Sunday, August 17, 2014

Egg Fu Yong: Make This Easy, Quick Chinese Dish for Your Loved Ones and You Will Be a ROCK STAR!


Quick! What are your favorite Chinese restaurant dishes? Can you make any of them from scratch? I didn't think so. Well, now you can—and win accolades and glory—without going through a lot of trouble (or slavishly following a recipe—once you get this down). I'm talking about the much-loved Egg Fu Yong. (Also spelled Egg Fu Young, Egg Foo Yong, or any of many permutations. In Japan, it's known as Kanitama.) You know what I am talking about—savory, light eggs with that indescribable something luscious and that to-die-for light sauce. You won't believe how simple this is to do—even a fledgling cook can make it easily!

It's an Egg. It's an Omelet. It's Egg Fu Yong!
Egg fu yong is basically an omelet, only it doesn't have to be as pretty. My favorite way to eat it is with crab as the meat of choice, but you can use whatever meat or tofu you have on hand. The sauce is a breeze—
it's your basic gravy recipe. As with most of the foods I write about, the creation is simple—what's hard is making sure you have the ingredients on hand, like dried shiitake mushrooms (a great staple item that lasts forever), and crab (which isn't easy to have on hand fresh, but you can get decent crab meat in cans, or better yet, fabulous crab meat in jars in the fish department at your local grocer, although it's costs much more).

Stir-fry and Conquer
Heat one tablespoon vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet (you do NOT need a wok). Stir-fry a couple of stalks of sliced celery and a half a cup of peas until tender in the skillet. You can use other veggies, or course. Traditionally, Egg fu yong calls for bamboo shoots, which are yucky in their most available form—canned. My thought is that it's the crunchy texture that counts, and better to have a fresh alternative veggie (celery) than a canned traditional one (as a matter of fact, that's more or less my philosophy of life). Now, if you are lucky enough to have access to fresh bamboo shoots (Yude-takenoko, in Japanese), then your Egg fu yong will be the most perfect of all—just lightly steam and shred 1 small fresh bamboo shoot.

In a microwave-proof cup or bowl, put a handful of dried shiitake (black) mushrooms in a couple of tablespoons of water. Heat on high for one minute, until the mushrooms are softened.

It's About the Omelet
Add another tablespoon of vegetable oil to the skillet. Stir in six lightly beaten eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt (I prefer Vege-sal vegetable salt, but it's all good), 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1/2 cup chicken stock, and one can or jar of crab meat (about 6 ounces), making sure to pick out any cartilage. (Again, you can substitute a cup of cooked meat or cubed tofu for the crab.) Add in the shiitake mushrooms, and cook over medium-low heat as the crab omelet sets (it takes a while for the egg to set because of the extra liquid of the chicken stock, but it's worth it). Roll the pan to one side and gently lift the omelet to encourage the loose egg to flow to the pan so it can get cooked. When there is enough egg cooked to give the omelet a foundation, gently lift half of the omelet and fold it on top of itself.

Don't Stress about How It Looks
Because this is a huge, six-egg omelet, it's not going to be picture-perfect. Do not worry—Egg fu yong is never pristine like a French omelet might be. When the omelet is firm enough (be sure it's not browning on the bottom—if so, turn the heat down), flip it gently. If it tears, that's OK—just make sure it's cooked though without being stiff.

Yummy Egg Fu Yong Sauce
While the omelet is cooking, heat a cup of chicken stock in a small sauce- or gravy-pan. Add 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1 teaspoon soy sauce. In a small bowl, stir a couple of tablespoons of water into 2 teaspoons of corn starch until smooth. Pour this into the chicken stock mixture, stirring constantly to avoid the dreaded "gravy lumping" effect. Keep stirring for a minute until the sauce thickens, and then remove it from heat.

Ready to Rock, Crab-lovers!
Divide the omelet among the hungry guests (serves two or three), preferable served half on and half off of steaming hot white rice (we love Jasmine rice). Drizzle the sauce on top and serve immediately with steamed veggies (especially broccoli). You can also pour the sauce over the veggies, and thus not have to season them at all. Voila! A beautiful, simple, and elegant meal, ready in a flash.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Quick Trip to the South: Down Home Tastebuds Do an Appalachian Jig


Collard greens, delightfully overcooked in pork fat. Buttermilk biscuits, flaky, tender, buttery. Okra with tomatoes. Fresh corn chowder. Summer squash. Real fried chicken.

My recent trip home to the mountains of North Carolina was not a gourmet trip. Far from it. I went home to help move my Mom's things into storage now that she is (happily) in a nursing home. But wherever I go, there's a chance for good food and I will take it. First on my must-have list of southern foods was Bojangle's Cajun chicken and biscuit. For those of you not from the south, Bojangle's is a fast food chain that serves New Orleans-style delectables like "dirty rice," pinto beans, collards, and Cajun-spicy friend chicken. No trip to the south is complete without a taste of what the locals eat. I get a jonesing for Bojangle's about the time I see those Blue Ridge mountains poking up in the windshield. Ahh--rich, satisfying heaven of my childhood food dreams. Fast food is just one option--a sinful pleasure at best. Now home-cooking, that's where the real treat lies.

Back to biscuits, in California where I live now, they are so just not the same. In an effort, perhaps, to reduce the guilt and the voluptuousness of a bad-for-you food, Californians zap the sanguinity out of biscuits, which end up tasting like blobs of dry dough--ick! (Funny, there doesn't seem to be a compunction to diminish doughnuts--Kirspy Kreme is so popular, lines snake around the buildings everywhere you go in SoCal--amazing to me, because I cannot stand doughnuts). A real southern biscuit is rich with buttery flavors and simply must have buttermilk and either real butter or lard, or bacon grease, or some combination of the above. Most chain restaurants, sadly, use the unthinkable shortening in baked goods, the same stuff that is wisely banned in New York City. An honest biscuit, however, uses the good stuff. And buttermilk in goodly amounts.

When I describe southern food to people not from the south, it never sounds quite right--oh, that's gotta be unhealthy--all that salt, all that fat--and sweat tea?!? Sure, it sounds dreadful--sausage gravy on biscuits--but it's the association that gives any food its magic. Yes, foie gras is innately tasty, but would you really--c'mon now, be honest--get a frisson of delight eating it if you knew it were as common as grits? Hardly. It would still be tender and delectable. But thrilling? No way. What we ate happily as a child is where the real heart of food joy lies. Food that feeds more than our bodies and comforts more than our spirits. When I bite into sausage gravy on a buttermilk biscuit, my heart soars with joy. If I ate such heart-ful heavy fare every day, it wouldn't be the same thrill either. Rarity makes food delicious too. Maybe twice a year I get real southern cuisine. And I am grateful for those times.

Here's a recipe for real buttermilk biscuits. If you use lard, buy the rendered kind. You can also use half lard and half butter (trust me--lard has gotten an unfairly bad reputation. See Lard--the New Health Food.) Never fear using butter either. Butter ain't the bad boy it used to be considered either. No worse than cheese, I always say.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups King Arthur white flour (or other good-quality all-purpose flour)
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup lard or butter
  • 1 cup buttermilk

PREPARATION:

Preheat oven to 400°.
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Cut in chilled lard or butter until you have pieces the size of small peas. Make a well in center of dry ingredients; pour in buttermilk. With a wooden spoon, gently blend dry ingredients into the buttermilk, just until mixture is clumping together. If necessary, add a few more teaspoons of buttermilk.
Transfer dough to a lightly floured board. Pat out in a circle about 8 inches in diameter and 1/2-inch thick. Using a 2 1/2 to 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut out and place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake on center oven rack for about 15 minutes, until tops are browned.
Makes 10 to 12 biscuits.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Tri-tip into Bulgogi: From Blah into Bravo JUSTLIKETHAT


Chances are, if you have dined in a Korean restaurant, or are lucky enough to have Korean friends or family, you probably have already tasted bulgogi, a thinly sliced marinated sesame beef barbecue that is indescribably delicious. And, if you live in California, you have probably been served tri-tip barbecue so many times it's a ho-hum deal. Growing up on the east coast, I had never heard of tri-tip. But when I moved out west, it took only a week or two to encounter my first tri-tip.

Tri-tip goes by other names: sirloin or knuckle roast. Tri-tip is the corner piece that is cut off when slicing sirloin steaks. Usually not as tender as the rest of the sirloin, it is just as flavorful and takes well to marinating and grilling. Santa Maria barbecue is just that, marinated and grilled tri-tip. Not much to it, just sugar, garlic, pepper, and salt and the technique of slow-grilling. Why then the avid following of a simple barbecue style?

In the same way as tri-tip barbecue, bulgogi is the most common barbecue of Korea. Ho-hum to those who grew up there and ate it often, but lavishly exciting and exotic to the rest of us.

Tri-tip, bulgogi . . . what's the connection? Bulgogi recipes call for sirloin roast. And tri-tip is sirloin, only less expensive than sirloin steaks. If you have access to tri-tip from your local grocery or warehouse store, then why not, instead of serving the usual tri-tip barbecue, take a tip from Korea, where some of Earth's best barbecue comes from--and add a few more simple ingredients and slices, and voila! You've got irresistible bulgogi--to wow your friends and loved ones, with no more effort than any other barbecue. With bulgogi, you get a lot of wow factor for your effort.


  • 2 pounds sirloin tri-tip, sliced thinly across the grain on the diagonal bias
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon raw sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
  • 3 tablespoons mirin sweet cooking wine
  • 3 scallions, chopped (optional--if you substitute chopped white onion, the chances are good that the beef will be cooked before the onions are--raw onion is not yummy to most folks, so I’d either use scallions or skip onions altogether)

Serve with:

Chili paste, like Sriracha brand
Toasted sesame seeds
Green leaf lettuce leaves
Steamed jasmine rice

Arrange the raw tri-tip on the cutting board, and with a very sharp knife, slice across the grain in thin slices (1.8 inch or so). In a resealable large plastic bag, add the sliced tri-tip to the remaining ingredients. Let marinate, refrigerated, for at least 2 hours, or longer, if you have time.

Cook the beef in one layer in a nonstick pan, along with the marinade. Alternately, you could cut each piece of meat thicker--in 1/2 inch slices to make little steaks. Then you could grill those 1/2 inch bulgogi steaks on the grill--this is how we chose to cook it, but authentically, bulgogi is sliced thinly. Another option is to cut the meat into 1 inch cubes and then, skewer them and grill them on a grill.

Serve with steamed rice and allow diners to wrap each piece of bulgogi (if sliced thinly) in a lettuce leaf roll. If sliced thickly, then serve as is, with a salad.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Bombar Bar & Grill Transforms into Bombay Magically Great Burger Bar & Grill

Bombay Bar & Grill
143 S. California St
Ventura, CA 93001
(805) 643 - 4404

Exquisite gourmet burgers with a mind-blowing assortment of made-from-scratch condiments. The sweet potato fries and the garlic-truffle fries are reason enough to go. Adore the Upstream--a juicy salmon burger. Crazy about the tobacco onions--crunchy and decadent nest of deep-fried-crispy onions to knock your burger into the stratosphere. The fire-roasted pepper ketchup alone had me at first bite. Award-winning chef Andy Brooks has worked his multi-star high-end food magic on Bombay and made it a delight for foodies.

Bombay has always been a hotspot for nightlife, but now it's a hotspot for foodie life too and our little foodie family could not be more thrilled. Thanks, Bombay, for making this fine upgrade and for putting our little town on the culinary map. Now, where is Guy Fieri and his Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives to come give Bombay a taste-see?!?

Check out this burger menu.

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Note: Ventura friends, if you haven't been by the Bombay Bar & Grill to try their absolutely scrumptious gourmet burger menu, then drop everything and head on over. New items include the finest chicken-burger in the Solar System. Get this, award-winning chef Andy Brooks has crafted a freshly ground in-house chicken patty, topped with a roasted made-from-scratch chili relleno, and that topped with his house-made tangy piri-piri sauce. Truly a taste sensation! Hubs and I ordered one Angus burger (the Steakhouse is supremely great with caramelized onions, Bleu cheese and Portobello mushrooms) and one SoCal Lovebird burger and we each got half--a fun way to go. Add in an order of sweet potato fries (sprinkled with smoked paprika) and dipped in their signature chi-chi sauce--heavenly doesn't begin to describe it.

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Another update: We hosted our daughter's 10th birthday party at The Bombay--it was a French-themed dance party, complete with a live DJ, mustaches and berets for everyone, and killer pomme frites and several kinds of sliders and salads, provided by The Bombay. The party was a smash hit and so easy to do, with the wonderful Bombay staff helping in every way possible. The cost was quite resonable and stacked up well compared to other, less scrumptious food and party venues. We were thrilled! our daughter was the rock star! Would have another party at The Bombay any day! 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Grilled Curried Lamb Shish Kebobs—Savory, Summery, Ecstasy


Nothing says Spring/Summer savory fun like kebabs. And the secret of fabulous kebabs is marinating in advance. When the meat and veggies soak in a piquant marinade, they evolve into something different altogether, something irresistible when grilled. Now, you have to be generous with salt—marinating is not a good time to ration salt. Salt brings out the gorgeous flavor of meats. And lamb, ahhhhh, the king of all meats, for serious omnivores. Get as fresh a lamb leg as possible and as local as possible (not always an option—stores around here carry mostly New Zealand or Ozzie lamb, which is a bummer—why aren’t there more U.S. lamb ranches?). My little girl’s fifth birthday party is next Saturday, June 14, and we are serving this dish—among a cornucopia of other dishes. We always make some vegetable-only kebabs, too, for our vegetarian friends (marinate the vegetable separately to keep it all copacetic). Don’t be afraid of kebabs. Just take it in two steps: marinate the pieces the first day and load the kebabs and grill the second day.

Meat Preparation:

1 boneless Leg of Lamb
2 tablespoons Ground Cumin Seeds
2 tablespoons Ground Coriander Seeds
½ teaspoon Ground Turmeric (optional)
½ teaspoon Ground Cardamom Seeds
½ teaspoon Ground Fennel Seeds
½ teaspoon Ground Black Peppercorns
1 teaspoon Salt
1 tablespoon Grated Ginger Root
1 tablespoon Crushed Garlic
¼ cup Red Wine—or more to get slightly sloshy consistency
4 tablespoons Olive Oil—or more to get slightly sloshy consistency

Vegetable Preparation:

4 to 5 cups Assorted Vegetables [Cut in 1 to ½ inch chunks]
Use summer squash, zucchini, patty pan, Vidalia or other sweet onions, green onions, mushrooms, asparagus, green, red, or orange peppers, etc. Veggies that don’t work well are both hard veggies (such as potatoes, parsnips, and carrots—because they won’t cook through in the same amount of time as the rest of the items on the kebobs) or soft veggies (because they’ll fall apart—don’t use tomatoes or white mushrooms, though portabellas would be good).
1 tablespoon Ground Cumin Seeds
1 tablespoon Ground Coriander Seeds
½ teaspoon Ground Turmeric
½ teaspoon Ground Cardamom Seeds
½ teaspoon Ground Fennel Seeds
½ teaspoon Ground Black Peppercorns
1 teaspoon Salt
1 tablespoon Grated Ginger Root
1 tablespoon Crushed Garlic
¼ cup of White Wine or Sake—or more to get slightly sloshy consistency
3 tablespoons Olive Oil—or more to get slightly sloshy consistency

Putting It All Together

Make this recipe one day in advance to knock your guests out with ecstasy. If you are short on time, at least prepare it in the AM and grill it in the PM—but no less time than that, as the spices won’t get into the meat and veggies otherwise.
You can mix up all the spices and the ginger and garlic in one batch (because they are the same for the veggies and the meats) and then put red wine in the lamb Zip-lock bag and the white wine in the veggie one.
Marinate the lamb chunks, the spices, and the wine and oil (listed under Meat Preparation) in one large Zip-lock freezer bag. Keep refrigerated for one to two days, turning the bag each time you open the refrigerator to distribute the marinade. If the marinade is not sufficient to coat all the pieces luxuriously (if lamb leg is too big), then double the marinade quantities.
In the same way, marinate the veggies in the spices and wine and oil (listed under Vegetable Preparation) in a large freezer bad and turn every time you open the refrigerator door.
When you are ready to grill, use wooden skewers and alternately skewer meat chunk, veggie chunk, meat chunk, veggie chunk, etc., leaving at least an inch at the bottom and the top of the skewer.
Grill, turning occasionally, until you see some charring on the edges of the onions and the meat looks cooked through.
Enjoy with rice and a salad for a terrific and simple summer meal.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Arroz con Pollo (or con Tofu), a la WhatEye8

Arroz con Pollo, a la WhatEye8

When I worked at a Mexican restaurant back in the 80s, we had a delicious arroz con pollo dish--steamed, fresh chicken on yellow rice that was smothered in sour cream and cheddar cheese. Not very Mexican at all, but it was yummy. Over the years, I've tried to craft a more authentic arroz con pollo dish--truly one of the great classic entrees of the world--with not a great deal of satisfaction--until now.

Arroz con pollo is a basic pilaf, after all, not that different from jambalaya or paella.What follows is not strictly traditional--it's more of a variation on a theme. But it's a family-pleaser and is certainly easy to pull together. It just takes a bit of juggling with several different pots and containers. But the result is intensely flavored and simply delightful--makes wonderful leftovers, too.

You can always make this into a vegetarian dish using vegetable stock and tofu or tempeh, if you like. If you go for chicken, you can always use bone in chicken. I like it with boneless thighs--easy to work with and always tender.

Chicken (or Tofu)

1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon  ground cumin
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs (or use bone-in if you don't mind picking the bones out later)
Pepper and salt to taste (go easy on the salt--see Notes, below)

Rice

One white onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil for frying
1 1/2 cups white jasmine rice
2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 can organic tomato chunks and sauce
1/4 cup tomato sauce
8 large or 10 small green pimiento stuffed olives, sliced
2 slices cooked bacon, chopped into bits (optional, but recommended)
1/2 cup corn (optional) 
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
Chopped parsley, cilantro for color

  1. Dredge the raw chicken (or tofu chunks) in the dry seasoning ingredients from the Chicken (or Tofu) list. Set aside.
  2. In a heavy-bottomed pot (like Le Creuset), saute the onions in the olive oil until just tender, around 5 minutes.
  3. Rinse the rice and then add to the pot with the onions. Stir fry for around 5 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, saute the dredged chicken for around 5 or 6 minutes per side in a frying pan. Set aside.
  5. Heat the stock (chicken or vegetable) in a microwave or on the stove until boiling. Add all at once to the onion and rice mixture.
  6.  Begin adding in the other ingredients on the Rice list, stirring after each addition.
  7. After all the ingredients have been added to the rice mixture, gently place the semi-cooked chicken on top. 
  8. Cover the pot but leave about an inch for the steam to escape (there is extra moisture built into the recipe with the tomatoes and the tomato sauce--that needs to go somewhere, or it will make the rice mushy)
  9. Set the timer for 20 minutes (the length of time it takes for the rice to absorb the liquid) and then remove from heat and remove the top to allow the remainder of the liquid to be absorbed.
  10. Before serving, sprinkle with chopped Italian parsley or cilantro. 

Notes

  • You can add other vegetables, depending on what you have on hand. Peas are good. So are small carrot chunks. My family loves this with sweet corn.
  • Don't use too much salt in the dredging part--the stock and the bacon and the green olives all have enough salt to carry this without adding much extra. 
  • Even though I rarely use powdered garlic, it's a great ingredient for dry rubs--and that's what we are doing by dredging the chicken (or tofu) with the seasonings.
  • The green olives and the bacon bits add a flavor punch. Of course, leave out the bacon if you are doing vegetarian



Friday, February 14, 2014

Smoked Chili Bark

Bark--peppermint bark, pistachio bark, and chili bark, to name a few--has got to be one of the easiest and most gratifying candies to make. People simply love this simple dessert and how few think to make it themselves. Next time you get invited to a potluck, and you need to make something impressive but don't have the time to think about it, here's the answer: Smoked chili bark. Simply smashing and with a surprisingly light, smoky afterburn.

12 ounces dark chocolate
3/4 cup chopped unsalted nuts (pistachios, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, pecans--or whatever you have on hand)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle (smoked jalapeno) peppers (available cheaply at Cost Plus World Market)
1 teaspoon ground smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Melt the chocolate in either a double boiler over boiling water or in a large bowl placed over a pot of boiling water. Once melted, stir in all but a handful of the nuts and all of the ground spices, continuing to stir until well-blended.

Pour the mixture out onto either waxed paper, parchment paper, or a silicone non-stick mat on a baking sheet. Spread to make the bark as this as desired.

Sprinkle with the remaining nuts and press the nuts lightly in. Sprinkle the top with more smoked paprika. Chill in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Break up into bite-sized pieces.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Tom Ka with Tofu (Or Tom Yam) Soup: The Perfect Fix for Flu Season, with Variations

When I went to Thailand and had this soup for the first time I think my whole world just flipped right over on me all at once--it was the most remarkable taste experience ever. The flavors just blew me away--piquant, sour, spicy, rich, amazing! You have to try it. And you can easily make either Tom Yam or Tom Ka with a simple substitution. This soup is simple to make, but what's tricky is having the ingredients on hand. Because I love this so much, I stockpile fish sauce, coconut milk and dried shiitake mushrooms (although the original calls for straw mushrooms). My hubby grows lemongrass in the garden year-round, and we have a lime tree that contributes a leaf here and there. You can make this without lime leaf and lemongrass, but add some lime zest to substitute. I think you are going to love this special and wonderful soup--one of the great wonders of the culinary world! And a quick fix when you feel yourself coming down with a flu bug. Nothing clears your head like the piquant vapors of this magical soup. 

Tom Ka Gung with Variations

  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 (12 ounce) can coconut milk (Not the reduced fat kind. Fat makes it taste DELICIOUS!)
  • 2 cups chicken stock (I use the chicken stock paste that comes in little jars, Better Than Bouillon brand. It has no MSG and is all-natural. Plus, stored in the fridge, it lasts a LONG time.)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 sprigs lemongrass, root (two inch sprigs, chopped into tiny slices)
  • 1 kaffir lime leaf (or other lime leaf, tossed in whole--like bay leaves, you just fish them out before serving) (optional)
  • 1 lime, juice of
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, or 2 medium tomatoes, diced--with juices
  • 4 garlic cloves (or more depending on your preference)
  • 1 (19 ounce) package silken tofu, drained and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup shrimp (optional)
  • 1 cup mushrooms (Any kind, such as white, shiitake, portobello, straw, white, etc. I mostly use shiitake because I keep a giant container on hand, but the most authentic is straw mushrooms, which you can find canned in the Asian section of grocery stores.)
  • 1 tablespoon red chili paste (I like Sriracha brand. Add more to taste. If serving to kids--my five-year-old likes this soup--then add ketchup instead. A small amount of ketchup tastes good--trust me!)
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root (Thai recipes call for galanga, but it's tricky to find--ginger root works fine instead)


Garnishes

  • Chopped cilantro
  • Thai basil, for garnish
  • Hot chili sauce, such as Sriracha
  • Diced hot chili peppers

  1. Add the coconut milk, chicken stock, and water to a heavy put, and begin to simmer while adding the other ingredients (except for garnishes and shrimp or other fish).
  2. After the spices have "relaxed," add either the shrimp or chunks of salmon and stir only until cooked (two or three minutes).
  3. Garnish and serve.

Variations


Vegetarian Soup Instead

* To make this soup vegetarian, substitute vegetable stock for chicken stock, and leave off the prawns. You've already got tofu, so that's a great protein source. Lastly, if fish sauce is a no-no, then substitute Bragg's Amino Acids (like soy sauce).

Tom Yam Instead

* To make Tom Yam instead of Tom Ka, do everything the same, except substitute more chicken stock to replace the coconut milk.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Homemade for the Holidays, Part 4: Best. Peppermint Bark. Ever.


If you go to your local membership warehouse this time of year, you will surely see tins of peppermint bark, festively wrapped, with ginormous pricetags. Sure, who can resist peppermint bark? Even those of us who don't care for hard candies. Peppermint bark says Happy Holidays in every way—that minty smell, the bonus chocolate, the odd little red and white trapezoids. But once you have made peppermint bark yourself—or tasted homemade peppermint bark—you will scoff as you walk by those displays. For if there is ever anything worth making at home, it is surely peppermint bark. Easy, fast, fun for kids to help with, and much less expensive than store-bought. Did I mention that homemade peppermint bark will knock your hideous Christmas socks right off your feet? It's crazy-good—with a couple of easy tricks, that is.

You will most certainly hear, "This is the best peppermint bark I've ever tasted." The lavish quantities of chocolate make this bark thicker. And the peppermint extract makes it refreshingly slightly sassy.

Peppermint Bark for Gift-Giving

2 12 oz. packages white chocolate chips
8 oz. peppermint candy (stick, candy cane, or puffy)
1 pound artisinal milk chocolate (great sources for bulk chocolate are Fresh & Easy and Trader Joe's)
1 pound artisinal dark chocolate
2 to 4 teaspoons peppermint extract

  1. Just as in the preparation for Pistachio Bark (Homemade for the Holidays, Part 1), line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Unlike for pistachio bark, you will make peppermint bark upside-down. That is, white chocolate first, and then dark chocolate on top. The reason why is those crushed peppermint candy bits will tumble all over the place if not squished into the white chocolate. Melt the white chocolate chips in the top of a double-boiler (or use a stainless steel bowl on top of a pot with some boiling water in it). Stir to mix.
  3. While the white chocolate is melting, crush the peppermint candies. Either the candy cane style, the stick style, or my favorite, the puffy style. (Put candies in a plastic resealable bag and whack with a rolling pin or gently with a hammer). The crushed candies do not need to be tiny—rough and varied is perfect.
  4. Pour the crushed peppermint candies onto the parchment paper and drizzle on the melted white chocolate. Now, this is a bit tricky—use a chopstick to swirl the white chocolate out to the edges of the baking sheet and try to mix the peppermints evenly without mixing them all in. That's the hardest part. It's smooth sailing from there.
  5. Allow to cool in the refrigerator or freezer while you melt the dark chocolate and  milk chocolate together, using a double-boiler or the "bowl on top of pot of boiling water" trick again.
  6. While the chocolate is melting, pour in two teaspoons peppermint extract. This kicks it up a notch. If you want to go all crazy on peppermint, you could always increase the amount of peppermint extract up to four teaspoons —but go easy—taste test as you go. Too much might make the chocolate bitter. Start with two and go from there. Mix to disperse the mintiness (is that a word?).
  7. When the white chocolate layer is firm, drizzle on the darker chocolate later. Smooth as evenly as you can, and let firm.
  8. Break into smaller pieces, wrap, and distribute, while chuckling smugly to yourself about your cleverness. 
Notes:

  • This recipe makes a hefty quantity—4 pounds. Granted, that's a bucket load of candy--but, you will be giving this away, won't you? Don't eat the whole thing yourself—seriously!
  • Michael's craft stores are a great source for candy wrapping accessories. I recommend the food-safe cellophane bags, but you could get fancy and use special boxes or tins. However you choose to package your delectables, be sure to use food-safe tissue (also available at Michael's) or wax paper. If you have to use plastic food wrap directly, eventually, your candy will taste like plastic. At least first wrap in food-safe tissue or wax paper and then wrap in plastic food wrap.
  • Peppermint bark made this way will not go stale or bad because there is no ganache, e.g., we didn't add cream or butter. You start with solid chocolate and you end with solid chocolate. Just wrap enough to keep other food flavors away and to seal in the good minty flavor. Also freezes beautifully.

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Homemade for the Holidays Series

Part 1: Pistachio Bark

Part 2: Curry Powder (Garam Masala)

Part 3: Chocolate Truffles 

Part 4: Peppermint Bark

Monday, December 02, 2013

Homemade for the Holidays: Part 1—Pistachio Bark

Pistachio Bark—Easy Homemade Gift
Remember when we were little and many families used to make homemade Christmas and holiday gifts to exchange? Rum cake, the dreaded fruit cake, truffles, fudge, homemade jellies, potpourri? Ever want to thumb your nose at big box stores and, well, go all old school on 'em and make your own holiday gifts? Well, you can. And some of the make-your-own holiday dessert gifts I'll be telling you about are so simple, any kid with a bit of supervision can make (others will take a few more steps and be trickier). I'll be featuring homemade gifts over the next few weeks--ones that have worked for us in the past.

First up, I'll start with the easiest, tastiest, most-satisfying gift that anyone can make. I guarantee this gift will be well-received. Even if you don't prefer sweets, this gift is gorgeous and it's a sure-thing for bringing to the office and sharing or for hostess gifts for those numerous holiday parties that spring up. Looks like you spent a fortune or a long time crafting. Shhh. Your secret is safe with us.

Super-easy Pistachio Bark
  • 1/2 pound artisinal dark chocolate (Trader Joe's and Fresh & Easy both sell wonderful bulk Belgian chocolate bars for about $4 a pound)
  • 1/2 pound artisinal milk chocolate
  • 1 12-ounce bag white chocolate chips (if you can find artisinal white chocolate, get that instead--I have a hard time finding good bulk white chocolate)
  • 1 1/2 cups shelled salted roasted pistachio nuts (again, Trader Joe's and Fresh & Easy have great ready-to-eat pistachios)

  1. Melt the dark and milk chocolate together on the top of a double-boiler. If you don't have one, fake it with a stainless steel or other heat-proof bowl atop a pot of boiling water (the bowl must be larger than the pot rim in order to work--you don't want a wobbly bowl).
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Do not use wax paper as the wax will melt and you'll be eating it. Get parchment paper in the baking section of any supermarket.
  3. Add 3/4 cup (half) of the pistachios to the melted chocolate and stir them in lightly.
  4. Pour the chocolate-nut mixture on the parchment paper, spreading it out until it's no more than 1/4" thick (it will be irregularly shaped—no worries).
  5. Put in the freezer or the refrigerator to firm slightly.
  6. Melt the white chocolate on the top of the double-boiler or using the pot of boiling water and bowl trick, noted above.
  7. Remove the baking sheet and drizzle the white chocolate lightly across the surface of the dark chocolate. Do not mix it in.
  8. Here is another trick: to make the white layer look beautiful, get a chopstick and lightly slide it across and back and forth over the surface of the white chocolate to make delicate swirl patterns. Try to cover as much of the dark chocolate to the edge as possible--but DO NOT work the white chocolate in. Use a light touch.
  9. Sprinkle on the last 3/4 cup (the remainder) of the pistachios and refrigerate or freeze until firm. 
  10. Break the pistachio bark into irregular pieces. Wrap in cellophane food gift bags and package decoratively, as preferred.

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Homemade for the Holidays Series

Part 1: Pistachio Bark

Part 2: Curry Powder (Garam Masala)

Part 3: Chocolate Truffles 

Part 4: Peppermint Bark