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Everything posted by mizducky

  1. mizducky

    Low ingredient meals

    I keep on trying to entice myself into gussying up roasted vegetables, chicken, etc., but every time I start the prep, nothing seems to appeal to me more than simply a coating of olive oil, a sprinkling of salt, and a scattering of garlic cloves and/or wedged onions. Simple is good. (Especially when your schedule gets crazy.)
  2. Wanted to share that I scored a major hit with my own resident picky-eater senior citizen just last night, and it too was something so dead simple I felt like a culinary fraud. Yer basic chicken/rice casserole: raw rice goes in the bottom of a (very lightly greased) casserole; chicken thighs (skin-on/bone-in) go right on top of the rice; canned chicken broth and canned whole tomatoes with their juice go in on top of that; season up with a commercial seasoning blend and a bit of salt; then cover and into a preheated medium oven for 1-1/2 to 2 hours until the chicken and rice are fully cooked. The rice wound up very very soft, what I would consider a bit too mushy--but E. raved about it. Asked for seconds. Declared it one of the best dishes I'd ever made for him. And you know what? On reflection, I found I liked the mushy chicken-infused rice too. We're talking seriously unsophisticated comfort food here, and there's no point my rolling my eyes about it. I guess I'll just think of it as lowbrow risotto. Whatever works ...
  3. mizducky

    Cooking in grass?

    This isn't exactly "cooking" as such, but I understand that the traditional method of making the Japanese fermented soybean product known as natto involves wrapping cooked mashed soybeans in layers of rice straw. Mainly the straw serves as a source of the bacteria that ferment the soybeans, but I think the straw also helps keep the natto at the right temperature for the fermentation to proceed. Mind you, I am hardly a natto expert--frankly, I have yet to work up the nerve to even taste it. But there it is, for what it's worth ...
  4. A lot of what I'd suggest has already been said--shopping the ethnic markets, thinking of meat more as a condiment/flavoring agent for vegetables and starches rather than always the main event, getting lots of mileage out of every chicken and other trimmings ... Re: your housemate's preference for meat and potatoes and against legumes: that's actually not a bad thrifty-meal strategy, especially when it's a little meat flavoring a bunch of potatoes (and other vegetables). Also, you might be able to make legumes more appealing to your housemate with a bit of meat seasoning--I'm especially fond of high flavor meats like smoked ham hocks to give beans a boost. Which reminds me: offal/variety meats are the thrifty cook's friend. Maybe not quite the bargains they used to be, but especially in ethnic markets they can be amazingly cheap.
  5. Hi Ah Leung-- Sorry I didn't get a chance to connect with you while you were in San Diego! And sorry you had such a mixed experience at Ba Ren. I confess I have never had either the Kung Pao Shrimp or any dish named "Beer Duck" there. If I had known you were heading there, I would have probably recommended other dishes--and a sampling of cold appetizers such as the Fuqi Feipian, which have been among my personal favorites there. As to the service--oh dear. It has admittedly been a long time since last I ate there, so maybe there has been some change in the service since last I went. Or maybe it was just an off night. But at least when I used to go the service was excellent. One thing that has always been true, though, is that Ba Ren has never been about the decor--it's always been a modest-looking little place inside and out. I do hope you give Ba Ren another chance -- and if you do, I heartily recommend mmm-yoso's blog posts on Ba Ren for recommended dishes, as well as ones to avoid--with as huge a menu as this place has, there inevitably will be a few clunkers, and Kirk is not shy about noting them as well as all the winners.
  6. Thank you for a lovely blog! Somehow I had never been exposed to the wonders of Prague's urban culture--yeah, I know, what rock have I been hiding under?--but now I think I really get it. Those luminous cafe interiors are going to stay with me a long time.
  7. Sigh. The woes and joys ... My Mr. E has made comments similar to Lady #1 on a number of occasions. In E's case, at least, I realize there's often certain cognitive issues involved ... but it can still be pretty maddening.
  8. I listen regularly to a big AM news station that broadcasts out of Los Angeles (KNX 1070 AM), and they've been fulminating all week about big box stores like Costco and Sam's Club putting limits on rice purchases per customer. They are also, IMHO, doing a bit of irresponsible over-sensationalization, with headlines like "Food Rationing Hits SoCal: First Time Since WW II. I am absolutely NOT denying that the spike in prices of basic staples is rough on people, and even scary-bad for people at the low end of the economic scale or otherwise facing financial hard times. But don't you think it's a little much to imply that a store-chain-imposed limit on 20-pound bags of rice per purchase is on the same level of direness as the extensive US federal government-administered food rationing system implemented during WWII? Let alone the situation in genuinely impoverished countries where the current price spikes are causing real pain and food riots. Maybe I'm a bit jaundiced because, for years now, I've shopped in the kind of bargain grocery stores which regularly put limits on quantity per purchase. Okay, they do that when they have an especially low-priced special, but still--it's not like this is a totally unheard-of practice. I'm not saying there isn't a problem, but if one wants to take a problem and turn it into an actual run on a food item and resulting shortage, well, headlines like the above would be a dandy way to add fuel to that fire. But speaking of fuel to the fire: I'm also, at last, getting to read Omnivore's Dilemma--I was #47 on the library waiting list at one point--and I'm now up to my eyebrows in Pollan's dissection of the massive floodpipe of corn and other price-busting commodity foodstuffs ... all of which are totally dependent on petrochemical fertilizers to grow them and fuels to transport and process them. That the spike in world oil prices, and the diversion of some of the corn pipeline to make fuel ethanol, would result in food price spikes such as we are seeing, is such an obvious outcome of this dependence of our food supply on petrochemicals, that I'm raising my eyebrows even further at the shocked tone of some of these newscasts.
  9. Thank you! What a gorgeous stained-glass window. I just love the idea of these passageways. I've known and loved urban features here in the States that are sort of kind of like them, but I can think of few that are meaningfully functional for getting from one place to another. Or that are so charming-looking...
  10. Checking in late again after climbing out from under a pile of work ... I don't know which is more ravishing, the food or the architecture. The interiors of some of those cafes practically glow. And the modernist signage! I for one would love to know more about those passageways. Great blog!
  11. Nope, mainly just as I said, they were my guess-and-gosh attempt to fill in the little gaps here and there where I couldn't quite get the ears to overlap properly, to make as "even" a loaf as possible. Now that I think of it, though, I could have simply cut the ears into nice even rectangular pieces and spared myself a whole lot of fiddling ... oh well, another idea to try the next time I do this! Anyway, you could certainly do without the feet, and just put in more ears. I think the ears alone would have plenty enough gelatin to set up on their own.
  12. mizducky

    Charoset / Haroset

    These all sound yummy! FWIW, I always thought it would be really cool to adapt a mild Indian chutney recipe for use as charoset, but so far have not had the opportunity to try this idea out.
  13. Sure thing. Only bear in mind that I'm still refining the process--there's already a few things I learned from this go-round that I'm going to tweak the next time I do this. At any rate, for this first attempt I bought about two pounds of fresh raw skin-on pig ears (actually, I can't imagine them coming other than skin-on; if you skinned them there's be nothing left!). I also bought two pig's feet a.k.a. trotters--I had the butcher saw the feet into more manageable chunks (one lengthwise cut and three cross-wise cuts each). As I said in an earlier post, the butcher only had huge pig ears--four of them made two pounds' worth. Next time, I'd like to try to find smaller ears, so that they'd be easier to jockey into attractive layers in my terrine pan; or else cut the big ears in half or something. The ears also each had one thicker meaty corner where they had originally attached to the pig's head--next time I'm trimming off those thick parts, either before or after cooking, again to make it easier to achieve nice even attractive layers in the terrine. (I wouldn't let those trimmings go to waste, though!) I inspected my pig ears carefully and determined they had no remaining hair needing removal--recipes I've seen recommend taking a simple disposeable razor to them if there's any stray hair/bristles/fuzz on the skin. I then placed the ears, and the feet, into a large pot along with enough plain water to cover. I brought the pot to a boil, simmered hard for about 10 minutes while the meat threw off a whole lot of scum, then drained the meat into a colander, discarding all scummy water and rinsing the meat to remove any remaining scum. (Whereas Western braising technique tends to retain that first bunch of water and work real hard thereafter to clarify it, Chinese technique is usually to just toss the water, scum and impurities and all--certainly saves a lot of work!) Oh yeah--I rinsed all remaining scum out of the pot, too. I then returned the meat to the pot--actually my pressure cooker, but doing this low-and-slow in a conventional pot would probably be even better--and added the following seasonings: --3 quarter-sized slices fresh ginger root --2 pods of star anise --about 6-8 whole Szechuan peppercorns (they produce a better "buzz" if you roast and grind them, but I kind of like the faint hint of tingle they produce when used this way) --about three small dried red chilies --about 1/2 dozen peeled whole garlic cloves --4-5 little chunks Chinese yellow rock sugar (other sugars can be substituted) --2 Tbs Shaoxing wine (Chinese fortified rice wine; dry sherry is a good substitute) --2 Tbs Chinese light soy sauce --2 Tbs Chinese dark soy sauce Then, because it was my pressure cooker, I added only about 4 cups of water, which left the top inch worth of meat unsubmerged. If I had been doing this in a conventional pot, I would have put in enough water to cover, but in my pressure cooker I was concerned not to overfill. I lidded and locked my cooker, brought it up to full pressure (15 psi), and then let it cook for about 40 minutes. In a conventional pot, I'd probably bring the water to a boil, cover and back it to a bare simmer, and let it go for a good couple of hours or more, judging the meat done when the feet-meat starts falling of their bones. Anyway, when I cooled and unlocked my cooker, the ears were nicely done--the interior cartilage still retained a bit of a crunch, but a pleasant al-dente crunch, not an unpleasantly tough crunch. And all skin had become meltingly tender--in fact, I had to be careful not to tear the skin as I handled the meat. I drained the meat, this time reserving every precious drop of the cooking liquid, which was now full of flavor and gelatin goodness. I wound up not using any of this cooking liquid in this terrine; next time, I may pour in a little at the end to help fill in any gaps. But anyway ... since I wanted the ears to lie flat in my terrine container, I quickly (but gently!) fished them out of the colander and laid them out flat on plates to cool a little (I sprayed the plates lightly with canola oil spray to prevent the ears sticking). I then deboned the pig's feet--these could have done with a little longer cooking than the ears, but I managed okay. For my terrine mold I used two matching standard bread pans, one to hold the meat and the other to serve as the lid/weighted press on top. Both had non-stick interiors, but I greased the interior of the meat-containing one with my canola oil spray anyway. I then gently laid the ears into the greased pan as best I could to get them all to fit in together with as few gaps as possible, useing the meat from the feet to fill in any gaps (if I had trimmed the ears as I discussed above, I would have used the trimmings for gap-filling purposes here as well). The meat covered the entire bottom of the bread pan nicely, and filled it about halfway vertically (about 1.5 inches deep). Then I took the other bread pan, sprayed its exterior with canola spray, and placed it inside the first bread pan so its bottom was sitting on top of the meat. I piled four soup cans into this upper bread pan to serve as weights. And then the whole contrapton went into the fridge to chill for a few hours. The inherent gelatin of the ear and feet skin was more than plenty to cause the terrine to set up extremely firmly! I then unweighted and unmolded my terrine--I had to reach in and pull it out, but at this point it was so firm that this manhandling didn't damage it in the least. In fact, you need to slice this stuff extremely thinly, because in thick slices I think the texture might be a little too tough to be pleasant. Of course, if you heated it up it would go all melty and tender again--in fact, it would fall apart and no longer be a terrine. But that's not necessarily a bad thing--in fact, I think letting a couple of thin slices melt over some piping-hot steamed rice would be incredibly yummy. Other future variations: I could easily see doing this with other seasoning profiles--say, taking it French with tarragon, white wine, etc.--and/or embedding garnishes in the terrine for color/flavor contrast (finely chopped scallions, red peppers, etc.)
  14. Kent, that looked so fabulous that I was moved to do some experiments of my own with pig ears. Alas, my results arent't as pretty as yours, but the stuff does taste yummy (if rich), and with great mouthfeel. Plus I had a fun time doing it. The main ingredients: Forgive me, my weird sense of humor took one look at these babies and started thinking "meat bouquet," so of course I had to do it. The butcher at the Vietnamese market only had big huge pig ears, so that's what I got--plus two pig's feet, cut up, to kind of fill things out here and there. I gave the piggy parts a preliminary simmer in plain water first, then drained the meat, discarding the water, and rinsing any remaining scum off. Then, because I am an impatient person, I put the meat in my pressure cooker, seasoned with dark soy, light soy, Shaoxing wine, garlic, ginger, star anise, yellow rock sugar, a few dried red chiles and a few sichuan peppercorns, and added about four cups water. After forty minutes at 15 lbs. pressure, the meat was looking like this: I was concerned the ears would tear or get bunched up in that strainer, so I gently fetched them out onto plates. They looked so wacky on those little plates that I had to indulge in further food art of questionable talent: Enough fun and games, I layered the ears in a non-stick loaf pan as best I could, using the deboned meat and skin from the feet to fill in gaps. After chilling, weighted, for a couple of hours, it looked like this sliced: As I said, nowhere near as precise as Kent's. But they taste great--if very very rich--and as a long-time secret fan of head cheese, I'm really digging the mouthfeel. One thing though--I'm going to have to either find other local offal fans to share it with, or else figure out a way to freeze some of it, because there's no way I'll be able to finish this whole terrine on my own. Oops!
  15. Bumping this topic back up to report on some extreme fish head action. Mr. E (the elderly gentleman of traditional food preferences who I look after) is away for an extended weekend with friends, so I'm reveling in cooking things that would freak him out, such as: I bought these salmon-head halves in a local Korean supermarket, and gave them a simple roast in a 450F oven with just a coating of olive oil and Kosher salt. They were heavenly--as was the guilty pleasure of slurping away at them with nobody to watch what a great noisy mess I was making.
  16. Catching up again ... lots of fun stuff since last I dropped in ... just a couple of hits that stayed with me: Fennel is so fabulous roasted, isn't it? I've never done it with any added sugars--just olive oil, salt, and a low-and-slow oven till it gets all browned and sweet and just starting to melt in places. But I can just imagine how well the fennel would play with the brown sugar (and the pancetta too, of course ... ) I wonder what it would be like with maple syrup. Also digging images from your dinner out--the deep red lamb, the idea of pairing and contrasting sweet potato and pumpkin ...
  17. I am hopeless around those seasoned nori strips. I think there's umami crack in them. I buy the big cannister knowing that it'll be empty in a few hours. I've been guilty of both of these, back in the day. I'm also very bad around jars of good dill pickles--even though I know my ankles will be like dirigibles the next day.
  18. Howdy, Kim! Just caught up, after a hectic weekend. Let me add my congratulations on your weight loss. And your blog is off to a most excellent start. I am now missing idiosyncratic East Coast houses with bathrooms off kitchens and other idiosyncracies -- I've lived in a few myself. And I'm looking forward to more Otis action shots. Will you have a chance to show us any of the regional food specialties of your area?
  19. Dude, you gots the mad skillz, yo. (I especially loved the precision measuring shots in the PB&J process. Candies by slide rule, rule! )
  20. I have gotten a lot of help from the Cook's Thesaurus website. Not complete, but the number of photos of Asian vegetables they do have is pretty darn good--plus they list a lot of alternate names in different languages. Most of the produce is scattered across categories, so you have to browse around, but they do have a separate page just for Asian herbs.
  21. Can't even imagine these sauces. Sounds like it's time for a visit to one of my local Vietnamese restaurants. What dishes would I find nuoc leo in? Nuoc leo is the traditional dipping sauce for Vietnamese salad rolls (i.e. the ones wrapped in rice paper but not thereafter deep-fried). Here is a typical recipe -- note that the author stresses starting with peanuts, not prepared peanut butter. Re the Indonesian gado-gado--it turns out that the sauce is called sambal kacang. This is new info to me, as the cookbooks I first learned this dish from called the sauce by the name of the dish. Alas, it is true that a lot of yummy Asian condiments may be too sodium-loaded for someone with a medical condition who has to be really strict with sodium. On the other hand, my personal far-from-scientific impression is that, for people without such health restrictions, they'd find most Asian dishes cooked with typical amounts of these sauces to be less of a sodium hit than, say, your typical Campbell's soup. It is a sad commentary on what passes for mixed drinks in too many bars these days that you have to actually specify a "gin martini." It's the martini made with gin that's the standard--all those sugar-laden confabulations that happen to be served in a martini glass are the imposters, dang it all! I've seen it variously transliterated as "banchan" or "panchan." Either seems to work just fine. I tend to stick with "banchan" because ... well, just force of habit, I guess.
  22. mizducky

    Cooking without salt

    Actually, kelp or kombu is an excellent source of glutamate which gives everything umami flavor. In fact, I think kombu soup is where glutamate was isolated and made into MSG. ← That is in fact true about kombu being the food from which glutamate was originally isolated. Alas, it is also true, totally aside from its glutamate content, that kombu has a high sodium content. According to this macrobiotics text, kombu cotains a whopping 2500 mg per 100g (by comparison, 100g of cooked broccoli contains 41 mg of sodium, according to this page--enter 100g for serving size). Please don't think from these comments that I'm anti-MSG, or even anti-kombu--far from it! But I think it's important to be aware of all the data, especially when dealing with a medical condition. Edited to add: I can't seem to make the link for the broccoli sodium content work properly, so I suggest going directly to the Calorie King website and looking up broccoli. Alas, their coverage of sea vegetables is kind of spotty, which is why I Googled the macrobiotics text.
  23. mizducky

    Cooking without salt

    Actually, if the OP's wife is facing a salt restriction (and I'm guessing it's due to pregnancy-related high blood pressure), the sodium content of monosodium glutamate might also be a problem; while it contains only a third of the sodium of NaCl table salt, that might still be too much for her particular codition. A number of salt substitutes might present problems as well; even if they don't contain sodium, the compounds they substitute, such as potassium, might still mess with her electrolyte balance in undesireable ways. Obviously I am not a doctor or any other sort of medical professional--just a layperson with my own history of hypertension and other health issues that make me sensitive to sodium intake. So OP's wife would be well-advised to run all these questions by her health professionals just to double-check. Even if MSG is not okay for her particular health situation, she could still enjoy the flavor-boosts from foods that are rich in naturally-occurring glutamate, the amino acid of which monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt. Now some of these foods, such as soy sauce and parmesan cheese, are also quite salty and so would be right out. But such foods as tomatoes and mushrooms are also high in natural glutamates, but without the sodium hit. Here's a list of naturally-occurring glutamate levels for some common foods.
  24. Whenever I see one of those humongous pepper mills in a restaurant, I swear I can hear Freud chuckling in his grave. "Size matters!" "Ours is bigger!"
  25. I dunno about a Wegman's or Whole Foods, but when I went Googling to see if there were any food co-ops in OKC, I found this intriguing organization. Looks like a hybrid between a CSA and an old-school food coop. And they do carry peanut butter ...
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