Trying to eat something delicious, each and every day.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Liang Fen

We had a few cold dishes today that were a little noteworthy. All these recipes are still being tweaked, but I'll give the gist below:

Liang fen is a Szechuan creation of mung bean (and green bean) starch. The starch, when cooked with water and then chilled, makes a noodle that is very much like Jell-O in consistency, minus the sugar. Traditionally, it is served with chili oil, Szechuan peppercorns, chopped green onions and cilanttro, soy sauce, and (optional) a healthy dose of Chinese black vinegar. Our approximation was pretty good today, but some tweaking is in order before I will post a recipe. 

Simple stir fry of spring asparagus. California asparagus is at its peak this month, and we've been enjoying it a lot as a simple stir fry: flaming hot pan + thinly sliced asparagus + a bare pinch of salt = really good eats!

Lastly, our signature surf clam salad. For most of my life, I had a deep-seated aversion towards surf clams. I viewed them as an extraneous, rubbery, waste of money that always appeared on assorted sashimi plates. But tossed in the proper sauce, the humble surf clam really come to life! We like it with a spoonful of masago, chopped green onions and/or cilantro, a spoonful of soy sauce, and a spoonful of lao gan ma hot sauce.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Egg-Free Blueberry Muffins

Something occurred to me today as I was whipping up a batch of muffins using refrigerator scraps. I often tell people that cooking is not hard. Given all the ingredients and a well-written recipe, almost anyone can cook a delicious tasting dish. Taking the next step towards being a "good" cook involves creating your own recipes, juggling multiple dishes in one meal, and menu planning. And, to a large extent, being a good home cook means finding creative and tasty ways to use up everything in your refrigerator. Especially in this economy, being able to follow a recipe doesn't much if you're throwing out all the odds and ends you have left over once you've finished some complicated dish.

So in the spirit of thriftiness, I whipped up some yogurt blueberry muffins today. I had a lot of plain yogurt to use up, but realized I'm all out of eggs. Instead of going out and buying a dozen eggs that I don't need right away, I looked up an easy substitute. According to cooks with egg allergies, 1 tablespoon water + 1 tablespoon white vinegar + 1 teaspoon baking powder is a suitable recipe for 1 large egg in most cake recipes! So for about 15 cupcakes or 12 larger muffins, I did the following:
  • 12 ounces all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cup blueberries (I used frozen wild blueberries from Trader Joe's)
  • 12-15 pecans
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift together all the dry ingredients, then take a tablespoon of the mixture and use it to coat the blueberries. This will keep the blueberries from bleeding their color all over the inside of your muffins.

Whisk together all your wet ingredients in a large bowl. Pour in half of the dry ingredients, fold a few times, then pour in the rest and fold a few more times. This is the time to be gentle. Use a spatula and make large folding motions, scraping your spatula along the bottom of the bowl and folding the moistened batter over the parts that are still dry. After about 10 folds, pour in your blueberries and fold no more than five more times. Fill your cupcake tins with the batter, then press a pecan into the top of each cupcake. Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating once halfway through, then take out and dump onto a rack to cool.

I won't lie: not having eggs takes something away from the flavor of this muffin. However, it's still a light and fluffy end product, and better than most storebought. I'm waiting to see if anyone even notices there's something "off" about them. And best of all, I used up all my leftover yogurt and didn't need to go out for eggs. Mission accomplished.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kitchen Revealed

Buckle up, everyone, I think this is the post you've all been waiting for. 

Before: a depressing galley kitchen. It was long and narrow, with a wall on the left and a low arch for the entry. The entire thing was unusable. There was no stove, no fridge, and the cabinets were falling apart and not built to match in the first place. And the linoleum was completely destroyed. So disgusting! We thought this would be a dealbreaker for sure. 

Then, someone said we could take down the wall, and a whole world of options opened up!

A few months later, and this is our new kitchen! Isn't it an incredible change? The kitchen went to being the apartment's biggest drawback to something efficient, comfortable, and contemporary. J and I agonized over the design a lot, but much of the credit for the final appearance (and reasonable price) goes to Gary Craddock at KitchenSync in San Francisco's Noe Valley. Gary was a great vendor to deal with, and I don't hesitate at all recommending his work. 

Pardon the untidiness. This kitchen really deserves to be blogged about when it's spotless (and after a backsplash is up), but I just could not wait. Cooking in it has been a lot of fun so far. It's bigger than our last apartment's kitchen, so J and I are already cooking together more. It's nice to have someone to talk to and not feel like I'm trapped in a galley!

More to come, I promise! And tell me; what color should I paint that front door?


Monday, March 29, 2010

Chicken Curry Udon

I'm warning you people--there are going to be a lot of posts about using up leftovers and eating cheaply. The blog might even have to be re-named "Chez Cheapo," because I'm all outta cash and that doesn't look like it's going to change for the next decade or two. Buying a home is not all it's cracked up to be. But I digress...

Today's lunch was chicken curry udon noodles. For a nice lunch for one, take a block of frozen udon and put it in just enough simmering water to soften it. Never buy the vacuum packed udon. It has a terrible doughy texture and if you even slightly overcook it it falls apart. The frozen stuff is really good. You just need to simmer it in hot water until it defrosts, and it has a nice bouncy toothiness to it.

When the udon is almost completely softened, throw in a few pieces of chicken breast that have been pounded flat and lightly salted. As that cooks, add a tablespoon of your favorite curry paste to the pot and stir well. When the chicken is half cooked, add a handful of whatever leftover vegetables you have on  hand. Cook for a minute longer or as needed, and voila! Refrigerator scraps become a presentable meal. I scavenge a lot around lunch time. Tell me what's in your fridge and I'll tell you what to cook!

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Soy Milk Biscuits

Soy milk biscuits were the result of a small kitchen emergency this morning. I ran out of milk, yogurt, AND toast! An intense craving for carbs this morning led to this take on more traditional drop biscuits. I won't lie; it's not as good as buttermilk or even regular milk biscuits. It has a slight soy milk flavor, but the texture is fluffy and if you're not planning to eat biscuits plain you probably won't notice the flavor difference at all.

For 8 drop biscuits:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 6 tablespoons very cold butter, cut into small cubes 
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon sugar for sweet biscuits 
  • 3/4 cup soy milk 
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Dump in the cut butter, and press the flour into the butter with your fingers. Working quickly, press the flour into the butter until you have no large pieces. Some of the butter will disappear into the flour. Other pieces will look like flakes (kind of like rolled oats), some will stay pea sized. Just make sure you don't have any large chunks.

Pour the soy milk into the mixture, stirring as you go with a spatula or your fingers. Working quickly, fold everything together until the mixture just barely holds together and there are no floury lumps. Small patches of flour are fine. Using a spoon, drop onto a nonstick or lightly floured baking sheet, then bake for 20 minutes or until golden around the edges and top. As with most baked goods, don't start checking the oven until you can smell something! Before the kitchen starts to smell good, you're just letting heat escape from the oven if you check it again and again.

Cool until you can handle the biscuits, and eat with your favorite toppings!

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Grilled Short Ribs

Beef really does make me so happy. All kinds of beef, but especially anything involving beef ribs: ribeye steaks, grilled short ribs, braised short ribs, prime rib's all good. For their money, most Chinese people would probably pick pork if they had to choose one meat to eat for the rest of their lives. Let them eat swine, I say. I will pick beef any day. Pork is nice, but it doesn't taste like MEAT the way a cow does. 

For a quick beefy meal, nothing beats marinated short ribs. I don't quite marinate it Korean style, so I'll stop short of calling it kalbi. Depending what I have on hand, I combine a slurry of soy sauce, rice wine, water, sugar, salt, garlic, yellow onions, and green onions. Then I pour over pre-sliced short ribs and toss so that everything is covered but not swimming in sauce. Left for up to a day in the fridge, shaken or flipped a few times, this is a foolproof recipe for success. Sear in a pan over medium high heat for about three minutes a side or until charred, and eat with whatever you like! We had rice, lettuce, and a cold dish of celery and tofu strips.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Fresh New Day

I guess it's not all bad. This is a pretty decent view from my bedroom, don't you think?