Friday, November 21, 2008

Chicken and Winter Vegetables

Prep: 15 Min
Cook: 1 Hr
Rready: 1 Hr 15 Min

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons margarine or butter
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced
2 stalks celery, diced
3/4 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
4 or 5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
Green beans
2 cups chicken stock
A tiny splash of vermouth or white wine
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf


1. Season the chicken with additional salt, pepper, thyme, and cayenne. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Melt the margarine or butter in the skillet. Stir in the garlic for about 30 seconds. Stir in the onion, celery, and mushrooms, and cook until tender but firm.

3. Set vegetables aside, and cook the chicken breasts in the skillet 8 to 10 minutes on each side, until juices run clear. Set chicken aside.

4. Deglaze skillet with stock and vermouth, scraping up the fond. In a large sauce pot, mix in the potatoes and green beans and add the cooked vegetables and chicken. Pour in the deglazed liquid and fond from the skillet. Season with salt, thyme, cayenne pepper, and bay leaf, making sure the bay leaf is submerged in the liquid. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender and some of the liquid has been reduced. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

Personal Note: I just happened to have everything this recipe calls for in our remaining vegetable reserves for the week. It's proving an ideal supper for today--it's hearty, simple, and warms you up with heat and savory flavors. Would probably be good with crusty bread, despite having potatoes in it. No, really. I love carbs, ha.

Stir Fry: General Reference and Pointers

Vague Sense of Ingredients:
Sauce components (see directions below)

2 or 3 Tbsp oil (see directions below)

2 Tbsp garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated or minced
1 cup onions, sliced
Cauliflower or broccoli, cut into bite-size florets
2 or 3 scallions, sliced or minced
Bell peppers, sliced (I prefer orange, yellow, and red)
Carrots, julienned
Meat (or meatish component!):
Boneless chicken, beef, or pork, rinsed and patted dry, cut into chunks
Ddok, cut into chunks or slices
Barely cooked optional touches:
Water chestnuts, sliced
Bean sprouts
Bamboo shoots

Directions and Loose Tips:

Whisk a mixture in a bowl to later coat the stir fry using a bit of sesame oil, soy sauce, fish sauce if you're feeling adventurous, Asian sauces at your discretion (I like fermented black bean, Szechuan, garlic, hoisin, orange, etc), and sugar. Optionally, you can add 1/4 cup stock and corn starch as a thickener as well.

Swirl 1 Tbsp oil in a wok over high heat. Add half the garlic and half the ginger, stirring, and cook about 15-30 seconds. Add the onion and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add broccoli or cauliflower and scallions and cook over high heat until it browns and becomes tender but not at all mushy, about 5-7 minutes.

Remove vegetables from heat, add another 1 Tbsp oil if necessary, and cook the other vegetables similarly quickly at high heat, grouping them by toughness so everything has the right texture. Remove.

Turn heat to medium, swirl 1 Tbsp oil, and add remaining garlic and ginger. Stir, the add the meat and/or ddok. Raise heat to high, stir meat once, then let it sit for 1 minute before stirring again. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat has lost its pinkness, 3-6 minutes.

If you're like me and make enough that it doesn't all fit back in the wok to coat with the sauce you've made, take a huge sauce pot and stir it together under low heat that way. Toss in the cashews and other barely-cooked optional ingredients (if using) to lightly toast them, then add everything including the sauce and combine. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve over rice. I use a rice cooker for this, because stir fry is too hectic (lots of abrupt, short but crucial timing steps) to be timing white rice perfectly the normal way.

Personal Note: This is loosely based on Mark Bittman's guideline recipe, with the things my father taught me interjected. I've spent something like a decade making stir fry, both bad (I've totally flopped a bunch of times on my own) and good (Tasty! Where it makes takeout seem like paying someone to make me mac n cheese--it can be that good and easy). Now on my own I'm slowly learning how to make it open-ended but foolproof. That's why I'm finally posting some sloppy go-to reference for myself, so I don't forget what I've learned so far.

A few things:

Make sure your meat is really cut small enough and has been patted very DRY.

Keep your wok HOT and use as little oil as possible to maintain that heat.

Simplify the sauce--at first I was putting a little of every kind I had in, and the results were very underwhelming, I guess because it all cancels each other out. So now I'm not afraid to make a stir fry that is a bit more one dimensional but with big returns on actual flavor, with one sauce the major component and maybe just a dab of a couple other complementary things.

And maybe most important of all, don't be afraid to do the vegetables separately based on "toughness" class--it seems frustrating, like it defeats the purpose of stir fry (simple, quick, zap-fast cooking), but it makes a huge difference. If you're not willing to do like vegetables with like, you may well end up with soggy onions and peppers but barely cooked cauliflower and carrots.

Which reminds--the worst thing is soggy stir fried vegetables. Err on the side of "al dente"-ish, toothy crunch. Bittman talks about parboiling the cauliflower, and I just don't see it. I like it with a faint crunch though. Besides, you want things tender but firm--how else will they stand up to being microwaved as 3 a.m. leftovers? ;)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Roasted Curried Cauliflower Florets

1 head cauliflower, washed, dried, and cut into florets
A few whole cloves of garlic, peeled
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 F. In a small bowl whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, turmeric, curry powder, and salt and pepper. On a baking sheet or roasting pan, toss mixture onto cauliflower florets. Tuck cloves of garlic among florets. Roast for about 25 minutes or until golden and slightly caramelized.

Personal Note: This is a nice, slightly less typical way to use cauliflower for a super easy side dish with dinner.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thai-Style Chicken Soup

A fragrant blend of coconut milk, lemon grass, ginger and lime makes a delicious soup, with just a hint of chile.

Whenever you have a roast chicken it is worth using the carcass to make stock. Remove all the skin from the remains of the bird and put the carcass into a large pan. Add roughly chopped onion, carrot, and celery stick, and a bouquet garni. Cover with water and bring to the boil. Skim off the scum and then simmer the stock for 1 hour. Strain through muslin (cheesecloth). Skim of the fat when the stock is cold.

Serves 4.

5 ml/1 teaspoon oil
1-2 fresh red chilies, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 large leek, finely sliced
550 ml/18 fl oz/2.5 cups chicken stock
450 ml/0.75 pint/scant 2 cups coconut milk
450 g/1 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bitesize pieces
30 ml/2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
1 lemon grass stalk, split
2.5 cm/1 inch piece fresh root ginger, peeled and crushed
5 ml/1 teaspoon sugar
4 kaffir lime leaves (optional)
75 g/3 oz/0.75 cup frozen peas, thawed
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)


Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the chilies and garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the leek and cook for 2 minutes longer. Stir in the stock and coconut milk and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Add the chicken, fish sauce, lemon grass, ginger, sugar and lime leaves, if using. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes until the chicken is tender, stirring occasionally. Add the peas and cook for 3 minutes longer. Remove the lemon grass and stir in the cilantro just before serving.

Personal Note: My mom sent me this recipe. I didn't even use proper homemade chicken stock (I know--the horror! Don't tell my parents!); I settled for Le Gout-style chicken stock base. I also fiddled a bit with measurements, since I added ddok I happened to find at the Asian grocer's. The result was a thicker, less pale soup, kind of more like porridge or Asia's spunkier/more energetically flavored answer to shepherd's pie. It had a great balance of flavors--gently hot, savory, zesty/near-citrusy (thanks to the lime, lemongrass, and fresh ginger!), and sweet. Cozy-comforting like chicken soup should be, too. And sinus clearing to boot! Robert loved it.

I'm eating a bowl of it now. Good for a rainy evening.