Saturday, December 31, 2011

Like Tortilla Soup, only Chinese


Here's something I can't explain: why do I like this so much, when it was so repulsive to me when I was a kid? I used to be very particular about some things. Crunchy things should remain that way, and squishy things should not gain texture at a later point in their existence. A soft food that was made hard was only marginally more palatable than a crispy thing that was made soggy. There were a few narrow exceptions to the soft-to-hard rule, (crunchy bits in fried rice were desirable, but not crust on melted cheese) but none, ever, to the hard-to-soft rule.

This is made with the leftover home made noodles from this year's christmas chow mein. When Dad used to dump the leftovers from chow mein into broth, I could barely make myself eat it, I thought it was so horrid. Now it's comfort food. Go figure. If you like tortilla soup you'll like this, it's just got chinese flavorings in it instead of mexican. You could use any kind of soup if you'd rather, but if you don't have home made noodles, you should slice up and deep fry some flour tortillas. It'll taste the same. Don't start thinking you can use store bought chow mein noodles, those things are irredeemably bogus.

2 cups broth, I use concentrate in water
1/2 lb firm tofu, cubed
1 cup greens, this has frozen spinach, but baby arugula is excellent
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon fish sauce (recommended) or soy sauce

sesame oil & green onions to taste

Bring the first 5 things to a boil in a saucepan, then simmer until the greens are done. That'll only take about 5 minutes. Pour the soup over a heap of noodles in a bowl, sprinkle on some sesame oil and a few bits of green onion, if you want them.

Noodles are auspicious, of course. So happy new year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ma Po in the Microwave

I admit, I even like the americanized versions of this dish that you get at chinese restaurants. You usually see it as bigish cubes of tofu in an orange colored, garlicky sauce with red pepper flecks in it. There's no secret ingredients here, but I did manage to make it in the microwave. Less cleanup, and slightly less garlic fumes in my house.

You will need a microwavable casserole dish with a good lid.

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 an onion, sliced thin
between 1/2 and 1 teaspoon of hot chili sauce
a generous tablespoon fermented black bean sauce
about a tablespoon of light soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 lb firm tofu
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Cube the tofu and put the chili sauce, bean sauce, soy and sugar on it. Stir it well and set it aside.

Put the onion, garlic, ginger & oil in the casserole and microwave, covered, on high for about 5 or 6 minutes. Periodically stir the onions to keep them from burning. When the onions are translucent and are developing little brown places, add the tofu and stir it up. Microwave until it starts bubbling. Stir from time to time so it heats evenly. When it's bubbly, mix the cornstarch in half a cup of water and add to the tofu. Stir, and continue to cook for a minute or so until the starch thickens and goes transparent.

There is very little that could go wrong with this recipe, but here are a couple things anyway-

1. As with all microwave cooking, times here are highly approximate. A lot depends on the wattage of your appliance, the temperature of your ingredients, dishes, and house, etc etc. Don't worry about time.
2. Really the only thing that you need to be sure of is that the cornstarch is cooked. It has to be brought to a boil or it won't thicken. Don't worry, it happens quite effortlessly.
3. Feel free to improvise. Lots of recipes for this have a green thing in it, usually peppers. Some of them call for ground beef. (Why?) I bet it would be great with broccoli and water chestnuts, or baby bok choi. I usually just cook some greens to go as a side dish, so I don't bother putting them actually in the tofu.
4. If for some reason you do want to make this on the stove you can, of course. Use a heavy pan, brown the onions garlic & ginger in oil first, then add the tofu & seasonings, then the starch & water. Pretty simple.

Dad told me something about this dish. I don't remember if he claimed to have met and dined at the house of the original Ma Po, but he did say that "real, authentic" ma po tofu is a very different thing than this. For one thing, it should be volcanically hot. Pepper hot, that is. For another, tofu in cubes is not the correct format.

Tofu is made a lot like cheese, initially. You soak dried soybeans for a day or two, you grind them into a slurry with water, drain out and discard the solids, then curdle the proteins in the liquid. The curds are pressed together to make the bricks of tofu you get at the store. To make authentic ma po tofu, you should take the loose curds and use those in the dish rather than the pressed blocks. I imagine that it would have a very delicate texture.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cheesey Rolls


Here's another thing to do with the pizza dough/baguette recipe. I had to come up with a thing that I could take to a potluck that didn't involve a trip to the store. I'd already decided that I was going to be in the house all day, so I might as well make rolls, right?

Start with the same recipe for pizza dough, with the following changes: use half whole wheat flour, add 1 tablespoon of butter, and use half as much salt.

Knead the dough until it's smooth- I run it in the bread machine for 20 minutes. Then let it rest for an hour or until it doubles in size. Grate a half pound of cheddar. Roll the dough out until it's half an inch thick. Shoot for a rectangle about 2 feet long by 1 foot wide. Sprinkle on the cheese, and really smush it in. Roll the dough up tightly so you have a rope of dough about 2 feet long and about 2-3 inches thick. Cut off slices of the rope about 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick. Set them on an oiled baking pan about 2 inches apart, and let them rise for about an hour. Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes, or until there are delicious brown bits of cheese oozing out.

If you want to get fancy, you can add chopped herbs, either in the cheese itself, or sprinkled on the outside, which is what I did.

A couple things that might help:

1. If you let the rolls rise in the oven next to a pan of hot water, the outside layers will stay moist, and hopefully, continue to expand at the same rate as the insides. I already had something else in the oven, so I couldn't do that. I think they'd look prettier if I had. One of my rolls exploded out of its layers.

2. It's important to roll the dough tightly. As it rises, any air pockets you leave in it will expand, and tend to make the rolls loose their shape. Pressing the cheese firmly onto the dough helps with this.

3. Flour the surface you roll the dough on. The dough is rather soft and sticky.

These are best hot out of the oven, like all rolls, but they didn't last more than a couple hours so I can't say after that.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

more ballyhoo

Here's another recipe that got a lot of squawk in the food blogs a while ago. Everybody was all ooooh, you gotta make this fried rice, this is the best fried rice. It is good fried rice, but it didn't blow me away or anything. I'll probably make it again even, but not for breakfast. I'm just too damn hungry to fiddle around with it first thing in the morning.


The original recipe is here. It says to fry the ginger & garlic in the oil first, then fry the rice with the same oil. That probably makes a difference. There's onions in it too, but I didn't have onions. Oops, oh well. So I put in edamame for color which is actually pretty good. And soy sauce doesn't really amaze me or anything, so I used a dab of black bean sauce, which really helps.

1 cup cold rice
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 small slice ginger, minced
edamame - I used pre-cooked frozen, thawed out first.
1 egg
sesame oil and other oil for frying
black bean sauce

Put about a tablespoon of cooking oil in a pan on medium high heat. When the oil is hot, dump in the rice and a pinch of salt and stir it around to break up the clumps and coat the rice with a little oil. Cover the pan and wait for there to be some brown bits on the rice. Stir it up, push it to the side of the skillet and add about another teaspoon of cooking oil plus a dash of sesame for flavor. Add the ginger & garlic bits and another pinch of salt, then fry until they're crispy.  Throw in the edamame and a little black bean sauce, stir everything up, and dump it onto a plate so you can fry an egg to go on top. Don't over fry the egg or you won't be able to stir the yolk into the rice.

What do I think? It's fried rice for chrissakes! Of course it tastes good, it's po' folks food! I guess I just feel like it was another case of the fancy chef guy who has the tv spot or whatever being able to say 'Hey look! I can make normal food too!' and everybody else going 'No way man! That's amazing! You did that on tv!'

Like I said, I'll probably make this the next time the fridge is empty, but I feel rather impatient with the fuss about it. I kinda thought well duh, you put fried garlic and eggs on anything mostly, and it'll taste pretty darn good.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I am Distraught

I think I wrecked my tea kettle. I went away and left it on the stove for a couple hours the other night, and when I came back, it was blazing hot and the bottom was all poofed out. I let it cool down, and it looked all right, but now I realize that the aluminum core of the bottom has come unstuck from the stainless outsides.

Yesterday morning I put it on the stove, and it groaned, and the bottom bulged out in a very ominous way when I turned the stove on. I was afraid there was air trapped in the delaminated base of the kettle, and thought I'd better not use it like that in case it explodes. This morning, I got out my drill and bored a tiny hole in the bottom of the kettle, thinking that would at least keep it from blowing up, right? Well that may be so, but I'm too scared to find out. If all it does it go POW and BLOING! that's ok, but it's really loud, and how do I know what it's going to do? I'll have to keep an eye out for another at goodwill.