Thursday, February 25, 2010

'Beef' Noodle Soup (素牛肉麵)

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Before I met VB, one of my favorite things to make for myself was Taiwanese-style beef noodle soup. It's so comforting and evokes so many good memories. Eating a good bowl of beef noodle soup is like going home, minus the 13-hour flight. Now I'm re-creating a vegetarian version of this dish. And to my surprise, it's pretty darn good! I love the rich broth and all the spices. I think it's as good as 'beef' noodle soup can get without the beef.

I made my own seitan to replace beef as the main source of protein in the dish. You can use store bought seitan, of course. To make seitan, you'll need:
  • 1 cup of wheat gluten
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon of ginger powder
  • 3/4 cup of ice water
  • 1/4 cup of soy sauce
  • 6 cups of water
  • 1/2 onion, sliced thin
  • 2 slices of ginger
Mix wheat gluten with garlic powder and ginger powder. Mix 2 tablespoons of soy sauce with ice water. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Mix well. Knead by hand for 10 to 15 minutes. In the meantime, boil water, remaining soy sauce, sliced onion and sliced ginger in a large pot. Allow seitan to rest for 5 to 10 minutes and then knead it a few more times. Tear seitan into small pieces. Seitan will swell to more than double its uncooked size, so take that into account when portioning seitan. Add seitan into the boiling water. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

For the 'beef' noodle soup base, you'll need:
  • 4 whole star anise pods
  • 8 cloves
  • 3 dried red chilies
  • 1 teaspoon (about 8) of Szchuan peppercorns
  • 2 slices of fresh ginger
  • 2 Thai chilies, minced
  • 2 tablespoons of black bean paste
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of Chinese cooking wine
  • 3 plum tomatoes, cubed
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • salt to taste
In a large pot, heat up vegetable oil and, over medium-high heat, saute star anise pods, cloves, dried chilies, Thai chilies, Szchuan peppercorns and ginger until fragrant, about 2 to 5 minutes. If you have a tea bag, you can put spices in it and return the bag to the pot at this time. It will save you the trouble of flossing them out of your teeth later. Stir in black bean paste, soy sauce, and cooking wine. Cook for 2 more minutes. Stir in tomatoes. Cook until tomatoes are softened, about 5 minutes. Add water. Bring soup to boil. Reduce to simmer and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes.

When the seitan is ready, remove from the pot. Use the remaining liquid in the pot to cook dry noodles and blanch vegetables. I used Chinese broccoli for this dish. To serve, ladle soup base into a bowl about half way up. Add cooked noodles. Place seitan and blanched vegetables on top. Ladle more soup into the bowl until soup completely covers noodles.

Generally, the soup base is the most important element in beef noodle soup. I think my soup base was pretty dang good even without any beef or chicken stock. I feel especially happy that I can share my favorite dish and childhood memories with VB.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Potato Leek Pie

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We have potato leek soup all the time. I've made numerous versions of it by adding different vegetables. It's time to change it up. So when I read a cheese potato slab pie recipe recently, I thought, why not make a potato leek pie?

This recipe is adapted from the original cheese potato slab pie recipe that you can find here. I made fairly significant changes so my pie is different (and vegetarian). For the pie crust, you'll need:
  • 3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) of cold butter
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) of cold vegetable shortening
  • up to 4 tablespoons of ice water
  • heavy cream for brushing
Add flour, sugar and salt to a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add butter. Pulse until the butter becomes granulated. Add shortening. Pulse until mixture has wet sand consistency. While pulsing, add ice water gradually. Add just enough so the dough barely comes together. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour, or better yet, overnight.

I chose to use a combination of butter and shortening for the crumbly texture that shortening provides and the butter taste. If you like your dough more flaky, you can replace some or all of the shortening for butter.

After chilling, remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide dough into two. Roll out one piece to a 12-inch square. Press the dough into an 8 x 8 baking dish. Roll out the other piece and set aside.

For the filling, you'll need:
  • 1 pound of baby Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced thin (1/8 inch for me)
  • 2 leeks, trimmed and sliced
  • 3 shallots, sliced thin
  • 1 cup of Gruyere cheese, grated
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • salt to taste
Saute shallots in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until slightly browned on the edges. Add leeks. Stir and cook for another 2 to 5 minutes, or until the leeks are softened. Season with salt. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, sprinkle Gruyere cheese onto the bottom of the baking dish lined with dough. Add leek and shallots mixture. Spread the mixture out evenly.

Saute potato slices in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil for 5 minutes. Season with salt. The potatoes are not fully cooked at this point. Add the potatoes into the baking dish. Spread it evenly.

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

Cover the pie with the remaining dough. Press the two pieces of dough together and pinch the edges. Make 4 slits in the center to allow steam to escape. Bake pie in oven for 30 minutes. Remove and brush with heavy cream. Reduce heat to 400 degrees and bake for 35 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow it to cool for at least 20 minutes. I served mine with some Romaine lettuce in red wine vinegar dressing.

The pie has that classic potato leek flavor, which I love. The flaky crust and the creamy potatoes really make this a winning dish. It is a bit time consuming to prepare, but if you mix your dough a day in advance, the pie can be put together fairly quickly. Overall, a classic delicious and hearty dish for a cold rainy day.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Chive Pockets (韭菜盒子) and Tofu 'Fish'

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Chive pockets and tofu 'fish' are classic Chinese dishes that I've had a lot of times but never made for myself. I tend to have mixed level of confidence when it comes to cooking Chinese food. On the one hand, I think -- I've seen it done, it's so easy! On the other hand, I can never quite remember what goes into a dish. So I just end up "winging it" with mixed results.

I thought the chive pockets are quite good, but the tofu 'fish' recipe needs improvement. So I will post just the chive pockets recipe for now while I work on the tofu 'fish' recipe. For the chive pockets, you'll need:
  • 3 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup of boiling water
  • 1/2 cup of ice water
  • 3 cups of chopped chives
  • 1 1/2 cups of diced five-spice flavored bean curd
  • 1 1/2 cups of chopped wood ear fungus
  • 2 scallion stalks, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of minced ginger
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
  • salt to taste
Add flour into a stand mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment. Add a pinch of salt. Turn stand mixer on low. Add boiling water slowly and mix until incorporated. Then slowly add ice water until dough comes together. You may need a little more or less than 1/2 cup. Replace paddle attachment with hook attachment. Knead the dough on medium-high until smooth, about 4 minutes. Place dough into a bowl greased with canola oil or vegetable oil. Cover with wet tea towel or paper towel. Let the dough relax for 20 to 30 minutes. The dough will not increase in size, but it will appear smoother after relaxed.

In the meantime, combine all other ingredients and mix well. When you're ready to work on the dough, divide it into 12 equal portions. Roll out each portion into a thin round disc. Place chives mixture into the middle of each disc. Fold one flap over. Pinch close the pocket and crimp the edges.

Spray a medium non-stick skillet with canola oil spray and place the skillet over medium-low heat. Place chive pockets onto the skillet, pan fry lightly on each side until golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Serve as is or with vinegar and ginger dipping sauce.

Here's a picture of the tofu 'fish' dish. It's a black bean sauce tofu over some bean curd stuffed with mung bean sprouts. I think the four chilies that we put in there pushed it over the edge. The sauce also tasted different... not quite what I was looking for. I think this might be a situation where a little advice from mom will go a long way.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Caponata with Rosemary Foccacia

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We spent days trying to finish all the food we made for Super Bowl Sunday. We ate a lot of beans and rice burritos doused with salsa and guacamole. Thankfully, it's all over. The fridge is cleared of leftovers and we can finally start anew. What better way to do that than to try a new recipe?

Caponata is an Italian eggplant relish that can be served warm or cold with bread or pasta. Here, I've chosen to pair it with homemade rosemary foccacia. There are a lot of caponata recipes out there. They generally include onion, garlic, eggplant, celery, pine nuts and red wine vinegar. I made mine based on the recipe from Sundays from Moosewood Restaurant, which has all the basics plus tomatoes, bell peppers, olives, and capers. I have also read recipes that call for honey and oregano. That will be for another day.

There is a lot of chopping and dicing involved with this recipe but cook time is fairly short. I like how all the flavors melt together and complement each other. We'll be making this one again soon.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Gameday Overload

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It might look like we were having a big Super Bowl party for six, but all this food was just for us. Yes, we overdid it. Major food coma ensued and we ended up napping on the couch during the game. Let's take a closer look at this lineup, shall we?

Homemade tomatillo salsa made of roasted tomatillos, onion, garlic, one chipotle chili in adobo sauce, a pinch each of salt and sugar.

Homemade guacamole. A lot of it.

Homemade hummus with chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, and tahini paste.

Potato skins stuffed with minced jalapeno peppers, Mexican Monetery Jack, cream cheese and topped with bread crumbs.

Veggie hot dogs wrapped in Pillsbury crescent dough.

And finally, chili cheese fries made of store-bought fries and chili topped with onions and Mexican Monetery Jack cheese.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Lemon Bars

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VB: What are we having for dessert on Super Bowl Sunday?

CG: Well, what would you like?

VB: Lemon bars.

CG: Lemon bars?

VB: It's my favorite.

CG: I didn't know that.

VB: Everyone knows that lemon bars and cherry pies are my favorite desserts.

CG: Everyone who?

VB: Jen knows. She baked those lemon bars at her housewarming party just for me.

CG: Honey, I don't think Jen made those just for you.

VB: No?

CG: Um, no...

Well, now he can't say that I never make his favorite dessert. These are from Joy of Baking and they're relatively healthy -- only one stick of butter and two eggs. I used the lemons picked from my aunt's dwarf lemon tree, so these are fragrant and flavorful. You can find the recipe here.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thai Tofu Curry

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It's been such a long time since I had Thai food. I crave it from time to time. So I thought I'd make my own. I started by making some Thai red curry paste and then added soy sauce, coconut milk, string beans, sliced onions, sliced bell peppers, Thai basil and tofu. The result was sweet, spicy, creamy goodness. It was more than good enough for my Thai food craving.

I used this Thai red curry recipe, but without the Kaffir lime leaves and shrimp paste. Instead of grinding the mixture using mortar and pestle, I cheated and added everything plus some canola oil to a food processor. I think that the mortar and pestle would require a ton of work, considering that lemongrass stalks are quite tough.

This recipe is a keeper! I can't wait to have to leftovers for lunch.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mini Lentil Burger

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I haven't made a veggie burger for a while, mostly because it's such a messy and time-consuming process. I don't like getting my hands in all the goop and spend time forming each individual patty. It's such a pain in the butt. I also find it hard to transport formed patties into the pan since vegan patties are delicate and have a tendency to fall apart. This time, I finally realized that it doesn't have to be a mess.

You'll need:
  • 2/3 cup of dried lentils, rinsed and soaked for at least 1 hour
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 teaspoon of red chili pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup of bread crumbs (I use Panko)
  • 1/3 cup of quick oats
  • 1 cup of cooked medium grain white rice
  • buns
  • toppings (I have tomato slices and simple cabbage slaw with lemon mustard vinaigrette)
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Season with salt. Add Bay leaf and lentils. Cook until lentils start to peel and fall apart, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove Bay leaf. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, sweat onion and celery stalks until softened, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add red chili pepper flakes and soy sauce. Stir and cook for another minute. Add cooked lentils and cooked rice. Mix well. Remove from heat.

Add quick oats into the food processor. Pulse 5 to 10 times until oats turn into powder. Add lentil mixture and bread crumbs. Process until the mixture has a wet dough consistency. Adjust seasoning, if necessary. Remove from the food processor and set aside.

On a large work surface, lay down 2 pieces of plastic wrap and spray one side of each with canola oil. With an ice cream scooper or a spoon, scoop golf-ball sized dollops of the patty mix onto one plastic wrap. Make sure that there's space between each dollop. Place the other plastic wrap, greased side down, on top. Press gently to form patties. At this point, you can freeze the patties if you want.

Spray a shallow skillet with canola oil and place over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot and ready, peel back the top plastic wrap. Lift the bottom plastic wrap to flip the patty onto a spatula. Flip the patty onto the skillet. Cook, undisturbed, for 2 minutes. Flip and cook for 2 more minutes. Place the patty into a bun and top with lettuce, tomatoes and whatnot.

The burgers look very similar to regular hamburgers. They also have a great meaty texture. The tomatoes and cabbage slaw really add some crispy freshness to them. Most importantly, it is simple and quick.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Baked Ziti with Puttanesca Sauce

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If you ask VB what is his favorite dinner, he'll likely say baked pasta. It's such a simple and flavorful dish -- just tomato sauce, pasta and cheese baked to hearty, crunchy goodness. This recipe has gone through various experiments and permutations, but using puttanesca sauce in lieu of tomato sauce is definitely my favorite. You'll need:
  • 1 pound of ziti or penne
  • 1 26-ounce can of diced tomatoes (preferably San Mazano)
  • 4 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 2 shallots, diced small
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed
  • 1 jar of olives (black and/or Kalamata), chopped small
  • 3 tablespoons of capers, drained
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 cup of part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 1 cup of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
  • basil chiffonade as garnish
  • salt and pepper to taste
One note about San Mazano tomatoes -- they are expensive. A 26-ounce jar of San Mazano tomatoes from Whole Foods will set you back about $3.50 or so, compared with $1.70 for a 26-ounce jar of plum tomatoes from Trader Joe's. Yes, San Mazano tomatoes are richer and sweeter, but there's certainly no reason to spend that kind of money on canned tomatoes. I put the San Marzano tomatoes in this recipe because they do produce a superior product. However, if you don't want to spend the cash, use a 26-ounce can of regular diced tomatoes and add a teaspoon each of sugar and tomato paste.

To make the tomato sauce, start by sweating shallots in olive oil in a medium pot over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, or until the shallots are softened. Add garlic and thyme. Stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add diced tomatoes, canned tomato, and olives. Let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes. Add capers and stir. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Check and adjust seasoning. Remove from heat and let cool.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring a large pot of seasoned water to boil. Add pasta. Stir. Cook until the pasta is just short of al dente, about 7 to 8 minutes depending on your pasta. Drain. Toss together with sauce and mozzarella cheese in a large oven-proof pan. Spread the pasta evenly in the pan. Sprinkle with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Bake in 350 degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes. Remove and serve with basil chiffonade on top.

Puttanesca sauce is great here because of its savory taste and meaty texture. It brings more substance and flavor to a simple baked pasta.