This morning was a revelation! That Bagna Cauda (the sauce I made a few days ago) left me with a trembling body, and consciousness that almost escaped me. I am prone to believe that human beings need a few essential things for survival: food and sex. They are driven by our natural state of hunger and libido. As animals, we need food and sex to sustain life. But what differentiates human beings from animals is our level of curiosity, a biological hunger to communicate and share our stories with each other. We live by stories, and food and sex create the best narratives. Food and sex tend to join each other more often than you think, forming an enigma, an unusual union that is inexplicable. Only experience will reveal its true nature.
I hope to unleash the story of my gastronomical orgasm in this post. And if the Bagna Cauda did this to me, I’m positive you will have a similar reaction.
I woke up thinking how soon it was morning already. Last night, in my dream, it took shape before my eyes. I got up with a start and went straight to the refrigerator, and there it was, Bagna Cauda, standing firm in all its glory. I melted a tablespoon of it into the frying pan, cracked two eggs, and toasted some bread. Then, I added more sauce onto the eggs. This was a moment between me and my bagna cauda. No significant other or company.
I didn’t care even if Cupid was there, attempting to attack me with his flowery arrows of love. The truth is, an orgy of flavors just exploded all over my mouth, leaving me speechless. Darts of salty tastes and creamy golden liquid shot in every angle imaginable. That elixir made me surrender to all of my senses, and I was drowned into submission. The miracle that happened with the first bite, happened again and again. My eyes unfolded as waves of light flooded the path I stood in. Fluttering glances healed my inability to blink, and for the first time, I was sweating, something that I’ve only encountered eating hot chilies. The perfume of anchovies and garlic melted into the butter and olive oil and mingled with oozing fried eggs and toasted bread. Now, this is a priceless breakfast out of bed. Can you beat that?
If you haven’t tried it you are already late!
My mind blistered in pain when I woke up this morning only to find myself under the covers in my apartment in New York. The night seemed endless in the dream I partook. A blissful dream in which I was in Italy with the chef I had worked with, scooping up Italian delicacies. Clearly my love for Italian food isn’t minimal. In an impulse, I almost booked a flight to Italy, that is until I realized my work schedule wouldn’t permit me to go anywhere, under any circumstances.
Since Italy is beyond reach for the moment, I made Bagna Cauda, blasted Cecilia Bartoli on my stereo, and invited my friends Frank and Amanda for dinner. Bagna Cauda, for the uninitiated, is a hot dipping sauce for vegetables or pieces of bread that appears in many Italian homes, particularly in Piedmonte. One part garlic, two parts anchovies, melted butter and olive oil sent its fragrance to announce a distinctively Italian presence. There is a ritual attached to dipping your veggies in this sauce. Each vegetable is dipped into the bagna cauda, cradled by a piece of bread. The idea is to not allow the sauce to spill on the table. The bread acts as a guardian, keeping the dip in its place. The routine is repeated until the plate is empty.
With the weather showing signs of shrewd cold, there is no reason not to fill your home with an intoxicating aroma. I have some left over, and I shall refrigerate it. Should I still dream of Italy, I will know that bagna cauda will come to my consolation. All I have to do is spread it on my toast, and I shall be singing along with Ms. Bartoli.
Bagna Cauda, A sauce of Dreams Come True
Makes 2 cups
1 stick of butter
1 cup of good extra virgin olive oil
4 whole cloves of garlic
6 pieces of anchovies, drained and bones removed
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
Juice of 1/2 a lemon (optional)
1) Pour in the oil and the stick of butter into a sauce pan, and bring to heat. Simmer on very low heat. Do not color the butter or bring the butter and oil to boil.
2) Using a mortar and pestle, mesh the anchovies and garlic, until the anchovies turn into a paste.
3) Add the anchovies and garlic into the pot with the butter and the olive oil. Do not increase the heat.
4) Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture for 10 -15 minutes or until the anchovies are completely dissolved.
5) Add salt to taste.
6) Let the mixture cool at room temperature for about five minutes.
7) Pour the mixture into a blender along with 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
8) Blend until the ingredients are all emulsified.
9) Remove and serve over raw vegetables, cooked pasta or bread.
Ahh! With winter still lingering in the air, perhaps it’s a bit too soon to be making spring rolls. But what the heck! Who says you need to wait for spring to eat spring rolls? Besides, enveloping vegetables or meat in rice papers and deep-frying them is just a soul-satisfying event. And what’s not to like about crispy and crunchy spring rolls? Making them yourself ensures freshness of flavor, and you can be flexible with your filling.
Spring rolls are the ubiquitous Chinese appetizers that are meant to be eaten in three bites. Most Chinese-American restaurants offer loose interpretations of spring rolls. So here is my full-fledged version, a step-by-step method on how to make spring rolls. One with ground pork and one without.
Make the filling. You can be as creative or as simple as you wish, but beware of overfilling. The less filling, the better your spring rolls will be. To make the this, grate some cabbage and carrots. Leave the Enoki mushrooms whole. Cook the filling with or without ground pork and season well. See recipe below.
Then, cool the filling on a sheet tray.
Place a single layer of rice paper like a diamond on the cutting board. Put one tablespoon of vegetables in the near corner.
Roll over and tuck.
Tuck! Tuck! Tuck! Leave no air pockets. It’s okay if it tears.
Roll over and Tuck. Roll over and Tuck. Roll over and Tuck.
Using your fingers, paint a little cornstarch on the edges.
Seal to close.
Place them seam side down on a sheet tray to tightly secure the corners. Cover with a plastic wrap and freeze. Be sure the spring rolls aren’t touching each other, or they will stick and be very difficult to work with when frying. Bring a cast-iron pot to heat, and fill 2/3′s the way with peanut oil.
When the oil is hot carefully slide the spring rolls into the pot, away from you. Do not overcrowd the pot. Once they turn golden brown, they are done.
Makes 30 Spring Rolls
1 clove of garlic, crushed and finely minced
1/2 a head of cabbage, grated
2 carrots, peeled and grated
2 cups of Enoki mushrooms
1 lb. ground pork (optional)
1 tablespoon of Red Boat fish sauce
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon of cornstarch
1/4 cup of water
Peanut oil for deep-frying
1) Bring a large skillet to heat and pour in two tablespoons of oil.
2) Sauté the garlic, carrots and pork. Omit the pork if not using.
3) When the pork is cooked, showing no signs of pink, add the cabbage.
4) Pour in the soy sauce and fish sauce.
5) Stir well until the carrots have softened.
6) Remove from heat and let cool on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper.
7) In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water.
8) Place one rice paper roll on the cutting board.
9) Put one tablespoon of the cooled filling into one corner (see photographs for instructions).
10) Roll as shown in the photographs and freeze.
11) When ready to fry, pour peanut oil 2/3′s the way in a heavy cast-iron pot and bring to heat.
12) Fry the spring rolls until they turn golden brown.
13) Let cool on a sheet tray lined with paper towels.
Ha! Bet you thought I’d fallen off the face of the earth didn’t you? The truth of the matter is that writing has been difficult for me these past few days. My brains were as fried as an eggplant fritter, and I didn’t have anything exciting to report. I am always envious of people who can produce wonderful ideas, strung together in sentences in such short periods. They have the type of minds that are calm and inspired that I constantly pray for everyday. Mine is like a fierce battlefield, filled with shooting arrows of exotic voices, constantly attacking me with unusual thoughts. Each day I wake up, I am forced to face an inner voice, which seldom fails to tell me what to write. This voice carefully weaves exciting ideas. But when I sit to place these thoughts on a piece of paper, my mind goes blank. All of a sudden, it spins dizzily round and round, and my whole world splinters and falls. How could this voice tease me with a concept in bright daylight and turn it to torture by moonrise? I can’t produce a word.
All of that changed when I made these mini burgers a few days ago. These aren’t just any burgers. They are world class fancy shmancy patties of beef, luxuriously flavored with garlic and ginger, and they’re matchless. One bite turned into several. And I can shamelessly tell you that one pound of beef along with their trimmings nested craftily in my belly. While the flavors are totally up to you, I chose to Malaysianize my burgers and made a side of spicy aioli, which is sambal belachan mixed in mayonnaise. The ground beef was divided into five 3 oz. patties, and cooked in an iron skillet, basted with butter. The results: juicy, tender and comforting.
When making your own burgers at home, it is best to select meat that has a sufficient amount of fat. I choose chuck, short ribs, and sirloin beef which yielded a ratio of 30% fat to 70% meat. This amount of fat is necessary for a delicious and moist burger. I realize that grinding your own meat is not an option for most home cooks, therefore ask your local butcher do it for you. It’s worth the time and effort. Lastly, chill your ground meat in the refrigerator before you shape it. The patties need to maintain the same chill just before they touch the searing hot pan. This step will help keep the burgers in shape, ensure a gorgeous char on the outside and a juicy interior. Serve them with a side of refreshing Asian slaw, and you’ll have opened the gates of heaven.
Mini Beef Burgers & Asian Slaw
Makes five 3 oz. patties
1 lb. ground chuck, short ribs and sirloin
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1 piece of ginger (2 inches), grated
Salt to taste
Mix all four ingredients and chill. For a taste test, pinch a bit of meat. Bring a skillet to heat and sear the meat. If you are satisfied, proceed. Otherwise season with your choice of ingredient to your desired taste, and retest. Do not over mix the meat or it will turn firm when cooking. Divide the meat into 5 portions and shape them into disks. Chill.
For the spicy aioli
4 tablespoons of mayonnaise
1 tablespoon of sambal belachan
Mix the two ingredients together and set aside.
5 whole wheat dinner rolls, buttered and toasted
1) Bring a cast iron skillet to heat. Allow the skillet to be searing hot or until you see smoke rising.
2) Place the patties in the skillet and 1 tablespoon of butter.
3) Cook each side for 3 minutes for a medium rare burger.
4) Brush enough aioli onto the toasted breads. Place the lettuce and onions on one side of the bun and the burger on the other.
Asian Cole Slaw
1 cup of Napa cabbage, shredded
2 carrots, shaved
1/2 a red onion sliced
1 cucumber (green parts only), Julienne
For the dressing
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup of mirin
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. When you are ready for service, toss the salad with enough dressing. Do not drown the salad with dressing or you will lose the crunch. I prefer to dip a handful of veggies into the dressing and shake off the excess.
My biggest gripe with winter is when I have to walk on the streets between piles of slush ice and lakes of muddy water. You never can tell when a moving vehicle is right next to you because your ears are frozen in your thick woolen hat, and your concentration is on keeping your body warm. The next thing you know, your pants are drowned wet in that tarnished slush. And, when I look outside my window, Manhattan is covered over a blanket of grey clouds, not even a glimpse of the twinkling light on the Empire State Building.
When the world spins around into a tornado of stay-at-home cooking and indoor activities, it makes most sense to embrace hot soups and one-pot cooking. But these freezing moments are also the time to embrace the unusual. The charms of winter, falling crystals of pure white snow that you often see in fairy tales, have faded away and turned into several inches of black yuck, shoveled to the side of the street. When you have completely lost hope that spring will never come around, this salad might just come to a mini rescue.
Salads are usually not my thing, especially in the dead of this winter snow storm. But I must admit, they put things into perspective. When the scenery around you is dull and lost its charms, when you need something fresh to break through the heavy richness of one-pot cooking or stews, and when you need to uplift your emotions because the weather can’t promise anything, this salad will do the trick. It looks Oh so pretty and Oh so delicious!
This might be a summer salad, though it has some charms of a winter salad. A tangle of crisp green and red leaves with folds of sliced radish, grapes and confit of tomato; all get brushed lightly in a dressing of Mandarin orange vinaigrette and sesame oil. If Mandarin oranges are out of sight, any other citrus will work fine. My salad gets a light dip into the dressing, then shaken off to rid the excess liquid. This is my salad moment and I intend to cherish it while it lasts this winter.
Mesclun and Tomato Confit Salad
Please note that there is no specific measurement for this recipe. You will need to taste and adjust as you go along. If you like it a bit tart, add a little balsamic vinegar and regular vinegar. If you like it slightly fruitier, add more orange juice.
For the dressing
Juice of 2 mandarin oranges
Mirin or rice wine vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste
Whisk all ingredients ingredients in a bowl and set aside at room temperature.
For the salad
Handful of salad greens (mesclun or baby arugula)
Radishes thinly sliced
Grapes cut in half
Cucumber, finely diced and marinated in mirin or rice wine vinegar
For the confit of cherry tomatoes
1) Preheat the oven to 350.
2) Place the cherry tomatoes on a sheet tray along with a few sprigs of rosemary, thyme, oregano, and a few cloves of garlic.
3) Sprinkle some salt all over the vegetables, the drizzle olive oil and coat well.
4) Using a strainer, dust 1 tablespoon of confectioner’s sugar onto the tomatoes.
5) Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until the skin of the tomatoes begin to slightly crisp.
6) Remove and let cool.
7) Peel the skin and save it for another use later.
Dip a handful of mesclun salad into the dressing. Shake of excess liquid and place on the plate. Stagger three tomatoes in a zig-zag form around the leaves. Do the same with the radishes and grapes. Pile the marinated cucumbers at the tail end of the salad. Alternatively, just mix all the ingredients into a bowl and toss with the dressing.
Night falls. Bees are still buzzing around the lily trees and the crickets are singing their joyful chants with great flourish. Moonlight shines through the tamarind tree, latent with fire. A slight breeze blows from the direction of the south China sea, sending its crisp air to cool the night. The morning birds have gone home to their respective nests. My cousins and I are competing in a game of congkat, a game of dice. While dinner is long past done with, our moms are busy cleaning and washing dishes, and storing away pots and pans. All of a sudden the sound, from a Mercedes-Benz draws in closer and closer. Beep! There is dad coming in after his social hour at the local country club, an after-work event that usually takes place on a Thursday evening. Back in the eighties, when we lived in Kelantan, a state in the north of Malaysia, Thursdays marked the end of the week (according to the muslim calendar). With him is a parcel stained with streaks of scented oil. The aroma of lemongrass escapes the package, infusing his Batik shirt.
I ran so fast toward him, and hugs and kisses were exchanged. It must have been his musky Old Spice aftershave that still lingered on his smoothly trimmed skin, and the fragrance from that packet that kept me draping over him. I was about three and a half feet and he was at least 6 feet. We walk into the dining room, and he laid out this parcel of love. At just the right moment, my cousins arrive at the table, then my aunt and lastly my mother. I tear open the package and it reveals 70 sticks of satay, chunks of marinated chicken meat on a stick alongside a cup of thick, spiced peanut gravy. My aunt counts the sticks, my mom divides them and the rest of us race to chow down these charred meats.
Satay is the ubiquitous Malaysian/Indonesian dish of marinated pieces of meat skewered on bamboo sticks and served with a peanut sauce. Legend suggests that satay is a symbol of a mace, a weapon held by the god Brahma, one of the male gods of the holy trinity of the Hindu pantheon. Popularized by street hawkers, satay would be cooked over a smoky charcoal grill, sending wisps of scented smoke into the air. Satay is a ceremonial dish often included on festive days like weddings and birthdays. In my family, we ate satays on Thursdays, to denote the end of each week which is a ceremony in itself. The meat is marinated in a handful of spices overnight. The peanut sauce is cooked in the same spices along with thick, unsweetened coconut milk. Satay on its own is rich, and sometimes I don’t feel it needs the dipping sauce to accompany it.
I attempted to replicate the flavors of satay as I recall in my childhood, and I was successful. I only wished I had an open flame grill to achieve a richer char. Mine wasn’t as good as the ones my father brought, but it took me back to the glorious days I spent with my family.
I used chicken thighs because the fat from the meat helps to moisten the meat and enhances the taste. Chicken breast does not have the capacity to suck in the marinade thus resulting in a dry and unappealing satay. Make this today and your family will come running to the table, wanting more.
Chicken Satay and Peanut Sauce
Makes 20 skewers
For the satay
2 lb. dark meat chicken, cut into small cubes
1 thick stalk of lemongrass
20 bamboo skewers soaked in cold water for 20-30 minutes
For the marinade
1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
1 tablespoon of fennel seeds
Grind the seeds in spice grinder and set aside.
2 stalks of lemongrass, white parts only, bruised and chopped into small rings
2-3 cloves of garlic
5 shallots, chopped
1 piece of galangal or ginger (4 inches), chopped
1 tablespoon of turmeric powder
3 tablespoons of palm sugar or brown sugar
1 tablespoon of peanut oil
Salt to taste
1) Place all the ingredients listed above and the ground spices in a food processor and purée.
2) If the paste doesn’t purée well, add a little water to the mixture.
3) The paste should resemble the consistency of a thick carrot soup.
4) Place the cut chicken pieces in a bowl and combine it well with the marinade, making sure every piece is well coated.
5) Store the chicken uncovered at room temperature for about 2-3 hours., occasionally tossing the chicken pieces to ensure the marinade is evenly dispersed.
6) If you’re in a hurry, you can cook it right away. If not, store the bowl of chicken covered in the refrigerator overnight.
7) Remove the chicken from the refrigerator at least 2 hours before grilling, and set on the counter top.
8) Bring a grill pan to heat.
9) Prepare the lemongrass stalk for basting by removing the outer layer. Cut the bottom end. Bruise the lemongrass with a heavy blunt object.
10) Place the lemongrass in a bowl of peanut oil.
11) Thread the chicken pieces onto the bamboo skewers making sure the center of the chicken is well penetrated. This will secure the chicken from falling off the skewer.
12) To cook the chicken, baste the grill pan with peanut oil.
13) Place the skewers on the grill pan and cook each side for about 3-7 minutes.
14) Using the bruised lemongrass, baste the chicken pieces with peanut oil.
15) Soon, the chicken pieces will pick up charred black spots(caramelization).
16) Turn the skewers over and continue grilling.
17) Do not overcook the chicken.
18) The taste of doneness will depend on each individual.
Serve this with or without peanut sauce.
For the peanut sauce
Makes 3 cups
1 1/2 cups of unsalted roasted peanuts
1-2 tablespoons of sambal belachan
1 clove of garlic
2-3 tablespoons of palm sugar (brown sugar will do fine as well)
1 cup of unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
Salt to taste
1-2 cups of water
1) Bring a medium-sized pan to heat.
2) Roast the peanuts, rotating the skillet gently.
3) Once they have picked up a nice golden color, remove and let cool.
4) Place the peanuts in a food processor along with the sambal belachan, garlic and palm sugar.
5) Pulse until you have a solid mixture. The mixture should still be coarse.
6) Transfer the ingredients to the same skillet you roasted the peanuts in.
7) Pour in the coconut milk and vinegar.
8) Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and cook for about 3-5 minutes.
9) If the paste is too thick, ad some water. The sauce should be the consistency of carrot soup.
It all came to me in a vision from my dream. I saw this thick slab of marbled meat, artfully carved out of a voluptuous cow. And my alter ego was nagging me to make a stew to beat the cold weather. I had to do it. While most people’s’ alter ego may lie in their minds, mine inhabits my stomach. Oh! My alter ego is better known as my gut instinct, and it was screaming for warmth. I had no choice but to satisfy my need.
This weather, it deceived me, playing all sorts of tricks these past few days. First it was warmer, and now, extremely cold. I slipped off the covers, and my half-naked body caught a chill from the winter breeze. The weather man had warned us before, but I didn’t take notice. My bones were troubled, my skin and throat dry, and my muscles tight. I stuck my head outside the window just to be sure that it was cold and that I wasn’t coming down with a fever, when a sudden chunk of glued ice almost landed on my head from the apartment above. That was when I realized it was a stay at home day, and I had to honor my gut.
The influence of Portuguese cooking in Malaysia can be traced as far back as the early 1500s when they settled around the coastal villages of Southwestern Malaysia. Alfonso d’Albuquerque, serving under King Emanuel 1, conquered Malacca, one of the Malaysian states that formed a triangle spice trade route with Goa in India and Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. Their settlement in Malacca formed one of the most unique communities – Eurasians, half Portuguese and half Malay, thus leading to the birth of intermarriages between European cooking and local Malay ingredients. Malacca beef stew, or Daging Semur, is believed to have evolved from the Portuguese Sarabulho, which is a type of pork stew with pig blood and pork offal. Today, Daging Semur is made either with beef tongue or chuck beef.
During the reign of the Portuguese, there were probably no formal recipes involved simply because there were too many variations to be documented. Dishes were cooked in each home and were a family matter. Every village differed in cooking style and ingredient choice, so much that competitions were held on which family provided the best meal.
The year 1641 marked the end of Portuguese rule in Malacca when the Dutch took control and made the city their center for trading power in the region. Although Portuguese rule was brief, their influence on food has survived until this day, thankfully because of an identifiable Eurasian community who still thrives on the cultural richness of their cuisine.
Without further ado, I present Malacca Beef Stew.
Malacca Beef Stew (Daging Semur)
For the Beef
1 1/2 lb, chuck beef, cut into 2 1/2 cm cubes
2-3 tablespoons of double black soy sauce
1 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
AP flour for dredging
1) Marinate the beef with soy sauce and ground pepper for 30 minutes. Use your hands to massage the beef with the seasonings. Allow the beef to marinate, uncovered, at room temperature.
For the beef stew
1 tablespoon of mirin or rice vinegar
4 whole star anise
4 whole cloves
1 piece of cinnamon bark
2 cups of water
5 medium-size carrots, skin peeled
2 medium-sized, starchy potatoes (Yukon Gold or Idaho), cut into cubes
1 medium-size red onion, quartered
1 cup of shelled green baby peas
1) Bring a dutch oven to heat and pour in two tablespoons of peanut oil.
2) Dredge the beef, shaking off excess flour. Do not discard the marinade.
3) Brown the meat evenly.
4) Remove and set on a sheet tray lined with paper towel.
4) Place the shallots in a food processor and pulse until you achieve a smooth paste. Add a little water if the shallots won’t puree.
5) In the same dutch oven, pour in the vinegar and deglaze the pot.
6) Add the pureed shallots and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Do not burn the shallots or it will produce an oddly bitter flavor.
7) Add the anise, cloves and cinnamon. Stir for 2 minutes until the fragrance begins to waft in the air.
8) Add the beef back to the pot along with the left over marinade. Stir the mixture well.
9) Pour in the water.
10) Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer for about 2 1/2 hours.
11) While the beef is cooking, prepare the vegetables.
12) Fill a large pot with water and bring to boil.
13) Blanch the onions for about 2 minutes, then remove with a strainer and set aside.
14) Blanch the carrots for five minutes or until slightly tender, then remove and set aside.
15) Blanch the potatoes for 10 minutes or until slightly soft. Remove and set aside.
16) About 15 minutes before serving, add the blanched vegetables into the stew and cook until the potatoes are fork tender.
17) Blanch the peas and shock in an ice-bath.
18) Add the peas to the stew and turn the heat off.
19) Allow the stew to rest for 20 minutes before serving. The dish will taste even better the next day.
Cabbage is one of those vegetables that I don’t think about much, other than in cole slaw or on St. Paddy’s day in March. Yet, it’s one of the most difficult vegetables to miss in the isles of a grocery store, usually stacked in heaps. Perhaps it’s an uninspiring vegetable, both in form and taste, that seems to escape my attention. But all of that has changed now. I have found a way to create excitement and a bounty of flavor with cabbage. And it shall have a special place in my house from now on. Way to go cabbage!
Malaysia boasts the best Chinese cuisine in all of Southeast Asia. It’s flavorful and vibrant, unmatched by the Chinese cuisine in the surrounding regions. Chinese food has always been one of my favorite cuisines, even during the early days of my life in Malaysia. When people ask me to describe Malaysian cuisine, I often find myself diverting to Chinese cooking techniques or the flavorful ingredients they use. It happens so naturally.
What’s so great about cabbage and pork? Well, for starters I couldn’t believe how easy it is to make this recipe. It jumped out at me as I was flipping through Fuchsia Dunlop’s book Every Grain of Rice. The ingredient list might not be as exciting as one would expect, but with pork in it, how can anyone deny the glory of this dish? Pork and cabbage go together like a horse and carriage. Pork is naturally salty, so you don’t need much more seasoning. That briny flavor brings a game on match to the cabbage.
Cabbage and Pork Stir-Fry
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a side dish
2 tablespoons of peanut oil
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 piece of ginger (4-5cm), finely chopped
A few dried red chilies (optional)
1 lb. pork chops, bones removed, sliced into thin strips
2-3 tablespoons of Shaoxing cooking wine or rice wine
1/2 a head of cabbage, shredded
1 tablespoon of Red Boat fish sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1) Blanch the cabbage in boiling hot water for 1/2 a minute.
2) Bring a large pan to heat and pour in two tablespoons of peanut oil and sesame oil.
3) Sauté the garlic, ginger and dried red chilies.
4) Add the pork and cook for 3-5 minutes.
5) Deglaze the pan with Shaoxing cooking wine.
6) Toss in the cabbage and mix well.
7) Pour the fish sauce over the cabbage. Use more if you like a briny taste.
8) Season with salt and pepper and serve hot with rice.
It’s been two weeks since Andy’s mom and aunt visited us in New York, and I made a roasted rack of pork with a cherry wine sauce and onions. Uhm! Why is this newsworthy now? Because it’s better late than never. Andy’s mom and aunt ranted and raved about this pork and passed out in their hotel bed dreaming of another serving. And because Valentine’s day is approaching so quickly, and I think this dish would make your lover a happy camper. What better way to celebrate it than with a perfect, home-cooked meal?
I recognize that roses seem to take on the national symbol for expressing love on such a special day, whereby one pledges his/her eternal love forever. Sadly, roses and even mail order chocolate covered strawberries are so overrated. C’mon! Can’t you be more creative? What’s even worse is you spend exorbitant amounts of money to ease into saying, ‘I Love You’ with someone else’s ideas.
Why not spend time cooking for the one you love? I think it is the most intimate thing that you can do. You are providing endless sustenance made by you. Even if you picked out a recipe from a cookbook or the internet, it’s still your choice of what you think is best for your lover. The fact that it came from you, from a deep place inside you, is a thought to remember forever.
When we have dinner with our loved ones, there is always something primordial attached to it. Eating is the simplest act that demonstrates a human bond, and it evokes relaxation and eye-to-eye contact. In a day when we spend time apart from each other, either at work or commuting to and from work, eating together unites us emotionally, mentally and physically. Cooking gives us the opportunity to let go of our daily stress, and concentrate on the food, even if it is just for the moment. When you cook at home, second helpings are welcomed and there is no need to worry about who’s paying the bill. The act of feeding each other becomes therapeutic. That feeling is luxurious. It is freedom.
If you have reached this far down in my post, I hope you will turn on that stove and get cranking with some delicious meals for Valentine’s day, It doesn’t have to be this recipe below. But, give your loved one something he/she deserves, perhaps a recipe for a life in happiness.
Roasted Rack of Pork-Cherry Wine Sauce-Onions and Cherries
Rack of Pork
1 rack or Pork (5 lb), frenched
1 stick of butter
2-3 sage leaves
2 whole garlic cloves
Salt and pepper
1) Preheat the oven to 325. Place a roasting pan into the oven to preheat.
2) Season the pork with salt and pepper.
3) Melt the butter in a large sauté pan and add the garlic and sage leaves
4) Sear the rack, fat side down, until it is evenly browned.
5) Baste the butter.
6) When the pork is thoroughly browned on all sides, remove and transfer to the roasting rack.
7) Roast for 35-40 minutes basting with butter every five minutes.
8) Remove and let to rest for at least 20 minutes before slicing.
Cherry Wine Sauce
1 /4 cup of guanciale or pancetta, diced
3/4 bottle of good red wine preferably a Chianti.
1 qt Bing cherries, pitted
3 cups of veal stock
1 cup of sugar
Salt to taste
1) Bring a sauté pan to what and add the guanciale. Render the fat for five to eight minutes. Strain and reserve.
2) Pour in two tablespoons of rendered fat into a sauce pot and bring to heat.
3) Add the cherries and cook until the cherries begin to soften.
4) Deglaze with red wine.
5) Pour in the veal stock.
6) Let the mixture cook for about one hour.
7) Add the sugar and reduce until you achieve a thick sauce consistency.
8) Add salt to taste.
9) Strain the sauce and reserve for later use.
Onions and Garlic
1 white onion, skin on
1 bulb of garlic, skin on
1) Preheat the oven to 325.
2) Toss the onion with salt and olive oil, and wrap in aluminum foil. Do the same with the garlic.
3) Roast in the oven for about three hours or until onion is tender.
4) Gently remove the skin off and peel the onion petals. Set aside
5) Using your hands, squeeze the garlic. Toss the skin and save the puree.
5 small carrots, peeled, blanched in salted hot water for five minutes
1/2 cup of peas, blanched in salted water for 1/2 a minute
5 Green onions, blanched in salted water for 1 minute
1) Slice the pork rack in between the bones to yield five chops.
2) Season the cut side of the pork chop with Maldon salt.
3) Place the pork chop on the center of the plate.
4) Arrange the onion petals, pureed garlic, green onion, carrot and peas.
5) Warm the cherry wine sauce and spoon onto the pork.
I am a guy who knows his way around the kitchen, and I have been confident with my cooking skills even at an early age. I’ve been known to whip up something fast and delicious with whatever ingredients are left in an almost empty pantry. While I was in college, cafeteria food was beyond my comprehension. I hated it. My friends always knew when I walked into the cafeteria because I had an unusual pouch with me at all times. It rested on the table I was sitting at while I waited in line for food. In it was a bottle of Sriracha hot sauce, to spike up the horrifying tastes of over-cooked burgers and what nots. I didn’t have the means to dine daily at restaurants because funds were tight and restaurants were far from campus. So I was forced to cook for myself and my roommate, and word quickly spread out that my cooking was far superior to what my friends were eating in the dining hall. Soon, I was hosting casual dinners for my friends and neighbors, and the need to expand my culinary horizon grew by the day. Till today, my cooking world continues to thrive.
No matter how enjoyable I find cooking to be, baking is quite the contrary. My innards cringe and my head spins dizzily round and round reading a recipe. I experienced my first attempt at baking two years ago when I attended culinary school. I recall moving slowly like a heavy rain cloud that has the drunk the waters of the sea just before monsoon. Part of my disregard for baking is my inability to follow precise recipe instructions which is why the result ends up a whole lotta mess!
I recognize how much fun it can be diving your fingers into a puddle of batter and sticky, gooey dough, but it’s more fun when someone else bakes for you. When it comes to baking, Andy rises like the sun and dispels the dense fog of baking. He tackles a recipe like a fine-dining pastry chef. By day, Andy is a math teacher, and for leisure, he loves repairing computers. Perhaps, it’s his ability to recognize a recipe as a math solution which is what makes him a compassionate baker. Endlessly playful, he values the vast efforts of following rules and regulations.
Andy’s baking is flawless. His ability to transform a dough into a cookie is truly one of the most magical culinary delights. If you follow the blissful fragrance from the warm, soft cookies, wave after wave, you will think this is heaven.
Andy’s Walnut & Chocolate Chip Cookies
4 1/2 oz. unsalted butter at room temperature
6 oz. brown sugar
1 whole egg
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
6 1/2 oz. bread flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
6 oz. dark chocolate chips
2 oz. walnuts chopped
1) Preheat the oven to 375.
2) In a stand mixer bowl, using a dough hook, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed.
3) Add the egg and vanilla.
4) Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together, then mix them in to the batter.
5) Stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts.
6) Scoop tablespoon-sized balls of dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
7) Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges are slightly brown and the center is gooey. It is really very important not to over bake the cookies. It is better to have soft cookies than burnt.