Sunday, April 22, 2012

Shrimp Soup with Rice Noodles and Greens

I had fully intended to join a soup blog challenge this month; unfortunately, my first attempt was derailed by spoiled chicken. Probably spoiled chicken. Potentially spoiled chicken. I opened up a package of chicken thighs I had bought the previous day and noticed a subtle, but distinct off-smell. I'm willing to believe it was my imagination, or that I could have cooked it and survived unscathed, but some risks aren't worth taking. I ended up with a full refund for it which I rolled over into the shrimp for this soup. Which may not exactly be Chinese (seems slightly Vietnamese to me), but it worked out well.

1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled and ideally deveined
32 oz. chicken broth
6 oz. rice noodles, soaked for 15 minutes in hot water
1/2 lb. baby bok choy, leaves peeled off
2 cloves garlic minced
1 onion chopped
1 small carrot, chopped.
Cooking oil
1 tbsp sweet soy sauce
Salt & pepper
1 bunch scallions, roots and greens removed.

Sauté the garlic, onion, and carrot in the oil until they soften, and add the shrimp and cook until they develop a bit of color, about a minute. Add the bok choy leaves and cook until they begin to wilt. Add soy sauce and give everything a turn, before covering everything in the broth. Bring to a simmer, add scallions and rice noodles.

Let everything cook together for three more minutes, and serve.

I tried to enrich my boxed broth by boiling the shrimp shells in it while everything else was going on, hoping to add a little more depth to it. I think it worked, but I can't really promise that it wasn't just suggestion, or the stronger flavor from the shrimp themselves. The noodles are probably the weakest link here, since they're prone to go soggy: I might keep them out of the soup altogether and just add them to bowls. Cilantro would probably also have been good in here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Prawns in Chili Sauce

Recipe courtesy of No Recipes. But they're just the conduit this time. Pardon this divergence:

We didn't have cable in my house growing up. For the most part, I never felt too deprived: I would have liked to catch a few more football games on ESPN, but it was a minor thing. Except for the Food Network. And whatever mess is currently on Food TV. These were the 90s. Mario Batali put out the kind of real Italian food that it turns out the viewing public hated making. Emeril Lagasse's catchphrases may have been harbingers for the chicanery to come, but at the time they were truly novel, and Emeril always had the chops.

But they were sideshows. The Food Network of the 90s is what gave us Iron Chef. The original, Japanese Iron Chef. Where you could never quite tell how much anyone was winking at the camera, or taking their challenges with the gravity suggested by the music and production effects. It was awesome. And the king of the Iron Chefs was Chen Kenichi, the Chinese chef who rose to the top of the Japanese culinary scene. These are his shrimp.

Or his father's properly: Chen Kenmin taught the dish to his son. Prawns in Chili Sauce—ebi chili—showed up at least in every third episode Chen fils was challenged. They looked amazing. I'll accept that these are a pale imitation, but they are tasty.

Side note: Potato starch makes things super crispy? I'll have to try some more.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Corned Beef and Cabbage Soup

St. Patrick's Day sneaked up on me this year. And zipped right by. I usually try to keep a low profile that weekend, since my neighborhood tends to be filled with drunk undergrads wearing green and declaring that this makes them as Irish as Frank McCourt. It gets obnoxious very quickly, as you can probably imagine. At least it's better than when I worked in Midtown and had to put up with them tromping down Fifth Avenue while I was trying to run some errands midday on a Wednesday.

Our escape plan this year was to head up to Trader Joe's, which is in a bit of a dead spot for bars and sells relatively little alcohol. Their sample was, appropriately, corned beef and cabbage, which reminded me that I forgot my favorite part of the holiday. So I decided to make a soup out of it, though it took a few weeks before it really came together. Without really the appetite for a whole brisket, I used deli corned beef. Nothing complex:

1/2 lb. corned beef, sliced thick from the deli and chopped roughly.
2 cups cabbage, chopped.
1 carrot, diced.
2 potatoes, cubed.
2 onions, chopped.
32 oz. chicken broth
Olive oil

Heat oil in the bottom of a stockpot, adding onions and carrots. When they soften, add the corned beef and let brown just a little. Add potatoes and sauté for a few minutes. Cabbage tops it off, and stir for just a moment before adding the broth.

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. The soup is ready when the potatoes are soft, which should be about half an hour. Season with salt and pepper—I think this takes well to being pretty salty.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pepper and Sausage Ragu with Polenta

This one comes from Serious Eats, who will provide all your recipe needs.

I'm not always a confident cook around meat. I end up making fairly few vegetarian dinners, but that's because there's always some chicken broth, or bacon, or pancetta, or the like. So going with a meal that's mostly Italian sausages? Out of my wheelhouse a little bit. I think I tend to overcook sausages, which is why I'm happy stewing them here. They're seared, and then cooked in this rich onion/pepper/tomato/wine sauce for a good half hour. An eternal half hour, I should say, because there's a lot of happy smells coming from this.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pizza night

Sometimes, you have elaborate plans to make dinner, but suddenly it's 8:30 and you're starving and the only solution is to order pizza. Hey, I'm leaving New York soon enough now, I think I can claim at least a certain degree of style by getting a slice. The next three slices I ate are less than 10/10 for style or good thinking. Whatever. My argument here is also undercut by my claim that pizza is better in Buffalo than in the city. And I stand by that.

More real food coming up this week!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pork and Cabbage Dumplings

Here's why I like online food delivery ordering: I don't need to actually voice my orders to a live person. This usually isn't a big deal, but it comes up when ordering Chinese, because there's always a part of me that only wants to order dumplings and egg rolls. This impulse is satisfied when you go for dim sum, where so much is in that form, but it's still a bit much to do over the phone. So sometimes I can get what I want shamelessly by ordering online. But more often, now, I get my fix of dumplings just by making them. My dough-working skills are always a little iffy, so, they tend to be on the homely side. But they are just what I want in dumplings otherwise.

They're longer on technique than ingredients: the dough is just flour, water, and salt; the filling this time is pork, cabbage, and egg, and sweet soy sauce, plus salt, pepper, and sriracha. Usually ginger, too, but I was out of ginger and subbed in a shallot, which changed the flavors a bit.

I've made dumplings with premade wonton skins too, which saves a lot of time and mess, but usually isn't quite as good. They're more noodly than homemade wrappers, which are more doughy and firm.

I use this recipe. Only modifications would be adding an extra half-cup of flour so that things are dry enough to work with. Other notes: it's really hard to save a damaged wrapper, once you roll it out and ends up holey. You can throw it out, or just accept that it will be slightly damaged. And I am unable to roll these so thin that the suggested 10/quarter is feasible. I ended up best around 8.

1/2 lb. ground pork
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 egg
1 tbsp. minced ginger (or shallot).

The filling ingredients get mixed together in a big bowl, most likely with your hands, because it takes some effort to get everything incorporated and even. To fill each dumpling, use only a small amount of filling, less than you'd think. Getting them to close properly is key and it's tough if they're overfilled. Since my wrappers were less than regular, I can't tell you how much goes in each, but just think small. Fold the ends together, and pleat to keep them closed. In my case, this tends towards mushing the dough around until it's closed.

Meanwhile, heat a small amount of oil in a nonstick pan until very hot. Add the dumplings to the pan, no more than fit comfortably: they can stick together, so leave space. Give them about a minute to sear, then add a half cup of water to the pan and cover with a lid. This will, of course, make your stove angry: boiling water and hot oil and all that. It will settle down quickly, and the trapped steam does most of the cooking.

When the liquid has boiled off, remove the lid and let the bottoms crisp slightly, another two minutes. Test one to make sure the pork has cooked through and lost its pink color; if not, let them sear a little longer.

I usually just eat these with soy sauce, although black vinegar also does the job.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Minestrone alla Romagna

This is almost an old family recipe. I say almost, because what I'm actually following is Marcella Hazan's recipe, which is a close imitator of my Italian-American grandmother's Manasta.
A note on spelling: my mother's family is from Southern Italy (Abruzzo to be precise), but they emigrated over a hundred years ago. So our current grasp on Italian is filtered through dialect and a hundred years of Americanization in Western New York and Pennsylvania. So we've called it manasta. I've read enough Italian recipes now to figure out the root (minestra=soup) and we seem to be in the same place.

Also, Romagna isn't anywhere near Abruzzo, so I don't know how the soups ended up quite so similar. It's way the heck up north. Oh well.


2 stalks of celery, diced
2 onions, chopped
3 carrots, sliced thin
1 potato, diced
1/2 lb green beans, ends snapped off and halved.
2 zucchini, diced

2 cups of shredded cabbage.
1 can of Italian tomatoes
Parmesan cheese rinds
Romano cheese.
salt, pepper, and olive oil
2 cans of beef broth


Consider the actual list of vegetables here only a suggestion. It's really rather flexible. But the goal here is to add them one at a time, giving each time to sauté before adding the next, about two minutes. I started with celery, onions, and carrots; then the potato; added zucchini and green beans; and finally the cabbage.

Once all that's warmed up, add in the broth to turn this whole thing into soup. The soup is flavorful enough that I usually end up adding water to cover everything at this point. Then in go the beans and the tomatoes (either a can of San Marzanos or a box of Pomi). Toss in whatever cheese rinds you have, they'll flavor the entire pot.

Now, we wait. Sadly, the soup is a solid two hours away from being done, and there's plenty of reducing to do. The soup shouldn't be water, but thick, with vegetables really integrated. You'll know when it's time, if you're not opposed to sampling as necessary.

Top with a little grated Romano cheese.