Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Chicken Man

I somehow ended up with 3 bottles of toasted sesame oil in my pantry. Toasted sesame oil? That's potent stuff. What the heck ever am I gonna do with 3 bottles of something that I normally use as sparingly as Spam in my kitchen? Not that I'd equate sesame oil with Spam or anything... it's just that I don't know much about Asian cooking. I ended up with those little bottles after I overbought for a cooking demo awhile ago, and not one to toss, waste, or give away anything (not when you're livin' on a student budget, sugar), I put them on the shelf and wished for the fairy of Asian Cookery to descend upon my kitchen in a flourish of kimono and chopsticks spouting inspiration and Zen wisdom... Or at least just hand me a copy of Better Homes and Gardens with the dog-eared section "Fourth of July Egg Foo Young for 40!"

But eventually, and slowly, I began to use that oil on more and more dishes. I began putting it into salad dressings, tossing it with maple syrup, rice vinegar, soy sauce and hot peppers to pour over noodles, I started to think of it more as just another oil (albeit one with lots of personality) to use on things that, well, I use oil on all the time.

But opening myself up to using that oil meant I also began to use much more ginger, soy sauce, garlic and lime. What a revelation. I started cooking 'Asian' all the time. Yes, I know that using Asian ingredients doesn't mean the dish is 'Asian' but you gotta start somewhere. So when I was planning out our Sunday night supper to be shared with our friend Austin (who when asked what he liked to eat, he replied "meat"), I decided to do some sort of creative take on sweet and sour chicken. I don't cook chicken much, but I like to think that it's just like tofu, but with blood and stuff. Not too hard really.

So I pulled out that sesame oil, some organic chicken, and grabbed a recipe for Spicy Orange Tofu from Vegetarian Times (I realize now you may be appalled). In my head I pictured the plate, tasted the chicken and thought, "coconut rice." A chewy, creamy mound of Basmati rice with coconut milk and lemongrass would go so well lying right underneath that tangy and spicy skewer of chicken.

The dish turned out well enough that our meat-boy Austin was impressed, and the other meat-boy Mark couldn't help but eat the leftovers the next night for dinner - straight outta the skillet.

That's my boys.

Spicy Orange Chicken Skewers
adapted from a recipe from Vegetarian Times Magazine
serves 4 -6

1.5 pounds boneless, skinless organic chicken breasts
1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup lime juice
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons dried hot chili pepper (whatever's spicy and hanging around your spice rack)
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1 small sweet onion, diced
handful chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
bamboo skewers

Cut the chicken breast into pieces small enough to skewer. Skewer the chicken on the bamboo, making sure to leave a few millimeters of space between each piece. Prepare the marinade. Mix all of the rest of the ingredients together and marinate the skewers from 1 hour to 1 day. The longer the better.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the skewers from the marinade and reserve the marinade. Place skewers on a broiler pan with a slotted sheet so that the liquid and fats may collect underneath. Cook until your tester skewer is no longer pink in the middle. A few times through baking, brush the skewers with the marinade. Add all of the marinade toward the end, so that it reduces a bit and gets syrupy. Serve the skewers with the sauce over coconut rice.

Coconut Basmati Rice
serves 4 - 6

You may use fresh lemongrass in this recipe, if available, but the dried is a good option too if you don't have access to an Asian market.

1.5 cups brown Basmati rice
2 cups coconut milk (lite or full fat)
1 cup water
2 tablespoons dried lemongrass

Bring the water to boil. Steep the dried lemongrass to make a strong tea. Strain out the lemongrass and set water aside. Bring the coconut milk and lemongrass water to a boil, then add rice. Stir once, then cover and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 50 minutes to 1 hour.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Cookie's Better

These days, anything can become famous. If you want to pass around a funny video of your kid on YouTube drugged up and babbling after his dentist appointment in a manner of hilarity approximating your putting a little herb into his brownies, it can become famous. If you want to create an internet community, linking your friends with each other and then their friends with each other until you prove beyond a reasonable doubt the Kevin Bacon phenomenon, you can become famous. If you decide to use your first karmic lifetime as the blond, snotty daughter of a hotel investment baron and flash your cookie to the cameras upon exiting your limo, well… you get the picture. Hey, I want my cookie to become famous too. However, before I go showing it off to you shamelessly, I must express to you the utter superiority of the cookie in question.

First, a bit of history. My cookie was actually discovered quite by accident. You see, I was fooling around in the kitchen one afternoon, feeling experimental and even a little shy with having to tinker with someone else’s cookie. I’m usually not so shy about these things (normally I go at it with wild abandon), but this cookie was so delicate and, may I say, tasty to begin with that I hesitated to even begin flirting with that seductive, addictive thing. But I had to. There was no way around it. I needed a cookie, and I needed one right away. I was out of my usual cookie-making supplies and I had to do something. Fast. I knew I had to win that cookie over, romance it even, with chocolate.

But no chocolate bars? No hot coconut oil either? Would this rendezvous end in calamity?

The cookie would eventually see it my way.

Yes, the cookie yielded, and became mine. Cocoa powder was thrown into the air, olive oil slicked the kitchen tiles as the intense heat poured from the oven, steaming the windows and increasing my passion. I stirred and sifted and poured molasses all over. I rolled and sweated and used all the sugar in the house. The cookie looked pleased, covered in chocolate, hot and chewy. Yes! Yes! Yes! My cookie is the one! My cookie must be shown to the world, displayed in all its gooey sweet goodness!

My cookie is special. My cookie should be famous. If the requirement to be famous these days means you gotta show a little cookie, then that’s just what I’ll do.

The Money Shot

Chocolate Passion Cookies

Recipe by Chrissy and Mark

And now a word from Mark, my baker in crime. “I love chocolate chip cookies, so what could bring out the spontaneity, the passion, the indulgence, and a unique turn on the established, supreme reign of the traditional chocolate chip cookie? Bring on the chocolate-chocolate chip cookie. But what about a nod to fudge? What about dark chocolate? What about molten-lava cake? This cookie combines all three. It’s about richness, it’s about the moist draw of something…. I needed a cookie that fulfilled a special place—in my tummy—and fulfilled a special role in my heart.

Behold… the modified recipe!

I propose two of the most interesting qualities of this cookie: The molasses that gives it the edge of a very slight fudgy-ness, and the final step: gingerly pressing 3-5 chocolate chips into the tops of the cookies as they are cooling. Yay to spontaneity! And in that spontaneity, may you all find your inspiration to create something—anything—and may it be something new.

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup white flour (spelt or all-purpose)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup butter, olive oil OR coconut butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 heaping tablespoons of molasses
1/2 cup maple syrup (the real stuff)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Chocolate chips (see below for variable quantity)

Preheat oven to 350, combine flours, coconut, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Melt butter in small pan, combine with sugars, maple syrup, molasses and vanilla. Beat well with large whisk or electric beater. The mixture should be creamy & integrated.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry. Bake 10 - 12 minutes. No more, no less. The cookies should almost seem underdone, but as they cool they will remain chewy and perfect!
After coming out of the oven carefully and gingerly push approximately 5 chocolate chips into each cookie (depending on size of cookie: if smaller cookies, go with 3, or simply add or subtract to your heart's delight).
Let chocolate melt into cookies, and let cool completely.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

I Yam Sexy

Saturday night we had our first dinner party at the new place.  A real dinner party, grown-up style, in our grown-up place.  The furniture doesn’t match, our dining room table is a shaky little version surrounded by director’s chairs that our landlords left for us, and there is no light in the main room (the lights of the city are really all we need) – but it’s still a grown-up house, in my opinion.  Our kitchen is large and the shelves are stocked with glassware for 10 different kinds of alcohol.  The framed vintage Vogue magazine covers from the 40’s that decorate the walls speak “I’m a retro kitchen and I know it... we’re going for irony here, people.”  The bamboo floors are new and pristine, and we have a fireplace in a separate room, a room just for sitting and contemplating the view out over the port, the ships coming in and coming out.  It’s a grown-up place alright.  Even if we don’t feel quite like grownups in it yet.

So we’re having a dinner party.  I suppose that’s no surprise.  I would have a dinner party even if I somehow ended up in a refrigerator box under I-90.  I would be the bum with the best dumpster meals, I swear.  And I’d always break out the Dixie cups to share my 40 ouncer of King Cobra.  Yes, it’s just my nature.  Let the food and spirits flow.

Thankful I had a real fridge and not just a box, I rolled some food ideas around in my head.  To accommodate everyone, the meal was to be vegetarian with no fish, so I didn’t have to think too hard to come up with a menu.  But I thought hard anyway.  I do that.  If you come up with one solution easily and quickly - scrap it because creativity comes when you try to think a little bit outside the box (yes, the fridge box).  Not that creativity is tough, but it may take a little push to get away from the obvious sometimes.

The first menu I came up with would have taken me two days to make.  Knowing I had more than just a meal to accomplish this weekend, I decided to go with simplicity.  Multi-day prep? Hmm, maybe not.  So I pared down some of the items and came up with a balanced meal that was fresh, colorful, and just a little bit sensuous.  Valentine’s Day is coming up, and a girl shouldn’t be oblivious to that, surely. 

I’ll make my massaged kale salad (oooooo massage…) and then Heidi’s recipe for tempeh (sweet and salty) with roasted yams, smothered in saged olive oil, coarse sea salt, maple syrup and cayenne (sweet and spicy).  Those potatoes were to be my creative and sexy contribution to it all.  Yeah baby, sexy.  Sweet with a kick.  Just like me.  Ahem.

I scrubbed those big brown-skinned yams, and chopped them into large chunks.  Before the sun went down, I trotted out to the back yard and plucked the largest sage leaves I could find on our poor, winter-weary plant.  I minced the sage very fine, and steeped the little bits in a nice jar of golden olive oil.  A bit of cayenne, the oil, maple syrup and then the large grains of sea salt dancing and bouncing off the hunks of potato as I sprinkled generously.  With oily hands I tossed them on the baking sheet, my fingers remembering how to manipulate each piece.  I spread them all out to bake, tipping and scooting them into their own little hot spots.  Big trays of big oily pieces.  Reminds me of the thousands of croutons that I scooted and prodded on oily sheets this past summer at the restaurant.  My fingers remembered just how.

Our friends arrived and we stood laughing and drinking wine in our ironic, grownup kitchen.  Our friend and her guest brought us a box of dark chocolate truffles and a bottle of petite syrah.  Our first Valentine’s gift.  The dinner turned out lovely, laid out on our red tablecloth with large grown-up glasses of red wine.  This is what I've always wanted.  A table set with candles, four people with red wine, eating food I felt proud to serve, in a home I felt proud to live in.  Big spaces, high ceilings and windows as tall as me.  Friends and food, people who appreciate you for all your wackiness (I wear black turbans and purple sparkly tracksuit jackets as inspirational cooking attire.)  Mark breaks out his doumbek and hands a djembe to our other guest who's purported to have real coordination.  The boys drum and later the girls twirl around a little, even if to pose just for the camera.  

Before we end the evening, we eat something chocolatey I made for dessert and then open a bottle of cherry wine.  Now this is sexy.  Valentine's day I've never made a big deal out of - I prefer to show subtle ways of saying I love you all year long.  Subtle is sexy.  Understatement is sexy too.  I believe in sensuousness year round.  

We won't be making a big deal out of the 14th this year, but we will open up a bottle of wine and share food that is sweet then sneaks up on you with a little kick.  Just like love.

Spicy Maple Yams with Sage

serves 6

I hesitated to even write a recipe for this one, as you should feel free to toss in more oil, herbs and hot spices than what it calls for - and how big is a 'large' yam anyway?  So go on and toss and slather and sprinkle and make it all up sexy-like.  Let go. That's sexy too.

3-4 large yams

1/4 tsp Cayenne (more or less to taste)

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup +  olive oil

Big handful of sage, chopped fine

Coarse sea salt 

Mince the sage finely and steep in olive oil for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, chop the yams into large chunks and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Toss yams with olive oil mixture, cayenne and maple syrup.  Sprinkle with salt.  Spread out on a baking sheet sparsely (if the chunks are too close they will steam more than brown and roast) and roast until a fork piercing shows them soft and the outside golden brown.