Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Szechuan-Style Pork & Bell Pepper

I got this recipe from a book that I found in the bargain section of the bookstore a couple of weeks ago, Perfect Chinese. It turned out really well; the rice vinegar gave the sauce a tangy note that complimented the spice of the crushed red pepper flakes. I loved that it had 4 different kinds of vegetables in it! It makes me feel better about the ice cream I'm going to have for dessert in a little bit ;-)

1 pork tenderloin, trimmed of excess fat and silverskin
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons soy sauce, plus 1 tablespoon for marinade
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chicken broth
Peanut oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
1 zucchini, cut into long matchsticks
1 carrot, peeled and cut into long matchsticks
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (use more if you want it spicier!)
White pepper

Slice the tenderlion against the grain into roughly 1/4-inch thick slices. Cut each slice into 2 or 3 strips. Place the pork in a bowl and pour in 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and sprinkle over the crushed red pepper flakes. Stir to coat and let the meat marinade while you chop the vegetables.

Combine the rest of the soy sauce, cornstarch, rice vinegar, chicken broth, and garlic in a small bowl. Whisk to dissolve the cornstarch, then set aside. Warm up one tablespoon of oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. When the oil is smoking, add the pork and marinade mixture and stir-fry until the pork is no longer pink, 3 or 4 minutes. Remove the pork to a plate with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Warm up another tablespoon of oil in the wok or skillet over high heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook until they soften, 3 or 4 minutes. Throw in the zucchini and carrot and continue to stir-fy until the carrot loses its bite, about another 4 minutes. Add the pork and any accumulated juices back to the pan and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Bring it up to a boil and let it bubble and thicken for a minute. Give everything a final sprinkle of white pepper. Serve over freshly made rice.

Rating: This is awesome

It was very easy to make: a lot of chopping, but I'm coming to love my spacing-out-while-chopping time every evening. It was a very tasty result for not a lot of work!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Soy Braised Chicken Thighs

In an effort to cut down our grocery bill, I bought a big package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, rather than our usual, more expensive, big package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Like most female, white Americans of a certain age, I have an unfounded fear of dark poultry meat. I'm not sure why, but the gobs of fat and reddish, fibrous meat on thighs are spooky to me. I've read enough to know that all chefs prefer the flavor of dark meat to the non-flavor of white meat, and I have to agree with them there. I still don't love prepping thighs (breast portions are so much easier), but I'm determined to get more comfortable with them and make dark meat the rule, with white meat becoming the occasional exception.

One way to learn to love the dark (meat) is to cook it in ways with which white meat simply would not work. Braising is one such technique; the lengthy cooking in liquid would turn white meat dessicated and rubbery. Dark meat stays flavorful and moist, and its natural juiciness turns the braising liquid into a tasty, savory sauce at the end. After much googling last night, I came across this recipe for an Asian-inspired chicken braise. The flavor of the salty-sour cooking liquid is enhanced by whole star anise, a cinnamon stick, and strips of orange peel.

The star anise and cinnamon are best bought at your local Asian grocery store. Such "exotic" ingredients are marked up at chain groceries, while at an Asian store, you can buy big bags of the stuff for under $2 each.

2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup chicken broth or stock
1- 1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
Peanut oil
3 green onions, white and green parts separated, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon of minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
5 short strips of orange peel, removed with a vegetable peeler
2 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, vinegar, fish sauce, honey, and chicken broth. Set aside for later.

In a dutch oven, warm up a tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. When the oil is hot, add the chicken to the pot in an even layer to brown. You will probably have to do this in 2 batches, unless you have a very big pot! Let the chicken cook for about 5 minutes on each side, until golden and seared. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

Pour off all but about one tablespoon of fat from the pot. Return it to medium heat, and throw in the white part of the green onions, garlic, ginger, and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir around for about half a minute, until you can smell the garlic and ginger. Pour in the reserved soy mixture. Top off with more chicken broth and soy sauce if needed to reach a depth of about 1/4 inch of liquid. Stir to combine, and add the orange peel, cinnamon, and star anise.

Add the chicken thighs back to the pot, adding any accumulated juices from the plate. Cover with a lid and place in the lower third of the oven. After 15 minutes, turn the chicken pieces over with tongs and top off with more chicken broth if needed to maintain the 1/4 inch of liquid. Replace the lid and let cook in the oven for another 15 minutes, or until fork tender.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a serving platter and cover with tin foil to keep warm. Remove the orange peel, cinnamon, and star anise from the pot, place over a medium high heat, and bring the liquid up to a simmer. Skim off any surface fat if desired. Stir in the green part of the green onions.

Make a slurry out of the cornstarch and a tablespoon of either chicken broth or water. Pour into the pot and stir to thicken. Let it bubble up for a minute and taste for seasoning. If it's too salty, add a bit of vinegar. If it's too sour, add a bit more soy sauce. Take the foil off the chicken, and carefully pour in any juices from the platter.

Spoon the sauce over the chicken. Serve with rice or egg noodles.

Rating: This is awesome

I tried to refrain myself from slurping the sauce out of my bowl when the chicken and rice were gone. No such luck.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sausage and Mushroom Pizza

Hmm, let's see if I can remember how to do this :-)

I can't make homemade pizza and not think about my father. He was very proud of his pizza, and he used to make it almost every week when I was growing up. He would always make it on a Saturday, starting during the afternoon, which made me think that it was labor-intensive. In truth, this was a really easy weeknight dinner! I used this recipe for a make-ahead dough. With the help of my stand mixer, it came together in under 5 minutes this morning. Even if you don't have a mixer, I think you could still make it in 10 minutes.

I let the dough rise for an hour while I got ready for work and punched it down just before heading out the door. It sat all day in the fridge. When I got home this evening, all I had to do was saute the sausage and mushrooms, roll out the dough, assemble the pizza, and bake it off. Less than 45 minutes after I came in the front door, I had a hot, fresh pizza to chow down!

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 envelope (1/4 ounce) dry active yeast
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for coating bowl

1 pound hot Italian turkey sausage
8 ounces button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup tomato sauce, homemade or jarred
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
Olive oil for drizzling
Sea or kosher salt

Stir the yeast into 3/4 cup of warm water (105 degrees F - 115 degrees F) and let stand until the yeast dissolves, about 5 minutes. Put the rest of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and pour over the water-yeast mixture. Stir together until the dough is a shaggy mass. Sprinkle a work surface with flour and knead the dough until smooth and springy, about 1 minute. Alternatively, use the paddle attachment on your stand mixer to do the initial mixing, and switch to the dough hook for the kneading.

Lightly coat a medium sized bowl with olive oil and place the dough in it. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for an hour. Punch the dough down and transfer it to an airtight container. Leave in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

When you're ready to make the pizza, take the dough out of the fridge. Punch it down again and let it sit while you get everything else ready. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Take the casings off the sausage and place in a large skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, breaking the sausage up into bite sized pieces, until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Place the sausage on a plate and set aside. Warm up a tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet and saute the mushrooms until they release their liquid and turn brown.

Dust a work surface with flour and roll out your pizza dough until it will fit your pan. Drizzle olive oil over the rolled out dough and brush or smooth with your hands over the surface of the dough. Gently place the dough in your pan, oiled side down. You could also spread the olive oil out in your pan first and then flop the dough into it (I can't do this because my pan has holes in the bottom to keep the crust crisp!). Press the dough into the sides of your pan to form a crust.

Spread tomato sauce over the dough with the back side of a spoon and sprinkle with sea salt. Evenly place the sausage, mushrooms, and garlic over the pizza. Top with the mozzarella cheese and basil and scatter over the parmesan cheese for the final touch. Bake for 15 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes after taking it out of the oven. Cut into wedges and serve!

Rating: This is awesome

The great thing about pizza is that you can change it up to totally meet your tastes and what you have in the fridge. The dough is your canvas!