December 21, 2011

Scrambled Eggs on Portobello Mushroom Caps with Spinach

In just a few days we leave for Thailand! Yes, Thailand! First a family wedding on Koh Samui. Then sightseeing in Chiang Mai and Bangkok.

I am beyond excited! There are so many things I can't wait to see and experience. At the top of my list is the food. I love Thai food. But I'm assuming the noodles and curries I've had here are not exactly authentic. I can't wait to try the real thing.

But before I board the plane I have to get through the rest of this week and then Christmas. With all the shopping and wrapping and prepping and planning and packing, I feel like I barely have time to think, let alone cook. I'm tempted to phone it in, literally, and just order takeout every night. But we're going to be eating out the whole time we're away so I'm trying to be good.

The other night I made this yummy brunch-like dish for dinner and it was a hit. Healthy, tasty, and (most important these days) -- fast! Perfect for dinner on a busy weeknight. It would also make a quick and healthy alternative to eggs benedict on Christmas morning.

Saute the baby spinach in a bit of olive oil, with some salt and pepper, until the spinach wilts. Put it in a bowl and set aside.

Heat a bit more oil in the same pan and sear the mushrooms for about 3 to 5 minutes per side until they're lightly browned and tender and not releasing any more liquid. Sprinkle some salt over the mushrooms, then set aside.

Now for the scrambled eggs. Melt some butter in pan set over low heat and pour in the eggs. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook low and slow, gently stirring the eggs occasionally. 

When they're starting to set, sprinkle in some cheese.

Continue to cook for another minute or two until the cheese has melted and the eggs are just set.

To assemble, place a mushroom cap on a plate. Top with some spinach, eggs, and a little more cheese. Sprinkle a few drops of Tabasco on top if you like it hot. Enjoy!

Scrambled Eggs on Portobello Mushroom Caps with Spinach

Recipe by The Garlic Press

9 oz baby spinach
2 portobello mushrooms caps, wiped clean and stems removed
5 eggs
olive oil
1 tsp butter
black pepper
1/4 cup shredded cheese, plus more for sprinkling
a few drops Tabasco sauce, optional

1.      Heat a  large skillet over medium high heat. Pour in 1 tsp olive oil. Add spinach and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until spinach is wilted and stops releasing liquid. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

2.      Heat 2 tsp olive oil in same pan over medium high heat. Add mushroom caps. Heat for 3 to 5 minutes on each side, until the mushrooms have browned slightly, become tender, and stopped releasing liquid. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3.      In a smaller skillet, melt butter over low heat. Add the eggs, salt and pepper, and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the eggs are almost set. Add the shredded cheese and cook until the cheese has melted and the eggs are done to your liking.

4.      To serve, place mushroom caps on a plate. Top with spinach, then eggs. Sprinkle a little extra cheese on top if you like. Add a few drops of Tabasco for some kick.

Serves 1 to 2

December 14, 2011

Char Siu Bao

Our Daring Cooks’ December 2012 hostess is Sara from Belly Rumbles! Sara chose awesome Char Sui Bao as our challenge, where we made the buns, Char Sui, and filling from scratch – delicious!

Dim sum is one of my favorite ways to eat out. For one thing, it's essentially a never-ending series of appetizers (always my favorite part of a meal). I love watching cart after cart roll by, ordering whatever appeals at that moment.

Of course, there are downsides too. I once spent an hour waiting for the lady with the sesame bean paste balls and finally ended up trailing her around the gigantic dining room until she noticed me.

At this point, I've got my definite favorites. In addition to those sesame bean balls, I'm a big fan of anything with seafood. My husband and son, though, are fans of Chinese pork. BBQ pork buns, in particular.

So they were thrilled with this month's Daring Cooks'Challenge -- Char Siu Bao. Char Siu Bao are steamed, spongy buns filled with a sweet/savory filling of chopped pork.

The pork filling is pretty straightforward. You marinate the pork, grill it, then chop it up and stir fry it with some additional flavorings.

The buns, on the other hand, are quite time-consuming. They require kneading, rising, rolling, filling, resting, then steaming. Honestly, even though they came out great, I don't think I'd ever go through all that effort again. Especially considering how little they charge for them at Hei La Moon.

First, the pork. Assemble the ingredients for the marinade. It's a long list, but it results in a tasty sauce.

Combine the marinade ingredients.

Marinate the pork in the marinade and leave the pork in the fridge overnight to soak up all the flavors.

Grill the pork until it's cooked through (you can also bake it if you don't have access to a grill). The recipe said it would take about 15 minutes to cook through. Mine took a lot longer, possibly because it was freezing outside the day I grilled my pork!

Let it rest, then chop it up into tiny pieces.

Heat the shallots in some oil, then add the chopped pork.

Stir in the oyster sauce, dark soy sauce and sesame oil.

Then add the cornstarch/stock mixture. At first it will look liquidy, but it will help to thicken up the mixture. Set the pork mixture aside and let it cool.

Now the buns, or bao. The buns start out with a surprising ingredient (at least, I was surprised) -- milk. You scald the milk, which basically means you heat it to just below boiling.

Then stir in sugar, oil, and salt and let it cool to lukewarm. Letting it cool to lukewarm is a critical step. Once it's lukewarm, you're going to add the yeast. If you add the yeast before the milk has cooled enough, the yeast will die and your buns won't rise. So, once the milk is lukewarm, sprinkle the yeast into the milk. At first nothing will happen.

Over the next 10 to 15 minutes, though, you'll notice some slight bubbling. Soon the surface of the milk will be frothy. This means the yeast has been activated.

Sift the flour into a bowl. Once the milk/yeast mixture is ready, add it to the flour.

Bring the dough together with your fingers.

Then knead it on a lightly floured surface for a few minutes until it's smooth and feels nice and elastic.

Place the dough in a covered bowl for an hour or two until it doubles in size.

Pull off a piece of dough, roll it into a ball in your hands, then roll it with a rolling pin into a 3-inch circle.

Place some of the pork filling into the center of the circle.

Then gather up the edges of the dough at the top.

Place each bun on a small square of parchment paper. Then cover with a damp towel and let the dough rise again for about 20 minutes.

Finally, the buns are ready to cook! Set up a steamer on your stovetop. Pinch the tops of the buns together again (they will probably have come apart a bit while they were resting). This helps the pork filling to stay nice and moist as the buns steam. Leave some room between the buns so they have room to expand.

Steam the buns for about 12 minutes, until the dough is cooked.

Enjoy your homemade dim sum!

Steamed Char Siu Bao

Char Siu (Cantonese BBQ Pork)

1 1.5-pound pork tenderloin
4 large cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp ginger, grated
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 ½ Tbsp maltose (you can substitute honey)
1 ½ Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
1 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp shaoxing cooking wine (or dry sherry)
½ tsp black pepper
pinch of salt
½ tsp five spice powder
½ tsp sesame oil
½ tsp red food coloring (optional)

1.      Trim the pork loin to remove fat and tendon and slice lengthways so you have two long pieces, then cut in half. By cutting the pork in to smaller pieces to marinate you will end up with more flavorsome char siu. Place in container that you will be marinating them in.

2.      Combine all the other ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine.

3.      Cover pork well with ⅔ of the marinade mixture. Marinate for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Place the reserved ⅓ portion of the marinade covered in the fridge. You will use this to baste when cooking the pork.

4.      Place marinated pork loin on the grill of your BBQ.

5.      Cook on a medium heat for 15 to 30 minutes, until cooked through, basting occasionally with the reserved marinade.

Char Siu Bao Pork Filling

3/4 pound char sui (finely diced)
2 green onions/spring onions (finely sliced)
1 Tbsp hoisin sauce
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
¼ cup chicken stock
1 tsp cornstarch
½ Tbsp vegetable oil

1.      Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or pan.

2.      Add diced char sui to the wok/pan and stir then add spring onions, cook for 1 minute.

3.      Add hoisin, dark soy sauce and sesame oil to the pork mixture, stir fry for one minute.

4.      Mix cornstarch and stock together and then add to the pork mixture.

5.      Stir well and keep cooking until the mixture thickens, 1 or 2 minutes.

6.      Remove mixture from wok/pan and place in a bowl to cool. Set aside until ready to use.

Char Siu Bao

1 cup whole milk
¼ cup sugar
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
¼ tsp salt
2½ tsp dried yeast
3 cups all purpose flour

1.      Scald milk. Stir in sugar, oil and salt, then leave to cool until it is lukewarm.

2.      Once it is the right temperature add yeast. Leave until yeast is activated and it becomes frothy, about 10 to 15 minutes.

3.      Sift flour into a large bowl.

4.      Add milk/yeast mixture to the flour. Bring the flour mixture together with your hands.

5.      Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for a couple of minutes. The dough should be smooth and slightly elastic.

6.      Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Leave to rise until it is double in size. This will take from 1 to 2 hours.

7.      Punch down dough and divide in to 20 equal portions.

8.      Roll each dough portion in to a 3-inch round.

9.      Place 1 tablespoon of pork filling in the center of the round. Gather the edges together at the top and place on a 3-inch square of baking paper. Repeat until all dough has been used.

10.  Cover with a damp towel and let rise for 20 minutes.

11.  Place a few buns at a time in a steamer, leaving space between the buns.

12.  Heat water in the bottom of the steamer until it is simmering and place steamer on the pan.

13.  Place lid on top of steamer and steam for approximately 12 minutes.

Makes 24 buns.


December 7, 2011

Gingered Veggie Noodle Soup

It was a rookie mistake, going to the grocery store before breakfast. But it was raining, I was already out for school drop off, and I didn't feel like making an extra trip.

So there I was, wandering the aisles. Starving. Before I knew it, there was a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos in my cart.

Sometime around mid-morning, it started calling to me. At first I tried to fight it. It was only another hour until lunch. I could grab a banana instead. Or some yogurt. But it was a losing battle. The Doritos were in my hand. And then they were in my mouth. Not just a chip. Or two. More than I care to admit.

Then the inevitable. The guilt. And disgust. Don't get me wrong. I'm not a health nut. I'm not a person who feels guilty after eating one M&M. But this was just over the top.

All day I tried to get over that feeling of blah. I had a light lunch. I drank green tea in an effort to detox. No luck.

So I decided to make a redemptive dinner. Something light, healthy and nutritious. And, since it was cold and rainy, something warm. Soup. Asian soup. Something with ginger. Something that would placate my disgruntled stomach.

I went to the cupboard first, to make sure I had the basics. Luckily I'd bought a carton of chicken stock last week. There were some thin egg noodles in there too. Next I checked the fridge. Three zucchini and half a bag of baby spinach. And, thank goodness, a big knob of ginger. 

The soup was light and cleansing. Just what I'd wanted. And the rest of those Doritos? Let's just say they won't be tempting me again anytime soon.

Bring the stock and water to a simmer over medium heat. Add sliced ginger and simmer for a few minutes until it's fragrant.

Julienne your zucchini. You can also cut it into small cubes, but I wanted the zucchini to be the same shape as the pasta.

Add the zucchini to the stock, then add the pasta.

After a few minutes, add the baby spinach.

Simmer until the zucchini and pasta are tender, and the spinach is wilted. Taste for salt and pepper. 

Ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle with a few drops of sesame oil. If you like it spicy, add some Sriracha or chili garlic sauce. Enjoy!

Gingered Veggie Noodle Soup

Recipe by The Garlic Press

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups water
2-inch piece of ginger, cut into 1/2-inch thick disks
2-3 small zucchini, julienned or cut into small cubes
4 to 6 ounces thin egg noodles or other pasta
6 ounces baby spinach, roughly chopped
Sesame oil

1.      Put the chicken or vegetable stock and water in a pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

2.      Add the ginger and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the ginger is fragrant.

3.      Add the zucchini, pasta, and baby spinach. Simmer until the pasta is tender.

4.      Taste for salt and pepper.

5.      Ladle the soup into bowls. Drizzle with a few drops of sesame oil.

Note: You can easily make this soup vegetarian by using vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth and substituting a different pasta for the egg noodles.  

Serves 4

December 5, 2011

No Noodle Zucchini Lasagna

My husband doesn't like zucchini. I don't understand this.

I can understand not liking some other vegetables. Eggplant, for example, can be bitter, with a tough peel. Okra can be slimy. Cabbage has a strong smell. Brussels sprouts can be an acquired taste.

But zucchini? What's not to like?  

Zucchini is so mild and non-threatening. At worst, it melts down into nothing and doesn't interfere with the taste of a dish. At best, it provides delicate flavor and texture, taking on the flavors you want to spotlight.

In this case, the zucchini takes over for the lasagna noodles. You slice the zucchini thin, then layer it into the pan, piling the sauce and cheeses on top. The zucchini maintains its structure surprisingly well.

I love the idea of a lasagna with no noodles. You can look at this as a "healthier" lasagna, since it does away with the carbs. In my hands, though, it was just an excuse to add extra cheese.

You can bulk up the sauce by sautéing some mushrooms, onions, or bell peppers into it. Or you can cook up some ground meat or Italian sausage and mix that in with the sauce.

First make the ricotta mixture by combining ricotta, parmesan, egg, basil, salt and pepper.

You can prepare the sauce from scratch. I used jarred sauce. (BTW, if you haven't tried it, Rao's makes the best jarred sauce on the planet.)

Now slice the zucchini into thin strips.

Spread a little tomato sauce on the bottom of your pan and top with a layer of zucchini.

Add some of the ricotta mixture and the shredded mozzarella.

Create a second layer, with sauce, zucchini, ricotta and mozzarella.

For the final layer, top the zucchini with sauce and just the mozzarella cheese.

Cover and bake until the cheese is golden brown and the concoction is bubbling up around the edges.

Let the lasagna sit for 15 minutes before you cut into it. This gives the cheese a chance to set.

No Noodle Zucchini Lasagna

Recipe adapted from She Manufactures

1 28-oz jar spaghetti sauce
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 egg
1/2 cup fresh basil, sliced/torn
1/2 tsp salt
Black pepper
2 pounds zucchini (about 3), sliced into thin, lasagna noodle-like strips
2 cups shredded mozzarella

1.      Preheat oven to 350.

2.      In a bowl, combine the ricotta, parmesan, egg, basil, salt and pepper. Mix well and set aside.

3.      Lightly oil a 9 x 13 inch pan.  Spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom. Then cover with a layer of zucchini slices. Top zucchini with half of the ricotta mixture and one-third of the mozzarella. Drizzle tomato sauce on top.

4.      Repeat, layering another layer of zucchini, the rest of the ricotta, one-third of the mozzarella and some sauce.

5.      For the final layer, arrange the zucchini, cover with sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella.

6.      Bake for 45 minutes, covered.  Then uncover and bake for another 15 minutes. 

7.      Remove from the oven and let the lasagna cool for 15 minutes before cutting into it. 

Serves 6