add the denser veggies first - in this case it was the potatoes, and let them cook through.  Once the potatoes soften (soften not dissolve) add everything else - bacon, cream, beans, other veggies - except the shrimp.  This is a good time to skim some of the fat off the surface of the soup if you like - unless you added a ton of butter it's primarily good oil - fish and olive from the soup base - so there's really no need to do it, but sometimes for aesthetic reasons I'll skim it off with a large shallow spoon.

Bring it back up to a light boil, turn off the heat and drop the shrimp into the soup - shrimp cooks really quickly and overcooked shrimp tends to get rubbery if added too soon, and even large shrimp don't really take much effort to cook. The shrimp will cook through in about 4 minutes without additional heat.  If for some reason it doesn't, turn up the heat for just a moment until the shrimp are opaque and pink.

That's it - just serve it up and chow(der) down!


Just for reference, this is what the first batch looked like - really tasty but not so visually appealing really...I used a peeled and sliced russet potato and didn't bother to skim the oil.  The result was a rich broth with a nice seafood flavor and dense potato slices but not much variation in color and texture. I kept thinking it needed something green.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easy Peasy - Pork Ragu

I am digging this dish - it's so easy to make, and if you're like me, with no real sense of portion control, you can make a vat of it, freeze some and have a handy dish on hand easily - you know in case someone comes by for a visit.  To be clear it will seem time consuming and labor intensive to make this, but it's actually pretty easy and so worth it!

As always the recipe is open to interpretation, you'll need to rely on yourself to adjust the flavors the way you like them.  I'll just give you a few basic steps to get you going down the right path.

Things you'll need;

  • 3 quart stock pot 
  • Slow cooker - this is a personal preference, you could fully slow cook on the stove top or in the oven, but the slow cooker or Crock Pot allows you to walk away and the sauce will practically cook itself.
  • Pork shoulder - also called pork butt, 3-4 lbs depending on how large your pots are
  • One large onion - I prefer sweet varieties like Vidalia but most any kind would suffice
  • One or two peeled smashed garlic cloves
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Dried herbs - my favorite blend is Herbs De Provance, but use whatever you like - typically something with oregano, basil and fennel work well with tomato sauces
  • A cup or so of Parmesan cheese grated/flaked
  • Olive Oil
  • Beef stock/broth
  • Marrow/soup bones if you can get them
  • Strained tomatoes/Tomato sauce  - the one in my local market comes in a 26oz box which works well, and I look specifically for brands that don't have any additives like sugar or salt, just 100% pure strained tomatoes.  If you want to be hardcore you could also stew whole tomatoes and puree them yourself but personally I like the convenience of a nice box of strained tomatoes.
  • One small can tomato paste - the tomato paste adds a significant tang to the final sauce with little effort

Roughly chop the onion, into 1-2 inch cubes - use it to line the bottom of a slow cooker crock.
Drop in one to two cloves of garlic 
Add pork shoulder and marrow bones, loosely packed.
Pour beef stock over the contents leaving space at the top - at least an inch from the rim of the slow cooker. (the pork fat will render, if you fill it to the brim you could get some significant overflow.)

Cook at medium to high heat for 4 to 6 hours minimum until the pork falls apart with little effort using a fork

Separate the pork from the cooking liquid and set aside, don't throw away the cooking liquid, that will be part of your sauce base.  Don't worry about getting all the bits, this step is really just to make handling the whole lot a little easier.

In a 3 quart pot, mix the cooking liquid along with the strained tomatoes and tomato paste.  I don't bother to strain off the fat - it adds flavor, and once the sauce is refrigerated, it will float to the top and congeal so if I'm feeling the need to pretend to be healthy I can simply lift the cold layer of fat off and toss it.  Although I advise against it :)

Once the tomatoes are fully incorporated, add the pork back to the mix.  Add spices, salt and pepper to taste (tasting as you go along is key) and mix well.  Take it easy on the salt right now, you're going to add Parmesan which is quite salty in it's own right. Turn the heat on to medium and let the sauce simmer for a bit - you want the dried herbs and spices to impart their flavor the sauce.
Let the sauce simmer for about 20 or 30 min, and give it a taste - add the Parmesan and stir it in - give the sauce a little taste again to determine if you really need salt - remember it's easier to add salt than it is to eat a dish that tastes too salty.  
Serve the pork ragu over fat slices of crusty toast, or a home made pasta or top slices of grilled eggplant with the mix for a carb-conscious treat!


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bullia... Boulabass... Bolly... Fish Stock!

I'm kidding, I know it's Bouillabaisse - well I Googled, so what.  Anyway, there are a couple of reasons there's a pot of fish bones brewing on my stove.

  1. I have a really bad habit of letting veggies sit around till they're about to spoil - it's a spectacular waste of money. It really is.
  2. I save the bones from the food I eat - steak bones, chicken bones, the parts of the fish that don't make fillets but still have meat on them, tails and shrimp heads - all that jazz.  Honestly sometimes it's those are the best parts but not ones you necessarily serve.
  3. I want to cook but I have things to do that require me not standing by the stove.

The solution?  Stock.  In this case - fish stock.

I like to brew up stocks and freeze them - they come in handy in a number of ways, use them to enhance sauces and gravies, substitute for water as the braising liquid when cooking - all manner of uses.

The basic principal is easy - add aromatic and flavorful elements to a pot of water, and simmer slowly over low heat for a good long time until all the flavor from your ingredients has dispersed into the water creating a yummy broth.  Really - that's it.

I'm going to break this one down a little differently - I think it's more effective to understand the principals behind making the stock rather than focusing on the actual ingredients.  Ready?  Here goes;

Veggies - you'll find you get the most flavorful results from aromatic vegetables, among those to consider (first my favorites);

  • Carrots - mini or regular
  • Celery - with leaves and bases
  • Onions - I used sweet onions and scallions but any kind would do
  • Leeks - cleaned carefully to remove grit 
  • Parsley - Italian flat leaf, or curly or both

also worth considering

  • Tomatoes
  • Parsnips
  • Bell peppers
  • Mushrooms - shiitake are my fav but you could really use what ever kind you have handy

Feel free to be creative - this is a great chance to use up veggies that are on their last leg!

Really any kind of veggies can be added - you 'll notice there are a couple bits of zucchini in the photo above, I had a bit left in a baggie and decided to toss it in, also added some frozen peas later on that were getting a bit freezer burned...

For this stock, I added about 2lbs of fish bones and trim, along with some shrimp and salmon that had been hiding in the darkest corners of my freezer - ideally shrimp with heads and shells on or even just the heads and shells adds the best flavor.

Alternately left over cuts of pork (uncooked) along with the bones and skin, the knuckles and joints that you didn't know what to do with, would make this a great pork broth.  How about the carcass from your roasted chicken/duck/turkey for a different variation?

Additional ingredients to add to the mix;

  • Salt - I use kosher salt when I cook most of the time.  Kosher salt tends to be flakier than most, and disperses a good salty flavor even in modest amounts.  Sea salt, which has a slightly different flavor is also great but tends to be a bit more expensive and depending on the variety sometimes requires more to achieve the same taste
  • A good splash of olive oil - I find it helps deal with the foam that can build up while the broth is cooking
  • Herbs - for the fish stock, I added coriander seeds - I like the fresh taste the seeds impart when cooking, a bit of my favorite herb mix - herbs de Provance with lavender, a smattering of whole white pepper corns, a pinch of saffron (from a cheap batch I purchased in Bali) and the remains (about one and a quarter) of the jar of bay leaves that was hiding in the back of my cupboard.
  • I also tossed in the remains of a batch of soffrito/mirepoix that I had floating around the fridge since I didn't have celery in the house.

Once you've picked your ingredients, the rest is easy - put everything in a pot, add enough water to cover if you can, turn the heat on to medium/low, put the lid on - a little bit askew to let some of the steam out and walk away.

Check on the pot every once in a while to ensure that it's simmering not boiling, and to make sure that the liquid isn't cooking away entirely - it's fine to let it reduce a bit, the flavor would be stronger which could be useful if you choose to use the stock as an ingredient in other recipes.

The best way to tell if your stock is done is to taste it.  I let my fish stock brew for about three and a half hours, although at the 40 min mark it was already quite tasty.  The longer you let it brew to stronger the flavor is likely to be.

Once you have the flavor where you like it, strain the broth using a strainer or cheesecloth - and depending on what you put in the broth, the color should range from pale brown to golden to orange to reddish - as long as it tastes good don't be distracted by the color of the broth.  Adding saffron to my batch resulted in a goldish yellow hued broth.

You can toss the mash you've strained out, and now your stock is ready for use!  I like to split the broth into smaller containers to freeze for later use.  I'll use the smaller containers in the next two days but the big one is going in the freezer for another day.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Basic Pasta

My aversion to carbs is unfortunate considering my new obsession.  Fresh Pasta!  That little thingie up there is my new pasta machine, and I am deeply and utterly in love with it.  It's like a Play-Doh machine for grown ups!!  Last night I got it in my head I wanted to make a lasagna and I wanted to do it with fresh noodles.  So I proceeded to crank out a batch just then.  Tonight I think I'm going to make a batch of Parpadelle to freeze (and give to my guinea pigs) and maybe a bit of pork shoulder ragu to go with... but that's a separate post.

For now, let's learn to make a basic pasta dough.  I'm going to put it out there right now that this dough can be made vegan easily enough - read thru the basics then just omit the eggs for a vegan version.

Stuff you'll need
4 large/jumbo eggs
2 cups of flour (plus a little extra for dusting and adjusting)
1/2 cup of semolia flour
1/4 tsp salt
Water - for the non-vegan set, a couple table spoons would do it if you need it at all - for the vegan version you'll be using water in place of eggs, so be prepared to use more water a cup or more - either way add slowly as you won't necessarily need all of it

Most recipes will tell you to pile your dry ingredients on a counter, make a well in the middle, crack the eggs in the center and slowly incorporate the two little by little from the center taking care not to break the walls of the 'bowl' until the dough has formed.  Most chefs apparently don't have to contend with a New York apartment sized kitchen (zero counter space).  Bunch of show offs.  This is how you do when you have the kind of counter space that can be monopolized by a coffee mug.

Get a bowl, a big one.  Put your dry ingredients in the bowl, make a hollow in the center, and crack the eggs in the hollow, stir (I use a large metal spoon for this) to incorporate the flours and the egg - until a dough starts to form.  Then, with clean hands, grab it and start squeezing and kneading it - you want to get to a ball of dough that requires some effort to manipulate, but is reasonably pliable, and not sticky.  If it's sticky add flour/semolina.  If it seems dry/crumbly/flakey add water one tablespoon at a time.

Depending on who you ask the measurements will either be crucial or (in my opinion) something you can freehand for the most part.  I personally like my pasta flours to be in the 4:1 range (2cups of flour = 4 half cups, plus 1 half cup of semolina) - I find it gives me a texture as well as taste I really like.  Sometimes  go heavier on the semolina, sometimes I skip eggs... you get the idea.  The point is, you want a dough.

Once the dough is fully incorporated, it's going to need to rest (regardless of how you decided to blend) - I usually put mine in a ziplock and suck the air out of it but plastic wrap would do the trick too.  You want to make sure as little as possible is exposed to air.  Now let it rest for 20 to 30 min - it gives the glutens a chance to relax and the dough will be significantly easier to work with.

Once the dough is rested, it's ON!!!  If you have a pasta machine (what I like to refer to as the grown up play-doh fun factory) have at it - run the pasta through it, make sheets, made ribbons go crazy!  If you don't, you can easily carve out simple versions of pasta with a rolling pin - roll flat even sheets then use a knife to cut the sheets into ribbons of any width, you can cut squares of pasta, and fold the centers like an accordion to make farfalle (bows) or roll the pasta into coils and using your thumbs make orrechiette shapes (there are some great videos on YouTube.

To cook the fresh pasta, bring a pot of well salted water to a rolling boil, drop the pasta in, and let it cook for about 3 minutes (al dente).  The pasta tends to float to the top when it's ready but don't over cook it - it's fresh pasta and won't need as much cooking time!

Fresh pasta can be used in a number of ways - here are a couple varieties I've cranked out;

De-constructed Lasagna - dressed with olive oil, diced tomatoes and capers which I toss in a pan over medium heat briefly, deep fried garlic chips, with basil ribbons, Parmesan and mozzarella (skip the cheese and make the pasta without eggs, you've got a vegan version!)

Oozy egg raviolio - put a pillow of ricotta cheese mixed with a bit of sage or thyme,  on a square of pasta, make a well in the center, and carefully put an egg yolk right in the middle.  Top with a second sheet of pasta and carefully seal pushing out as much air as possible.  Boil the ravioli for just a couple of minutes (3-4) so that the yolk is still runny - top with a sprinkle of salt and pepper (I've got diced prosciutto on this but here) for an oozy eggy treat!

 Add a little food color to a batch of pasta, and create striped pasta (this one has the egg in it too - it's DELICIOUS!)

More ravioli this time with a mix of butternut squash, diced bacon and white beans - g'head try to resist snarfing this down...

This one from the top of the post, I made giant Farfalle (bows) once just for fun, each one was about the size of a playing card.  Topped with a tomato based pork ragu and flakes of Parmesan cheese.

Have fun and be creative with this one!