Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Impromptu Pork and Vegetable Teriyaki

Growing up, we had a lot of stir-fries for dinner. Both my parents worked seven days a week, and nearly ten hours everyday. We ate out a lot as a result of that, frequently at Chinese restaurants (why do Chinese/Taiwanese families always eat out at Chinese restaurants?). But when we did eat at home, it had to be cooked fast and on the fly. Served over white rice, of course. And now that I am an adult, I find that this style has influenced my everyday cooking.

Of course, my stir-fries are a bit different from my mom's. My mom's stir-fries usually involved garlic, dried shrimp, ginger, and cabbage. A lot of cabbage. I tend to use more western vegetables, such as zucchini, summer squash, peppers and eggplant. I've also experimented more with sauces.

Here is an example of something I threw together today, using the vegetables I had in the fridge:

Impromptu Pork and Vegetable Teriyaki

1 boneless pork tenderloin
1 small eggplant, cubed
1 zucchini, cubed
1 red pepper, chopped into roughly 1 inch chunks
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced (set some aside for the sauce)
Olive oil
Sesame seeds for garnish

For the sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
1 Tbs sugar
pinch of ground ginger
pinch of minced garlic

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Cook the pork until brown on both sides (Roughly 1-2 minutes on each side). Remove and set aside on a plate. Add a little more oil and reheat the pan on medium-high heat. Add onions first. When the onions are starting to brown, add eggplant, zucchini and pepper. Allow to cook for about a minute or two and then push the vegetables towards the rim of the pan, leaving a space in the middle for the garlic. Add garlic and little more oil, and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds). (This method is to avoid burning the garlic.) Incorporate the garlic with the rest of the vegetables. Continue to cook until the vegetables are soft enough that a fork will easily pierce them). Stir in cooked pork.

While the vegetables are cooking, combine the ingredients for the sauce in a small saucepan and heat on low. Allow to simmer for 3-5 minutes or until the sauce is slightly thickened. When the pork and vegetables are combined, pour the sauce and mix to combine. Garnish with some sesame seeds and serve immediately over rice.
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Crockpot Albondigas Soup

Much to my surprise, I've been using the crockpot quite a bit this summer. For the first half of this summer, I didn't want to use it because I figured making hot soups and stews in the crock would only make me feel hotter. But then I had a realization: using the crockpot means no standing over a hot stove at dinnertime.

I chose to make this soup for two reasons: (1) I had albondigas soup at a Colombian restaurant a few weeks ago, and thought it was delicious and (2) I had a bunch of frozen meatballs in the freezer from a party I threw, oh, say about 10 months ago...

This recipe makes an excellent soup, though I was a little disappointed that I couldn't taste the mint so much, which is supposed to be what makes albondigas soup special. Maybe next time I will add more mint, or add some to garnish at the end. Update: I threw in a handful (about 1/4 cup) of finely chopped fresh mint after posting this. At first, it tasted vaguely like mint chewing gum. But after letting the flavors mellow overnight, the mint added a nice refreshing tingle that complemented the heat from the cayenne pepper.

Crockpot Albondigas Soup
Adapted (barely) from A Year of Slow Cooking

1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup prepared pasta sauce
1 cup baby carrots, sliced into quarters
1 1/2 cups tomatoes , diced (I used a combination of grape tomatoes and a regular tomato)
1 Tbs fresh mint, chopped
1/2 cup frozen corn
About 15-18 frozen meatballs (Italian flavored)
3/4 cup frozen peas
2 whole cloves garlic (I love slow-cooked garlic in soups and stews!)
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Dump all the ingredients into the crockpot, except the frozen peas. (Handy tip: chop up the vegetables the night before and store in the fridge to save time in the morning!) Stir to combine. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. About twenty minutes before serving, stir in frozen peas to retain their color. (This step isn't necessary, but I was following Stephanie O'Dea's advice on her post). Garnish with some parmesan cheese.
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Monday, August 8, 2011

Acquiring new tastes

Last weekend, my boyfriend and I went to the Hester Street Fair in New York City. Now, when you first walk into the Hester Street Fair, it looks like a rather ordinary street fair. Racks of hand-woven scarves and blouses, custom-made jewelry laid on tables, and the like. But when you venture a little further, then you will discover amazing new tastes to be acquired. Towards the rear of the fair, there were at least half a dozen food vendors serving unique artisanal foods. We sampled the meatballs from Mighty Balls, a chorizo taco and a tamale from Brooklyn Taco Company, and my personal favorite, Taiwanese shaved ice from The Shaved Ice Shop.

But this isn't a post about the foods I ate, but rather the new tastes that I took home with me. At the fair, we bought a bottle of fish sauce from The Saucey Company and salsa from ZapoSalsa. This salsa has a new taste that I acquired, and used in the quesadilla that you see above. The label boasts that it is made of fresh ingredients, such as tomatillos, onions, tomatoes, but most importantly for this post, cilantro.

I hate cilantro.

Or at least, growing up I did. And I am not alone in this averseness to the leafy herb. There are enough people out there that the New York Times ran an article on why a certain segment of the population hates cilantro. To me, it always seemed to make me want to gag. So when I tried this salsa, I had my doubts. When I sampled it at the fair, it had a nice smoky, tangy flavor, with just a bit of a kick of heat.

So for dinner last night, we made pork and bean quesadillas. I marinated the pork tenderloin in the salsa for about two hours before cooking, which made the meat wonderfully flavorful. I also used the salsa as a garnish at the end.

So there you have it. I have acquired a new taste. What new tastes have you acquired?

Pork and Bean Quesadillas

1 slice of pork tenderloin, about 1 inch thick, cut up into bite-sized pieces
1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 red pepper, diced
a few slices of pepper jack cheese
a few tablespoons of Zapo mild salsa
flour tortillas (burrito sized)
Olive oil

Seasonings to taste:
Salt and pepper
chile powder

sour cream
avocado slices
black beans

Marinate the pork in salsa for at least 30 minutes, the longer the better. Heat oil in a pan and cook the pork. Remove from pan, leaving as much oil as possible in the pan. Add peppers to the pan and sprinkle with seasonings. Cook until soft and have a slight char. Set aside with the pork. Wipe the pan clean.

In a separate pan or pot, heat the beans and add some cumin and chile powder. Stir in pork and peppers.

Spray some cooking oil in the pan that you cooked the pork and peppers in. Heat until hot. Add one tortilla in and lay some cheese on it. When the cheese starts to melt add some filling. When you see the tortilla is forming bubbles and the bottom is nice and brown, cover with another tortilla. Flip the quesadilla as carefully as possible. Cook for another minute, or until the tortilla is golden brown. Repeat as necessary.

Serve with garnishes.
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Monday, August 1, 2011

Loli's Gazpacho

This summer has presented many opportunities to make a cold soup.

The first time I had gazpacho andaluz was when I was studying abroad in Seville, Spain, when temperatures would easily reach over 100 in the summer. My host mother, or my "senora," Loli once said that her past American boarders either go crazy for her gazpacho or they hate it. This was probably because there was so much raw garlic in it, that it had a kick to it after eating it. To me, it was delicious, even though I would be tasting the garlic for days in a way that no amount of teethbrushing or mouthwash gargling could extinguish. But as a garlic-lover, it was worth it, and I couldn't wait for Loli to make more.

I made this soup yesterday with my boyfriend, using his fancy $40.00 blender. I made a mistake when I was taste-testing the soup, that I only skimmed a spoonful off the top. So when I tasted it, I didn't get the same garlic "kick" that I had at Loli's house and kept adding more garlic. So I put seven (yes, seven!) cloves of garlic in it. It turns out that the garlic sunk to the bottom of the blender; the soup was plenty potent.

So today I made it again (the soup is that good), using my $13.99 blender from Target. I learned that the difference in price of the blenders DOES make a difference. I had to cut the vegetables into much smaller pieces and I still ended up with small chunks at the bottom. I also dialed back the garlic, to provide just enough garlic "kick."

Loli's Gazpacho (gazpacho andaluz)

1.5 lbs tomatoes
1 green pepper
1/4 c olive oil
3/4 c water
2 cloves garlic
salt to taste

Roughly chop the vegetables and drop into the blender in batches with water and oil. Puree until smooth. Add salt to taste. Chill for at least 30 minutes in the fridge or if you are short on time, add a few ice cubes. Garnish with parmesan cheese. Serves 4-6.
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