Sunday, January 24, 2016

Seafood Rice Porridge/Congee (Haixian Zhou)

Chinese seafood porridge can range from super simple to over-the-top, depending on what you put in it. That's the beauty of this dish - it's comfort food that can be as basic as just rice porridge with fish, but from there you can improvise: feel free to add shrimp, scallops (dried and/or fresh), clams, mussels, squid, crab, lobster, abalone, etc. The sky's the limit, budget withstanding of course. In my version, I start by making a flavorful but not rich seafood stock to cook the rice in. As for the seafood, I cook that separately and add it to the individual bowls of the rice porridge before serving to preserve their texture (shrimp and scallops get really rubbery if cooked too long).

8 oz. artificial crab ("Krab")
20 cups water
2 tsp. Hondashi
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. sesame oil
2-3 slices fresh ginger

2 cups short-grained rice


1 lb. medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 lb. tilapia or other white fish filets, cut into 2" pieces
1 lb. sea scallops, sliced in half lengthwise and quartered (if pieces are large)

Marinade for Seafood:

1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. rice wine
1 tbsp. cornstarch

1 rib celery, finely diced

1 cup thinly sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms (stems removed)


Cilantro, chopped
Scallions, thinly sliced
Ginger, thinly julienned
Oyster sauce

Optional Ingredients:

Dried scallops
Bamboo shoots

1. Place all the rice porridge ingredients except for the rice in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Remove & discard the ginger slices after cooking.

2. In the meantime, gently toss the seafood (here I'm using shrimp, tilapia and scallops) with the marinade ingredients. Cover and place in the frig for at least 30 minutes.

3. Add the raw rice into the stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer (stirring occasionally) until the rice is very soft and the mixture thickened.

4. Stir in the diced celery and sliced shiitakes. Cook for 5-10 minutes.

5. Heat 2-3 tbsp. vegetable oil over high heat in a saute pan or wok. Add the marinated seafood and stir-fry until just cooked through. Remove the pan from the heat.

6. Ladle the rice porridge into individual serving bowls and top with a generous amount of the seafood. Garnish with chopped cilantro, scallions, and finely shredded ginger. Serve with oyster sauce on the side.

Stock ingredients: ginger, hondashi, sesame oil and white pepper.

Don't look down on this ingredient! It's not crab, but it's made from fish 
and imparts a great flavor to the stock.

Simmer the stock ingredients for about 1 hour.

Add the rice to the stock, bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the rice is very soft 
and the mixture thickened.

Thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms, chopped celery, chopped cilantro, sliced scallions and thinly julienned fresh ginger.

Sea scallops, sliced in half lengthwise, then quartered.

Marinate the seafood at least 30 minutes, covered, in the frig.

Add the chopped celery and sliced shiitakes to the porridge.

Saute seafood in 2-3 tbsp. of oil over high heat until just done. 
Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

To serve: ladle the rice porridge into individual serving bowls, top with a generous amount of the seafood, and garnish with chopped cilantro, scallion and shredded ginger. You can serve with oyster sauce on the side for those who are so inclined. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Chicken Cacciatore

Cacciatore is a rustic and hearty "hunter-style" Italian stew that typically consists of braised chicken pieces, onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, assorted herbs and wine. In this version, I've also incorporated a few carrots for sweetness and some sliced button mushrooms. It is great served as is or with pasta on the side. And, as with most stews, tastes even better the next day!

8 pcs. bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs or 16 pcs. (2 packages) boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup flour (for dredging chicken)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. sliced button mushrooms
1 carrot, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 ripe tomato, chopped
3 tbsp. olive oil 
1 cup dry red or white wine
1 28-oz. can plum tomatoes, crushed by hand
1-2 tbsp. tomato paste
2 tbsp. fresh chopped basil
1 bay leaf
2 fresh thyme sprigs (or 1 tsp. dried)
2 tsp. fresh oregano leaves (or 1 tsp. dried)
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

Grated parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh Italian parsley
Chopped fresh basil

1. Preheat oven to 350F. 

2. Sprinkle chicken on both sides generously with salt and pepper. Dredge lightly in flour.

3. Heat 3 tbsp. olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Brown the chicken (skin side down first and in batches, if needed) until browned on both sides. Remove to a plate and set aside.

4. Add the onions and saute about 5 minutes or until translucent. Stir in the garlic, then add the carrot and bell pepper. Stir briefly then add the mushrooms and cook an additional couple minutes. 

5. Add the wine and cook for 2-3 minutes until slightly reduced. Add the crushed tomatoes, diced fresh tomato, tomato paste, basil, thyme, bay leaf, oregano, and sugar. Cover and cook 10 minutes over low heat. Adjust seasonings to taste (I add about 2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. of pepper). 

6. Bring to a boil, turn off heat, then nestle the browned chicken, skin side up over the top of the mixture. Cover and place in a preheated 350F oven and bake 45 minutes to an 1 hour or until the chicken is very tender. About 10-15 minutes before the cooking time is up, you can turn the heat up to 375F and uncover the pot to let the chicken brown & crisp up slightly before serving.

7. Transfer the chicken to a heated platter. Skim off fat from the sauce and pour over the chicken. Garnish with fresh parsley. 

Serve with fresh pasta, grated parmesan and fresh basil on the side. 

Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs have more flavor than boneless, skinless.

Trim any excess fat off of the thighs and season with salt and pepper. 

Dredge the chicken pieces lightly in flour. 

Brown the chicken pieces in batched on both sides in a enameled cast iron pot or Dutch oven. Remove and set aside each batch on a plate.

San Marzanos are my favorite canned plum tomatoes. I use whole tomatoes, which I crush by hand, since they have better flavor than pre-crushed or diced canned tomatoes, IMHO.

Add the diced onions to the same pot and cook about 5 minutes until they start to brown. Next, stir in the chopped garlic. 

Add the carrots, bell pepper and mushrooms and continue stirring for a few minutes until the veggies just start to soften.

Add the wine. 

Add the crushed tomatoes, diced fresh tomato, tomato paste, herbs and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and cook 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste (I add about 2 tsp. kosher salt and 1 tsp. of black pepper). Bring the mixture back up to a boil, turn off heat, then nestle in the browned chicken pieces skin side up - do not submerge the skin under the sauce so that it will stay crispy and brown.

Cover and bake in a 350F oven for 45 minutes to an hour. About 15 minutes before the cooking time is up, crank up the heat to 375F  and remove the cover. This will help to brown the chicken skin. 


Monday, January 18, 2016

Coffee Ice Cream

As I've mentioned before, my favorite style of ice cream is "Philadelphia," which is just milk, cream, sugar and whatever flavoring you want to add (e.g., vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, green tea, etc.) - NO EGGS! I prefer the light, clean taste of this style of ice cream versus that of the richer and typically sweeter custard-style ice cream. Next to vanilla, coffee is my favorite flavor, so I came up with this version of a Philadelphia-style coffee ice cream. I like strong coffee so I prefer to use a dark roast, but feel free to substitute with a medium roast for a mellower flavor. 

1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
2-3 tbsp. medium grind coffee, depending on how strong you like your coffee (my fav is French or Vietnamese dark roast)

Pinch salt

1. Combine all ingredients except salt in a saucepan and heat over medium heat until the mixture is just barely up to a simmer (around 170F). 

2. Turn off heat and stir in a pinch of salt. 

3. Let the mixture steep at least 30 minutes or until it is cooled to room temperature.

4. Strain the mixture into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until very cold (at least 6 hours or preferably overnight). 

5. Process in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions, typically around 20-30 minutes. Spoon ice cream (should be just a little firmer than soft serve) into a container, cover and freeze until firm.

6. To serve, take the container of ice cream out of the freezer and let sit at room temperature about 5 minutes before scooping. 

Combine all ingredients together in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to barely a simmer (around 170F). Remove the pan from the heat and stir in a pinch of salt. Let mixture sit for at least 30 minutes or until cooled to room temperature. 

Strain the mixture into a bowl, cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours or preferably overnight until it is very cold. 

Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer's instructions (should be done in 20-30 minutes - mixture should have texture of soft serve ice cream). Pour the mixture into a container, cover and freeze another couple hours or until firm. 

Take the container of ice cream out and let sit at room temperature for a few minutes so that it's not rock hard before scooping into serving bowls. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Pumpkin Cheesecake

In my quest to make a pumpkin dessert that is not pumpkin pie for the holidays, I came across this version of pumpkin cheesecake from the Food Network kitchen on their website. It is basically their "Almost Famous'" version of pumpkin cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory. Being a cheesecake, it's quite decadent of course, but the texture is creamy smooth and the filling not overly sweet. The only changes I made to the original recipe was to reduce the amount of sour cream (from 1/4 cup to 1 tbsp.) and cinnamon (from 2 1/2 tsp. to 2 tsp.). Great served with some fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of chopped toasted pecans.

12 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 cups gram cracker crumbs
2 3/4 cups sugar
2 lbs. cream cheese (4 8-oz. blocks), room temperature
1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree
6 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves

2 cups sweetened whipped cream
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans

1. Position rack in oven to the center and preheat to 325F.

2. Melt the butter (I just pop the butter in a microwave safe bowl and heat for 40 seconds or until just melted).

3. Brush a little bit of the butter on the bottom of a 10" springform pan, then top it with a round of parchment paper (you can buy these pre-cut or just cut your own) - the butter on the bottom of the pan will help the paper to stick. Next, brush the top of the parchment and sides of the pan with enough butter to just coat.

4. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup of the sugar, the remaining melted butter, and a pinch of salt. Stir together with a fork until combined.

5. Pour the graham cracker mix into the springform pan, pressing the crumb mixture evenly and firmly across the bottom and up the sides of the pan.

6. Place the pan in the oven and bake 15-20 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a rack.

7. In the meantime, bring a large kettle or pot of water to a boil. Keep the oven temperature at 325F.

8. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and beat until just light, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in the sour cream, then add the pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, spices and 1 tsp. salt. Beat until the mixture is just combined (do not overbeat). Use a spatula to scrape up any of the cream cheese from the bottom of the bowl that didn't get mixed in, and gently fold into the mixture. 

9. Wrap the springform pan with the cooled crust tightly and securely on the outside with heavy duty aluminum foil (I usually use a couple sheets for extra security). The foil will prevent water from the water bath from leaking into the springform pan during baking. Pour the filling mixture into the cooled crust then place into the center of a large roasting/baking pan. Pour the hot water from the kettle into the roasting pan until it comes halfway up the sides of the springform pan. 

10. Gently push the rack back into the oven, then bake the cheesecake for about 1 1/2 hours to 1 hour 45 minutes or until the outside of the cheesecake is set, but the center still slightly jiggly. Turn the heat off and open the oven door briefly to let out some of the heat. Close the oven door and leave the cheesecake inside for another hour. 

11. Remove the cheesecake to a rack and let cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and/or foil and refrigerate the cheesecake at least 8 hours or overnight. 

12. Take the cheesecake out of the frig to room temp 30 minutes before serving. Slice and serve with sweetened whipped cream and a sprinkling of chopped toasted pecans. 

Place a round of parchment onto the buttered bottom of the springform pan, then lightly brush the top of the parchment and sides of the pan with a bit of melted butter.

Combine graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar, the remaining melted butter, and a pinch of salt for the crust.  

Press the crumb mixture firmly and evenly along the bottom and up the sides of the pan and bake at 325F 15-20 minutes until golden. Remove to a rack and let cool completely.

For the filling: Cream cheese, sour cream, pumpkin puree, ground cloves, vanilla extract, ground cinnamon, and ground ginger.  

Beat the cream cheese until smooth, then add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is just light. 

 Beat in the sour cream.

Add the pumpkin puree, beaten eggs, vanilla, spices and 1 tsp. salt. 

Beat until the ingredients are just combined - do not overbeat! I like to use a rubber spatula to run across the bottom of the bowl and fold in any unmixed cream cheese with the rest of the mixture.  

Wrap the outside of the pan well with heavy duty aluminum foil, pour in the filling, then place the cheesecake in a large roasting pan. Pour very hot water into the roasting pan until it comes up about halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake 1 1/2 hours to 1 hour 45 minutes or until the cheesecake is set along the outside, but still slightly jiggly in the middle. Turn off heat, open oven door briefly, then let cheesecake sit in the oven another hour before removing to a rack to cool completely. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Thai Stuffed Omelet (Kai Yad Sai)

This popular Thai street food is easy to make at home, so long as you have fish sauce on hand (it's just not the same without fish sauce - just sayin'). The filling typically consists of ground pork, chopped shallots, garlic, tomatoes and green beans, seasoned with soy sauce, fish sauce, white pepper, and sugar (diced carrots and peas are also sometimes used). I like to add a bit of chopped cilantro and scallion to the pork mixture, and garnish with extra cilantro & scallions, sliced chiles and Thai basil leaves.

6 eggs
1/2 tsp. fish sauce
1/8 tsp. white pepper

2 tbsp. vegetable oil (and extra for the omelets)
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots or red onion
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 lb. ground pork
1 large ripe tomato, chopped
1/4 cup chopped green beans (or green peas)
1 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 scallion, chopped

1 tbsp. fish sauce
1 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. white pepper

Cilantro sprigs
Chopped scallions
Thinly sliced red or green jalapeños
Thai basil leaves

Steamed jasmine rice

1. Beat the eggs with 1/2 tsp. of fish sauce and 1/8 tsp. white pepper in a medium bowl or large measuring cup until thoroughly blended. Set aside.

2. Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the shallots and saute for 1-2 minutes until softened and fragrant. Stir in the minced garlic. 

3. Add the ground pork and cook, breaking up the meat with your spatula, until almost cooked through. 

4. Add the tomato, green beans, cilantro, scallion and seasonings. Stir to combine and bring up to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the mixture just slightly thickened. Cover, turn off heat, and set aside. 

5. Heat about 1 tsp. of oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot, pour in 1/3 of the egg mixture. Swirl the pan around and lift the edges of the egg to let some of the raw mixture run underneath. Continue cooking another 1-2 minutes or until the bottom of the omelet is lightly golden (top of the omelet can still be slightly undercooked). Carefully slide the omelet on to a plate or chopping board. 

6. Make another two omelets the same way with the remaining egg mixture, removing each to the plate (you can stack them on top of each before assembling). 

7. To assemble: place one omelet on a chopping board and spoon 1/3 of the pork filling in the center. Fold the right and left sides of the omelet over the filling, then the top and bottom sides, to form either a square or rectangular shape. Carefully turn the omelet over on to a serving plate so that the folds are underneath. 

8. To serve: you can cut an "X" in the middle (top) of the omelet package or slice each omelet into wedges (which is my preferred way of serving this dish, so you can see the filling). Garnish, as desired, with cilantro sprigs, scallions, sliced jalapeños and/or basil leaves. Serve with steamed jasmine rice on the side.

Sliced jalapeños, chopped scallion, tomatoes, green beans, garlic, shallots, and cilantro. 

6 eggs beaten with 1/2 tsp. fish sauce and 1/8 tsp. white pepper. 

Heat 2 tbsp. oil in pan over medium heat and saute the shallots 1-2 minutes. Add the minced garlic. 

Add the ground pork and saute until almost cooked through. 

Add the chopped tomatoes and green beans. 

Add the seasoning ingredients, cilantro and scallion. Simmer 5-10 minutes until reduced and slightly thickened. Remove from heat, cover and set aside. 

Add 1 tsp. of oil to a large saute pan and add 1/3 cup of the egg mixture. Cook until bottom is lightly golden and top still slightly jiggly. Remove to plate and set aside. Cook the remaining two portions of egg the same way.

To assemble, place on of the omelets on a chopping board and fill center with 1/3 of the meat mixture. 

Fold the omelet over the filling like you would a crepe (first fold left and right sides over the filling, then fold over the top and bottom to form a square or rectangle). Using a spatula, carefully invert the omelet over, seam side down, onto a serving plate (or place a plate over the omelet and just flip the pan over, which minimizes the chances of the egg breaking apart).

I like to cut the omelet into wedges before serving. Garnish with cilantro, scallion, jalapeños and/or Thai basil and serve with steamed jasmine rice on the side. 

Mulled Wine

Nothing warms the cockles of one's heart and stomach better than a cup (or two, or three...) of hot spiced mulled wine on a cold winter day. I adapted this recipe from Ina Garten's and opted to warm everything in a crock pot rather than over the stovetop to keep the alcohol from burning off.

6 cups apple cider or apple juice
1.5 liters (6 cups or two 750-ml bottles) dry red wine
1/2 cup honey
4 whole cloves
2 star anise
2 sticks cinnamon 
Juice and rind (leave out the white pith) of 2 oranges (or mix & match oranges, lemons, limes)*
1/2 cup brandy or cognac

*You can also omit the citrus and brandy and substitute with 1/2 cup of Cointreau or Grand Marnier instead.

1. Combine all the ingredients together in a large crock pot. Turn the crock pot on high, cover, and bring up to heat, which may take about an hour (mixture should be hot, but not simmering). 

2. After the mixture is nice and hot, reduce heat to low. The mulled wine should keep in the crock pot without evaporating all the alcohol for at least 4-5 hours. 

3. Ladle the mulled wine into individual cups and serve as needed.

Apple cider, red wine, star anise, orange, whole cloves, honey.

 Moro blood oranges from the garden.

Other possibilities: Meyer lemons, limes, Cara Cara oranges, Washington navels.