Category Archives: Recipes

Recipe: Mushroom and Brown Rice Veggie Burgers

I’m not a vegetarian, but I really like vegetarian food. (I actually was a vegetarian for a while before I met my wife.) My take on vegetarian food is that it’s best when it’s not trying to imitate meat-based dishes.

For example: tofu can be absolutely delicious when it’s treated right. The reason that people think they hate tofu is because people try to treat it as if it’s a piece of meat. It isn’t: it’s tofu. It doesn’t taste like meat, it doesn’t work like meat when you cook it. If you try to force it to be meat, it’s disgusting. But try an authentic Chinese tofu dish, like a well-prepare ma po tofu, and it’s a whole different experience.

Another example is veggie burgers. There are veggie burgers that try imitate beef burgers. There are some that try so hard that they literally make artificial blood so that they’ll drip juice like beef! The thing is, no matter how hard they try, they’ll never be as good a beef burger as a burger actually made out of beef. (Similarly, a burger made out of chicken can be great; but it’s not a hamburger!)

But if you make a veggie burger to be a veggie burger – that is, not to be a pale imitation of a beef burger, but a unique thing of its own? You can make something absolutely delicious. No, it’s not a hamburger. But it’s not supposed to be. It’s something different.

As a general rule in food: an ingredient is what it is. When you respect that, and work with it, you get a better result than when you try to force it to be something that it isn’t. Get good ingredients, prepare them well, understanding and respecting their qualities, and you’ll have good food, whether it’s vegetarian or not.

So, veggie burgers.

I like them. But I’m not a fan of prepared frozen foods. So for a long time, I’ve wanted to come up with a way of making them myself. A few months ago, I tried for the first time, building something out of brown rice and a ton of assorted mushrooms. It wasn’t entirely successful. It tasted delicious, but it didn’t hold together – it crumbled. I was barely able to cook it, and it ended up not working as a sandwich. I thought about what I could do to make it firmer, without compromising the flavor, because it really tasted good, and I came up with two things. One, adding a bunch of flour, because it would both soak up a lot of the liquid, and form gluten which would hold the burger together; and adding some cheddar cheese, which when it melts would also help bind it.

Today, I tried that, and it worked. My wife, who’s a veggie-burger fan, said it’s the best veggie burger she’s ever had.

The base of it is mushrooms – lots and lots of mushrooms, minced into small pieces, and then cooked down until they’re shrunken and caramelized. Then they’re mixed with some aromatics and some brown rice, bound together with flour and cheddar cheese, and finally seared in a hot pan.

This recipe makes 12 burgers. I figure if you’re going to go to the trouble of dicing and cooking down the mushrooms, you might as well do it for a big batch. Cook the ones you’re going to eat that night; wrap the rest in plastic wrap, and then freeze them for another day.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds portabello mushrooms.
  • 1 pound oyster mushrooms.
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce.
  • 1 large onion, finely minced.
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced.
  • 1 carrot, diced.
  • 1 stalk celery, diced.
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, diced.
  • 1/2 cup white wine.
  • olive oil.
  • salt and pepper to taste.
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice (cooked in chicken stock).
  • 3/4 cup flour.
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese.

Instructions

  1. Finely dice the mushrooms.
  2. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a pan on high heat, and add the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper, and saute them until they release their moisture, and most of it evaporates. You’ll know when they’ve cooked enough, because they’ll start to squeak as you stir them. Remove them from the pan, and set aside. (If your pan isn’t big enough, do this in two batches. They’ll shrink a lot as they cook, but you want them to cook evenly, and it’s a lot of mushrooms at the start.)
  3. Add another tablespoon of oil, reduce the heat to medium, and then add in the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, and jalapeno. Cook until they’re soft and starting to brown.
  4. Add the wine and the soy sauce, and add the mushrooms back in. Cook until almost all of the liquid has evaporated.
  5. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool to room temperature.
  6. Cook the brown rice in chicken stock, and when it’s done, set it aside to cool to room temperature.
  7. When everything has cooled, combine the mushroom mixture with the rice, add the cheddar cheese and flour, and mix together well. Set aside, and let it sit for at least an hour.
  8. Divide this mixture into 12 portions, and form them into patties.
  9. Sprinkle each patty with flour to lightly coat, and then pan-fry in olive oil until they’re browned and warmed all the way through.
  10. Put each cooked patty on a bun. I serve them with a paprika aioli, lettuce and tomato, and some homemade quick-pickles.

Okonomilatkes!

I’m working on some type theory posts, but it’s been slow going.

In the meantime, it’s Chanukah time. Every year, my family makes me cook potato latkes for Chanukah. The problem with that is, I don’t particularly like potato latkes. This year, I came up with the idea of trying to tweak them into something that I’d actually enjoy eating. What I came up with is combining a latke with another kind of fried savory pancake that I absolutely love: the japanese Okonomiyaki. The result? Okonomilatkes.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 head green cabbage, finely shredded.
  • 1 1/2 pounds potatoes
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1/2 pound crabstick cut into small pieces
  • Tonkatsu sauce (buy it at an asian grocery store in the japanese section. The traditional brand has a bulldog logo on the bottle.)
  • Katsubuoshi (shredded bonito)
  • Japanese mayonaise (sometimes called kewpie mayonaise. You can find it in squeeze bottles in any asian grocery. Don’t substitute American mayo – Japanese mayo is thinner, less oily, a bit tart, sweeter, and creamier. It’s really pretty different.)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder.

Instructions

  1. In a very hot pan, add about a tablespoon of oil, and when it’s nearly smoking, add the cabbage. Saute until the cabbage wilts and starts to brown. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool.
  2. Using either the grater attachment of a food processor, or the coarse side of a box grater, shred the potatoes. (I leave the skins on, but if that bugs you, peel them first).
  3. Squeeze as much water as you can out of the shredded potatoes.
  4. Mix together the water, flour, baking powder, egg, and salt into a thin batter.
  5. Add the potatoes, cabbage, and crabstick to the batter, and stir together.
  6. Split this mixture into four portions.
  7. Heat a nonstick pan on medium high heat, add a generous amount of oil, and add one quarter of the batter. Let it cook until nicely browned, then flip, and cook the other side. On my stove, it takes 3-5 minutes per side. Add oil as needed while it’s cooking.
  8. Repeat with the other 3 portions
  9. To serve, put a pancake on a plate. Squeeze a bunch of stripes of mayonaise, then add a bunch of the tonkatsu sauce, and sprinkle with the katsubuoshi.

Noodles with Dried Shrimp and Scallion Oil

During July, my kids go away to camp. So my wife and I have the opportunity to try new restaurants without having to drag the munchkins around. This year, we tried out a new chinese place in Manhattan, called Hao noodle house. One of the dishes we had was a simple noodle dish: noodles lightly dressed with soy sauce and scallion oil, and then topped with a scattering of scallion and dried shrimp.

Dried shrimp are, in my opinion, a very undervalued and underused ingredient. They’re very traditional in a lot of real Chinese cooking, and they give things a really nice taste. They’ve also got an interesting, pleasant chewy texture. So when there was a dried shrimp dish on the menu, I wanted it. (The restaurant also had dan dan noodles, which are a favorite of my wife, but she was kind, and let me indulge.)

The dish was absolutely phenomenal. So naturally I wanted to figure out how to make it at home. I finally got around to doing it tonight, and I got really lucky: everything worked out perfectly, and it turned out almost exactly like the restaurant. My wife picked the noodles at the chinese grocery that looked closest, and they were exactly right. I guessed at the ingredients from the flavors, and somehow managed to get them spot on on the first try.

That kind of thing almost never happens! It always takes a few tries to nail down a recipe. But this one just turned out the first try!

So what’s the dish like? It’s very Chinese, and very different from what most Americans would expect. If you’ve had a mazeman ramen before, I’d say that’s the closest thing to it. It’s a light, warm, lightly dressed noodle dish. The sauce is very strong if you taste it on its own, but when it’s dressed onto hot noodles, it mellows quite a bit. The dried shrimp are briney and shrimpey, but not overly fishy. All I can say is, try it!

There are two parts to the sauce: a soy mixture, and a scallion oil. The scallion oil should be made a day in advance, and allowed to stand overnight. So we’ll start with that.

  • one large bunch scallions
  • 1 1/2 cups canola oil
  • two slices crushed ginger
  • generous pinch salt
  1. Coarsely chop the scallions – whites and greens.
  2. Put the scallions, ginger, and salt into a food processor, and pulse until they’re well chopped.
  3. Add the oil, and let the processor run on high for about a minute. You should end up with a thick pasty pale green goo.
  4. Put it in the refrigerator, and let it sit overnight.
  5. The next day, push through a sieve, to separate the oil from the scallion pulp. Discard the scallions. You should be left with an amazing smelling translucent green oil.

Next, the noodles and sauce.

  • Noodles. We used a kind of noodle called guan miao noodle. If you can’t find that,
    then white/wheat soba or ramen would be a good substitute.
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 slices ginger
  • one clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons dried shrimp
  1. Cover the dried shrimp with cold water in a bowl, and let sit for 1/2 hour.
  2. Put the dried shrimp, soy sauce, sugar, chicken stock, ginger, and garlic into a saucepan, and simmer on low heat for five minutes. Then remove the garlic and ginger.
  3. For each portion, take about 2 tablespoons of the soy, and two tablespoons of the scallion oil, and whisk together to form something like a vinaigrette.
  4. Cook the noodles according to the package. (For the guan miao noodles, they boiled in unsalted water for 3 minutes.)
  5. Toss with the soy/oil mixture.
  6. Serve the dressed noodles into bowls, and put a few of the simmered dried shrimp on top.
  7. Drizzle another teaspoon each of the scallion oil and soy sauce over each serving.
  8. Scatter a few fresh scallions on top.

And eat!

Recipe: Za Jiang Mien, aka “Chinese Spaghetti”

This is a traditional chinese dish. It’s affectionately known as chinese spaghetti. My wife has been telling me about it for years, and I’ve been trying to reproduce it for years. I’ve finally gotten it to the point where she’s happy with it.

It’s a fun dish: it’s a make-your-own. You prepare the noodles and sauce and a bunch of toppings, and then each guest adds sauce and toppings to their own taste. I’ve seen a couple of variations on the set of toppings you can serve with it: cucumbers, carrots, raw onions, shredded ginger, sliced garlic, and bean sprouts all work. I’ve also seen one version that served it with black chinese vinegar, which was really strange.

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken thighs, ground coarsely.
  • 2 tablespoons tobanjiang (chinese spicy bean sauce, available at asian groceries.)
  • 1/4 plus a couple of tablespoons cup soy sauce.
  • 1 cup chicken stock.
  • 1/2 cup sake or shaoshing wine.
  • 1 large onion, minced.
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced.
  • 1 large slice ginger, crushed and minced.
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 scallions, green sliced, and whites finely minced.
  • 1 tablespoon sugar.
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with some water.
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil.
  1. Prepare the toppings
    1. Peel the cucumber, cut it in half, scrape out the seeds, and then cut it into thin sticks. Toss with salt, and set aside for 30 minutes, and then pour off the water that comes out.
    2. Peel the cucumber, and cut into thin sticks. Toss it with salt, and set aside for 30 minutes. Pour off the water that comes out.
    3. Finely slice the greens of the scallions, and set aside.
    4. Beat the two eggs with a bit of soy sauce. Put some oil into a hot non-stick pan, and pour in the eggs. Spread then into a thin layer that covers the pan. Cook until it’s mostly solid, then flip it. When it’s all cooked, move it to a cutting board, and cut into thin ribbons. Set aside.
  2. Make the sauce:
    1. Mix the ground chicken thighs with a tablespoon of soy sauce.
    2. Put 1 tablespoon of oil into a hot wok. Add the chicken, and stir fry until it starts to brown. Then remove it.
    3. Put 1 tablespoon of oil into a hot wok. Add the garlic and ginger, and stir fry until fragrant. Then add the onions and scallion whites, and stir until they soften and just barely start to brown.
    4. Scrape the onions to the sides of the pan, then add the tobanjiang to the oil that collects of the bottom of the pan. Stir it around for 30 seconds.
    5. Add the chicken back in, and then add the sake.
    6. When most of the sake has cooked off, add the chicken stock, soy sauce, sugar, and a cup of water.
    7. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and then let it cook for about 20 minutes.
    8. Thicken with some cornstarch, and add the sesame oil. Remove from heat, put into a bowl, and set aside.
  3. Cook some noodles. This will work with a variety of different types of asian noodles: fresh ramen, lo mien, shanghai noodle. Cook according to the instructions on the package. It’s best if it’s a bit undercooked. Drain them, and then toss with a bit of oil to stop them from sticking together.

To serve, you put the sauce into a bowl, and put it and all of the toppings onto the table. Then put a pile of noodles onto each persons plate. Then have each guest add as much sauce and toppings as they want, and dig in.

My version of Tsukune: Japanese Chicken Meatballs

A few weeks ago, my wife took me out to dinner at an Izakaya that she found. If you don’t know about Izakayas, you really need to find one and try it. An Izakaya is basically a Japanese sake bar – it’s sort-of the Japanese equivalent of a Tapas bar – you order a variety of small dishes, and eat them with your sake. Izakayas are really terrific – they’re a nice informal place to have dinner with good sake, and a variety of delicious dishes.

One of the dishes we had was Tsukune, which is a standard at Izakayas. It’s basically a meatball made from ground chicken, and served drizzled with a sauce that’s a lot like a thick, rich teriyaki. These suckers were the tenderest, most succulent meatballs I’ve ever eaten. I was strongly motivated to try to reproduce them.

So I did some research. And it turned out that there were two tricks to how really good tsukune come out that way.

One part is what goes in: pretty much any part of the bird that can get finely minced. Breast, thigh, neck, legs, wings. If the cartilage is soft enough to be minced, it goes right in with the meat.

The other part is how it’s treated. The meat has the living hell beaten out of it. It’s finely minced, and then the ground meat is kneaded and pounded until it’s all soft and firmly stuck together. That process both binds the meat without adding any extra binding agents like eggs, and tenderizes it.

I really don’t like working with cartilage. I’ve tried it in some recipes in the past, and I find it really unpleasant. It’s slimy, and it tends to sometimes form sharp edges that can cut you. Getting cut by raw meat is not something I like doing.

So I decided to try to reproduce as much of the flavor as I could, using ingredients that I had on hand. And I tried couple of tricks to get the tender texture. It’s not as tender as a true Izakaya tsukune, but it was awfully good.

I relied on three things to get the tenderness I wanted.

  1. Force: I beat the living hell out of the meat. I didn’t do it by kneading; instead, I took chicken thighs, cut the meat off the bones, and then beat the crap out of it with the flat of my meat tenderizer. By the time I was done, I wouldn’t describe the result as a particular thickness; I’d say that it had been reduced to more of a chicken paste smeared across my cutting board.
  2. Chemistry: I took that, and put it into a flat bottomed baking dish, and poured a cup of apple juice over it. There’s an enzyme in fruits from the apple family that tenderizes meat, so I let that do some work.
  3. Slow heat: Finally, I browned the meatball quickly in a pan, and then transferred them to a baking dish with the sauce, and put them into a low oven for a long time.

The result was, honestly, not very much like the tsukune from the Izakaya. But it was really, really delicious. I mean really, seriously delicious – like some of the best meatballs I’ve ever eaten. Not quite as good as the Izakaya ones, and quite different – but so, so good.

It’s not a difficult dish to make, but it is time consuming. Not really that different from other meatball recipes I’ve made: meatballs are often the kind of dish that cooks all day.

The sauce cooks for a while on its own, and then cooks more with the meatballs in it. But the chicken needs to marinate for an hour or two – so you really need to start both around the same time.

The Sauce

The sauce is basically just a slightly amped up teriyaki sauce – but homemade is so much better than the crap you get out of a bottle, and it’s really easy to make.

Ingredients
  • White part of one scallion, minced.
  • 3 cloves finely minced garlic.
  • 1 inch section of fresh ginger, finely minced.
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce (ideally good quality shoyu!).
  • 1/2 cup sake
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 1 cup chicken stock.
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar.
Instructions
  1. Heat a bit of oil in a pot. When it’s hot, add the garlic, ginger, and scallions, and cook until it’s nice and fragrant.
  2. Add the sake, and then let it reduce by half.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the rest of the liquids and the brown sugar.
  4. Simmer for about an hour.
  5. Remove from heat, and set aside.

The meatballs

Ingredients
  • 6 boneless chicken thighs
  • 1/4 onion, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs.
  • sliced scallion greens (the leftovers from the whites used in the sauce.)
  • flour
Instructions
  1. With a meat tenderizer, pound the heck out of the chicken thighs until they’re severely mangled and very thin.
  2. Put them into a dish with the apple juice, and put that into the refrigerator for an hour or two.
  3. Put the marinated thighs into the food processor with 1/4 cup of the sauce, and pulse a couple of times until they’re minced.
  4. Fold in the onion and the bread crumbs.
  5. Chill the ground meat for an hour until it firms up.
  6. Separate into about 30 meatballs – it should be around a heaped teaspoon per meatball.
  7. Roll each meatball in flour; flatten slightly, and then brown the two flat sides in a hot pan with a bit of oil. The meatballs will not be cooked through by this – you’re just browning the meatballs, not fully cooking them.
  8. Put the meatballs into a baking dish, cover with the sauce, and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
  9. Remove the meatballs from the sauce, and reduce the sauce until there’s just a cup or so left. Thicken with a bit of cornstarch.
  10. Pour the sauce back over the meatballs, and sprinkle with scallion greens.

Serve this on a bed of simple steamed rice, and some stir fried veggies on the side. Home cooking doesn’t get better than this.

Skirt Steak with Shoyu Gastrique

I made an amazing dinner tonight, out of a total ad-lib. So I want to write it down so I’ll remember it. This turned out to be the best steak I’ve ever made.

The Steak

  • 1 pound skirt steak
  • Kombu leaves
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced ginger
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 1/4 cup sake
  1. Mix together the liquid ingredents in a baking dish. dip the steak into it, to coat both sides.
  2. Press kombu leaves into both sides of the steak, and then put it in the dish, and leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours.
  3. Take the steak out, pat dry.
  4. Toss the steak on a very hot grill, and cook for 2 minutes on one side, and about one minute on the other.
  5. Let rest for a few minutes, then slice on the bias. (Save any juices that drip off while it’s resting, and add them to the sauce!)

The Sauce

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sake
  • 1 tablespoon shoyu
  1. Mix together the sugar and water, and cook on high heat, whisking until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Keep cooking on high heat until all the water evaporates, the sugar starts to caramelize, and turns amber.
  3. Add the cider and sake, and reduce the heat. Then whisk vigorously until everything is dissolved. (When you add the liquids to the caramel, it will seize up; you need to whisk until it’s redissolved.
  4. Turn off the heat, then add the shoyu and any juices that dripped off the steak.

That’s it. Best damned steak ever.

Weekend Recipe: 3-cup chicken

This is a traditional chinese dish that my wife grew up eating in Taiwan. For some reason, she never told me about it, until she saw an article with a recipe in the NY Times. Of course, I can’t leave recipes alone; I always put my own spin on it. And the recipe in the article had some (in my opinion) glaring problems. For example, it called for cooking with sesame oil. Sesame oil is a seasoning, not a cooking oil. It’s got a very strong flavor, and it burns at stir-fry temperature, which makes any dish cooked in it taste absolutely awful. You cook in neutral oils with high smoke points, like peanut, canola, or soybean; and then you add a drop of sesame as part of the sauce, so that it’s moderated and doesn’t burn. Anyway, below is my version of the dish.

  • 2 pounds of chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces.
  • About 8 large cloves of garlic, thickly sliced.
  • About a 1-inch section of fresh ginger, cut into disks.
  • 5 whole dried szechuan chili peppers (or more, if you like those lovely things!)
  • A good bunch of thai basil leaves, removed from the stems, but left whole. (About a cup, if it’s packed pretty tight. Don’t skimp – these are the best part of the dish!)
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced, whites and greens separated.
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce.
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 1/2 cup sake
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in water.
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil (just a drop, for flavor).
  • Enough canola oil (or similarly bland, high-smoke-point cooking oil) to took – a couple of tablespoons at most.
  1. Get your wok smoking hot. Add enough oil to coat the bottom, and swirl it around.
  2. Add in half of the chicken, and cook until it’s nicely browned, then remove it. (It won’t be cooked all the way through yet, don’t worry!)
  3. Repeat with the other half of the chicken.
  4. Make sure there’s enough oil in the bottom of the wok, then toss in the garlic, ginger, chili peppers, and scallion whites. Stir fry them until the garlic starts to get just a little bit golden.
  5. Add the chicken back in, and add the soy, mirin, sake, and sugar. Get it boiling, and keep stirring things around until the chicken is cooked through.
  6. Add the basil and scallions, and keep stirring until the basil wilts, and the whole thing smells of that wonderful thai basic fragrance.
  7. Add the cornstarch and sesame oil, and cook until the sauce starts to thicken.
  8. Remove it from the heat, and serve on a bed of white rice, along with some simple stir-fried vegetables. (I used a batch of beautiful sugar-snap peas, quickly stir fried with just a bit of garlic, and a bit of soy sauce.)

A couple of notes on ingredients:

  • This is a dish where the soy sauce matters. Don’t use cheap generic american soy sauce; that stuff is just saltwater with food coloring. For some things, that’s actually OK. But in this dish, it’s the main flavor of the sauce, so it’s important to use something with a good flavor. Get a good quality chinese soy (I like Pearl River Bridge brand), or a good japanese shoyu.
  • For the sugar, if you’ve got turbinado (or even better, real chinese rock sugar), use that. If not, white sugar is Ok.
  • Definitely try to get thai basil. It’s very different from italian basil – the leaves are thinner (which makes them much easier to eat whole, as you do in this dish), and they’ve got a very different flavor – almost like Italian basic mixed with a bit of anise and a bit of menthol. It’s one of my favorite herbs, and it’s actually gotten pretty easy to find.
  • Szechuan peppers can be hard to find – you pretty much need to go to an Asian grocery. They’re worth it. They’ve got a very distinctive flavor, and I don’t know of any other dried pepper that works in a sauce like them. You don’t actually eat the peppers – the way you cook them, they actually burn a bit – but they bloom their flavor into the oil that you use to cook the rest of the dish, and that totally changes the sauce.

Roasted Vegetable Recipes

One more post of recipes, and then I’ll get back to math, I promise!

One of my proudest accomplishments that somehow, I successfully taught my children to not just eat, but to love vegetables. I think part of that is genetic – neither of them are supertasters. But the other part of it is a combination of training and cooking.

The training side is, I think, simple. Most adults are convinced that vegetables are icky but necessary. They’re wrong. But they actively teach that to their children. They make eating vegetables, even when they’re delicious, into a chore.

The other side is that because most adults think that veggies are icky, they cook them in ways that don’t taste good.

Take one of my favorite vegetables as an example: brussel sprouts. My children will actually fight over who gets the last bite of brussel sprouts. When we’re talking about what to make for dinner, they beg me to make them! But when I mention this to most people, they act like I’m absolutely insane: brussel sprouts are gross!

If you take a bunch of brussel sprouts, and throw it into boiling water for 20 minutes, what you get is a stinky, pungent, bitter, mushy, revolting little ball of green awfulness. But, if you slice them thin, and saute them in a smoking hot pan with olive oil, salt and pepper, and a bit of garlic, until the edges start to turn brown, what you get is absolutely amazing: sweet, crisp, and wonderful.

So, what I’m going to share here is a couple of vegetable side dishes I made in the last week, which were fantastic. All of them are roasted vegetables – for some reason, people don’t think about roasting veggies, but it’s often one of the easiest and tastiest ways to cook them.

First: simple roasted brussel sprouts.

  1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Take a pound of brussel sprouts, and cut them into quarters.
  3. Toss them with enough olive out to coat them, but not drench them.
  4. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  5. Spread them out over a baking sheet.
  6. Put them into the hot oven, for around 10 minutes. After ten minutes, take them and and turn them. If they look really well done and brown on the edges, then they’re done; if not, put them in for up to another 10 minutes.
  7. Take them out, and toss them with a teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar.

That’s it – and they’re amazing.

Next: Chili Glazed Roasted Sweet Potatoes

This one I’m particularly proud of. I absolutely love sweet potatoes. But normally, my wife won’t touch them – she thinks they’re gross. But this recipe, she actually voluntarily had multiple helpings! It’s sweet, salty, and spicy all at the same time, in a wonderful balance.

  1. Take a couple of pounds of sweet potatoes, peel them, and cut them into cubes about 2 inches on a side.
  2. Toss them with olive oil to coat.
  3. Mix together 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, and one generous teaspoon of kochukaru (korean chili powder).
  4. Sprinkle it over the oiled sweet potatoes, and toss them so they’re all coated.
  5. Spread onto a baking sheet, and cook at 350 for about 30 minutes, turning them at least once. They’re done when the outside is nicely browned, and they’ve gotten soft.

Finally: roasted cauliflower

  1. Preheat your oven to 450.
  2. Take a whole head of cauliflower, and break it into small florets. Put them into a bowl.
  3. Take a half of an onion, and slice it thin. Toss the onions with the cauliflower.
  4. Coat the cauliflower and onions with olive oil – don’t drench them, but make sure that they’ve got a nice coat.
  5. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  6. Spread onto a baking sheet, and into the oven.
  7. After 10 minutes, take them out, and turn them, then back in for another 10 minutes.

All three of these got eaten not just by adults, but by kids. The brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes were eaten not just by my kids, but by the kids of other people too, so it’s not just the crazy Chu-Carroll’s who thought they were delicious!

Recipe: Real Ramen!

Yesterday, my son wasn’t feeling good, and asked for soup. (Poor kid inherited my stomach troubles.) I’ve been dying to try my hand at a real, serious ramen, so I dived in and did this. It turned out amazingly good.

If you’re American, odds are that when you hear “ramen”, you think of those little packets of noodles with a powdered MSG-heavy soup base that you can buy 5 for a dollar. To be honest, I do like those. But they’re a sad imitation of what ramen is supposed to be.

Ramen is, in my opinion, one of the very best soup dishes in the world. A real ramen is a bowl of chewy noodles, served in a rich hearty broth, with some delicious roasted meat, some veggies. Ramen broth isn’t a wimpy soup like american chicken noodle soup – it’s an intense soup. When you eat a bowl of ramen, you’re eating a meal, and you finish it feeling full, and warm, and happy with the world.

This isn’t a simple recipe. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it! And most of the components can be prepared in large batches and frozen.

So, here we go. Ramen with Chicken and Shrimp Tare, Watercress, and Roast Pork Tenderloin!

Tare

In ramen, you make the broth relatively unseasoned. Separately, you prepare a tare, which is a seasoning liquid. When you serve the ramen, you start by putting tare in the bottom of the bowl. It’s one of the tricks of ramen – it’s a big part of what makes the broth special. Every ramen cook has their own tare recipe.

Ingredients

  • Shells from 1lb shrimp
  • 8 chicken wings, cut into three pieces each. (Do not throw out the wingtips – for this, they’re the best part!
  • 1 cup mirin
  • 1 cup sake
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 cup water.

Procedure

  1. Heat some oil in a pan, and saute the shrimp shells until they’re cooked through and pink.
  2. Transfer the cooked shells to a cold saucepan.
  3. Add a bit more oil to the hot pan, and add the wings into the pan where you cooked the shells. Brown them really well on both sides. (I also took the neck from the chicken I used to make the broth, and put it in here.)
  4. Move them into the saucepan with the shells.
  5. Add the mirin, sake, soy, and water into the pan where you sauteed the wings, and scrape up all of the brown bits. Then pour it over the wings and shells.
  6. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, until it reduces by roughly half. Skim out all of the solids.

You should give this a taste. It should be very salty, but also sweet, and intensely flavored from the chicken and shrimp shells.

The Broth

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into parts.
  • A bunch of miscellaneous bones – chicken backs are the best, pork bones will be good too – as long as they aren’t smoked. Even beef soup bones will work.
  • 1 whole onion, cut into large chunks.
  • 1 head of garlic, cut in half.
  • 3 whole star anise

Procedure

  1. Heat up a large stockpot on high heat. Add a little bit of oil.
  2. Throw in the bones, and stir them until they’re browned on all sides.
  3. Add in the chicken parts. No salt, no browning – just throw the chicken in.
  4. Add enough water to cover everything in the pot.
  5. Add the onion, garlic, and anise to the pot.
  6. When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and let it simmer. Periodically skim the scum that rises to the top.
  7. Simmer for at least 2 hours. You can simmer it overnight in a slow-cooker, and it’ll taste even better, but you’ll need extra water. I love slow cookers, Bella crock pot reviews helped me choose my favorite kitchen appliance.
  8. Take out the chicken, bones, and spices. Add some salt – but you want to leave the broth a little underseasoned, because you’re going to mix in some tare later!

Roast Pork Tenderloin

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pork tenderloin, cut into two pieces (to make it easier to fit into the pan.)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced.
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons sake
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Procedure

  1. Take the tenderloin. Remove any silverskin. Poke all over, on all sides, with a fork. (This will help the marinade
    penetrate.)
  2. Mix together the garlic, soy, sake, and sugar to make a marinade.
  3. Put the pork in, and get it coated. Let it marinade for about an hour, turning it a couple of times.
  4. Heat a cast iron pan on high heat until it’s smoking hot.
  5. Put the tenderloin pieces in the pan. Turn it to brown on all sides.
  6. Remove the pork from the pan, and transfer to a 350 degree oven. Cook until it’s about 140 degrees inside. (This
    took about 15 minutes in my oven.) This is a bit underdone, but it’s going to cook more in the soup, and you don’t want it to be tough!
  7. Slice the pork into half-inch rounds.
  8. Dip the rounds in the hot tare.

Putting it all together

Ingredients

  • Eggs – one per person.
  • The green parts of a couple of scallions, cut finely.
  • A bunch of watercress.
  • Torigashi shichimi (a prepackaged japanese spice blend.)
  • Sesame oil.
  • Ramen noodles. (If you go to an asian grocery, you should be able to find fresh ramen noodles, or at least decent quality dried.)

Procedure

  1. Boil the eggs for about 5-6 minutes. The whites should be set, the yolks still a bit runny.
  2. In each soup bowl, put:
    • A couple of tablespoons of tare (the exact quantity depends on your taste, and how much you reduced your tare)
    • a bunch of watercress
    • some of the minced scallions
    • A drop of sesame oil
  3. Boil the ramen.
  4. To each bowl, add a big bunch of ramen noodles.
  5. Cover the noodles with the broth.
  6. Add a couple of slices of the roast pork.
  7. Crack the egg, and scoop it out of its shell into the soup.
  8. Sprinkle some shichimi on top.
  9. Eat!

Weekend Recipes: Chicken Wings with Thai Chile Sauce

In my house, chicken wings are kind of a big deal. My wife doen’t know how to cook. Her cooking is really limited to two dishes: barbecued chicken wings, and grilled cheese. But her chicken wings are phenomenal. We’ve been married for 20 years, and I haven’t found a wing recipe that had the potential to rival hers.

Until now.

I decided to try making a homemade thai sweet chili sauce, and use that on the wings. And the results were fantastic. Still not quite up there with her wings, but I think this recipe has the potential to match it. This batch of wings was the first experiment with this recipe, and there were a couple of things that I think should be changed. I wet-brined the wings, and they ended up not crisping up as well as I would have liked. So next time, I’ll dry-brine. I also crowded them a bit too much on the pan.

When you read the recipe, it might seem like the wings are being cooked for a long time. They are, but that’s a good thing. Wings have a lot of fat and a lot of gelatin – they stand up to the heat really well, and after a long cooking time they just get tender and their flavor concentrates. They don’t get tough or stringy or anything nasty like a chicken breast would cooked for this long.

The Sauce

The sauce is a very traditional thai sweet chili. It’s a simple sauce, but it’s very versatile. It’s loaded with wonderful flavors that go incredibly well with poultry or seafood. Seriously delicious stuff.

  • 1 cup sugar.
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar.
  • 1 1/2 cup water.
  • 1 teaspoon salt.
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce.
  • Finely diced fresh red chili pepper (quantity to taste)
  • 5 large cloves garlic, finely minced.
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced ginger.
  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, mixed with water.
  1. Put the sugar, salt, vinegar, water, and fish sauce into a pot, and bring to a boil.
  2. Add the garlic, ginger, and chili pepper. Lower the heat, and let it simmer for a few minutes.
  3. Leave the sauce sitting for about an hour, to let the flavors of the spices infuse into the sauce.
  4. Taste it. If it’s not spicy enough, add more chili pepper, and simmer for another minute or two.
  5. Bring back to a boil. Remove from heat, and mix in the cornstarch slurry. Then return to the heat, and simmer until the starch is cooked and the sauce thickens.

The sauce is done.

The wings

  • About an hour before you want to start cooking, you need to dry-brine the wings. Spread the wings on a baking sheet. Make a 50-50 mixture of salt and sugar, and sprinkle over the wings. Coat both sides. Let the wings sit on the sheet for an hour. After they’ve sat in the salt for an hour, rinse them under cold water, and pat them dry.
  • Lightly oil a baking sheet. Put the wings on the sheet. You don’t want them to be too close together – they’ll brown much better if they have a bit of space on the sides.
  • Put the baking sheet full of wings into a 350 degree oven. After 30 minutes, turn them over, and back for another 30 minutes.
  • Now it’s time to start with the sauce! With a basting brush, cover the top side with the sweet chile sauce. Then turn the wings over, and coat the other side. Once they’re basted with the sauce, it’s back into the oven for another 30 minutes.
  • Again, baste both sides, and then back into the oven for another 30 minutes with the second side up.
  • Take the wings out, turn the oven up to 450. Baste the wings, and then put them back in until they turn nice and brown on top. Then turn them, baste them again, and brown the other side.
  • Time to eat!