Friday, August 31, 2012

Char Siu Chicken with Chinese Long Beans

Technology is amazing.  I published my last two blog posts from Africa!  I drafted them before leaving on vacation and I wanted to do some editing while sitting in the Amsterdam airport on layover.  You can imagine how I felt when my blog appeard in Dutch.  Luckily, I found the language button and all was well.  It was an amazing vacation that I would highly recommend to anyone.  Luckily I had a post or two waiting when I returned as I recover from jet lag!

I have this love-hate relationship with my slow cooker.  I love the idea of slow-cooked foods but don't like everything I eat to be mushy and taste the same.  At least for me, the solution is to use the slow cooker for part of the meal and prepare part fresh (unless you're making chili or some other classic one pot meal).  In this recipe, boneless skinless chicken thighs are marinated in a Chinese barbecue sauce and then slow-cooked until they're so tender and moist that they come apart easily with a fork.  I prepared crisp-tender Chinese long beans for freshness and because they look dramatic on a plate, and served everything with white rice.

Chinese long beans are the drama queens of the green bean family.  Most recipes I reviewed tell you to cut them into smaller pieces but for me that takes away the whole point of using long beans in the first place.

I've never seen long beans in a typical grocery store but have found them at farmers markets and Asian grocery stores.  If you don't have a favorite Asian grocery store, do a little research online to find out where the highest-rated one is in your town and go have a little adventure -  they're really interesting to wander around.  I shared my favorite one with my friend John when he had two Chinese foreign exchange students living at his house for a month.  They went several times and I think he enjoyed it although he did say they needed a shopping concierge to help you figure out what all that stuff is.

Anyway, I discovered why the recipes tell you to cut the long beans before cooking when I tried to stir fry them.

It was like wrestling with an octopus.  Conventional stir fry techniques simply weren't going to happen, so I fried the one side for a minute, flipped the entire mess over and let it fry for another minute, then added a little water and jammed the lid down to let them steam until they became slightly more cooperative.  You could always cut them first or use regular green beans but that wouldn't be nearly as fun.

The marinade turns the chicken a beautiful mahogany color as it cooks and because you use low-sodium soy sauce it's not nearly as salty as you would think.  (I've said it before, Trader Joe's has the best low sodium soy sauce on the planet.)  The flavor is different than a teriyaki marinade and simply delicious.  The chicken is so tender that it shreds easily, so it would make an outstanding filling for moo shu chicken or a chicken banh mi sandwich if you shredded it and put it back into the sauce to thicken for a few minutes.

* * click here for a printable recipe * *

Char Siu Chicken with Chinese Long Beans
Serves 4-5

Note: the chicken must be marinated for at least two hours before placing in a slow cooker for 6-7 hours, so plan ahead. If you can’t find Chinese long beans you can substitute fresh green beans.

For the chicken:
¼ cup low sodium soy sauce
¼ cup hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons ketchup
3 tablespoons honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
½ teaspoon five spice powder
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs

For the Chinese long beans:
1 bunch Chinese long beans
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
Black and white sesame seeds

Hot cooked white rice

For the chicken, combine the first 8 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Place in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add chicken to bag and seal. Marinate in the refrigerator at least 2 hours, turning occasionally.

Place the chicken and marinade in an electric slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 6-7 hours.

During the last 30 minutes of cooking time, prepare white rice and Chinese long beans. For the long beans, trim the ends of the beans and cut into shorter lengths (optional). Heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan or wok. Saute the beans for one minutes, then flip and sauté the other side for 1 minute. Turn the heat down to medium and add 1-2 tablespoons of water, then cover and let steam for 2-3 minutes (depending on the size of the beans). Uncover and let any remaining water evaporate, then add the garlic and shallot and stir fry for one minute more.

Serve the beans with white rice, chicken thighs, and sauce spooned over the chicken. Garnish the beans with sesame seeds and serve.

Friday, August 24, 2012


Gazpacho is a famous soup that originated in the southern Spanish region of Andalucia.  It's unique for three reasons - it's raw, it's served cold, and it requires the freshest of vegeables so summer is the only time to make it.  This is the soup that I think about in the middle of winter because it embodies all the goodness of summer food in my mind.

 I've seen recipes for gazpacho that start with tomato juice as the base, but I wanted to make one absolutely from scratch with nothing but produce from the farm stand that day.  I found some beautiful Black Krim heirloom tomatoes (see my post from a few weeks back regarding heirlooms and black tomatoes in particular) that I knew would have great taste but I was a little worried that they would make the gazpacho look weird if used exclusively so I mixed them with normal red tomatoes. 

This is definitely a time to haul out your food processor for all the chopping.  It's a little messy but the recipe makes a lot of soup and it's so refreshing when it's hot out.  You just feel healthier when you eat it and it would be a great way to sneak more vegetables into your family's diet without them realizing it.

We happened to have some goldfish crackers on hand so I had the inspiration for a garnish.  Notice that my goldfish are swimming happily along (above).  To no one's great surprise, The Lawyer had a different idea.  He explained that the whales had driven the fish into a tight school and were taking turns driving up from the depths in the middle to feed so the fish were trying to get away.  Apparently someone has been watching a little too much Planet Earth.

You could use herb croutons as a nice garnish instead but it won't be nearly as dramatic a story.  Serve the soup with a crusty baguette for a light dinner or with a sandwich for something a little more substantial.  This would also be an elegant first course for a summer party.  However you choose to serve it, be aware that it needs to chill for at least an hour so it needs to be made in advance.

* * click here for a printable recipe * *

Serves 6-8

9 large vine-ripened tomatoes
2 medium cucumbers (or one English cucumber), peeled, seeded and chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and black pepper
Small basil or parsley leaves, or small crackers or croutons for garnish (optional)

Dip the tomatoes into boiling water for about 30 seconds to loosen the skin, then place in ice water to cool. Core and peel the tomatoes, then cut in half and poke out the seeds and juice into a strainer set over a bowl. Reserve the juice and discard the seeds. Puree half of the tomatoes in a food processor or blender with half of the cucumbers, onion, bell pepper, and jalapeno. Coarsely chop the remaining tomatoes.

Combine the puree with the chopped tomatoes and the remaining cucumbers, onion, pepper and jalapeno in a large bowl. Add the olive oil, vinegar, Worcestershire and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill for at least one hour before serving. Taste again and adjust seasonings if needed.

Garnish with herbs, croutons or crackers if desired.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Summer Pasta Salad with Fresh Tuna

I've been posting quite a few salad recipes lately but I can't help it.  I love salads and they're so perfect for summer.  This version has pasta and grilled fresh tuna together with a lot of veggies so it's very healthy and very easy.  If you don't like grilled tuna you could always substitute a high-quality canned tuna or even grilled chicken and it would be equally good.  I just like to have fish on the menu at least once or twice a week because it's good for you and it gives variety to your diet.

Growing up in the Midwest we typically cooked all meats until they were shoe leather so we wouldn't get trichinosis or salmonella or whatever.  I had a revelation about tuna when I was attending a sales meeting on east coast at a seafood restaurant and was planning to order the tuna.  The guy sitting across from me lived in Maine and was an avid sport fisherman.  He looked at me and said "please don't order it medium-well or well done".  Really?  He explained that high quality tuna should be eaten raw, rare or medium-rare for the best flavor and texture.  I wasn't too sure about rare so I ordered medium-rare and was pleasantly surprised.  Since then I've progressed to rare on occasion but I'm still not a sushi person.  I've tried it several times but the texture gets me every time - it's just too mushy.  Don't get me wrong, I really want to like sushi.  I feel like any foodie worth their salt should like sushi.  I see little kids eating sushi in restaurants all the time, but the best I can manage is a California roll.  Embarrassing but true.  Anyway, buy the best quality tuna you can find - preferably fresh - and don't overcook it.

sashimi grade fresh yellowfin tuna
You could make this salad at any time of the year if you just substitute frozen corn for fresh - the rest of the ingredients are available year-round.  I used whole-wheat penne to boost the fiber a little more.  The salad can be served warm, room temperature or cold.

* * click here for a printable recipe * *

Summer Pasta Salad with Fresh Tuna
Serves 4

8 oz penne (regular or whole wheat)
1 lb fresh tuna steak, about ¾” thick
¼ cup olive oil
1 ear of fresh corn, husk and silk removed
1 jar (6-7 oz) roasted red peppers, chopped
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 small zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
1/3 cup pitted black olives, coarsely chopped
¼ cup roughly chopped parsley
2 lemons
2 tablespoons snipped chives
Salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and drop in the corn. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and let simmer for 8 minutes. Remove the corn from the pot and immediately submerge in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. After a minute or two, remove the corn from the water, pat dry, and cut the kernels from the cob.

In the same pot of boiling water, cook the penne until al dente. When the pasta is done drain it, rinse under cool water, and drain again.

In a large bowl combine the olive oil, peppers, red pepper flakes, corn, zucchini, olives, and parsley. Add the juice of one of the lemons. Mix again and add salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat a grill to highest heat. Grill the tuna for 1-2 minutes per side until it has nice grill marks but is still rare to medium-rare in the middle. Let rest for a few minutes, then cut in thin slices.

Serve the tuna slices on top of the pasta salad and garnish with chives. Cut the remaining lemon into quarters and serve with the salads.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Best Salsa Ever

If you would also like to see last year's post regarding how to roast and freeze tomatoes, click here or check the archive at left for August, 2011.

OK, I know I'm sticking my neck out a little to claim this is the best salsa ever, but let me tell you why.  Some of you have heard me talk about our community garden adventure and the fact that we grew 28 different varieties of tomatoes.  What I haven't mentioned is that we grew two plants for each variety in the event that one was broken in the wind or otherwise croaked.  So we had 56 tomato plants.  What started as a bunch of cute little plants in spring turned into a veritable tomato tsunami in late summer that washed from the garden into our kitchen.  In addition to roasting tomatoes, eating tomatoes and giving tomatoes away, we tried probably 5 or 6 different salsa recipes over the years.  Most of them involved canning, which has the advantage of making lots of salsa at a time but it also involves specialized equipment and mass quantities of boiling water and steam at the hottest time of the year.

We chose our favorite recipe for a typical salsa and made it several years in a row.  But then I discovered this recipe, which I think came from celebrity chef Rick Bayless.  The flavor is entirely different from a typical salsa because all the ingredients are roasted until charred and then pureed, which gives it a smoky depth of flavor.  It's not watery like some homemade salsas, and it's not too thick like some of the popular store brands - it's just right.  (Sorry for the Goldilocks moment.)  An added bonus for the cilantro-haters out there is that it doesn't have any.  For the cilantro-lovers (like me), just put some cilantro in whatever you're serving with the salsa (like the quesadillas we're having tonight).  I would call the heat factor relatively mild, especially when served with chips or food.  Sampled by itself it will taste somewhat spicy but this is by no means a hot salsa.  It's meant to be smoky and warm, not hot.

The flavor is delicious and there's no canning involved - you just put the salsa into clean containers and freeze it.  It only takes about 30 minutes to make, and it's made in manageable quantities.  Here's all you need to make one batch, which makes about two cups of salsa.

 If you decide you really like it and want to make larger quantities, my suggestion is to make several batches rather than one big batch because if you crowd the broiler pan too much the vegetables will steam instead of charring properly, which is what gives them the smoky flavor.  (Not to mention that if you put more than one batch in the blender at a time you risk a salsa explosion all over your kitchen.)

 We make this every year now.  If you've never made salsa or even if you already have a favorite recipe, try this one and see what you think.  The ingredients are readily available at the farmers market or at the store and it's so easy to make it's almost foolproof.  Just be sure to tuck the garlic under the other ingredients before broiling so the garlic doesn't blacken along with everything else and turn bitter.  When it's hidden under something it steams and roasts and becomes mellow and sweet instead.

Not everything will char at the same rate.  At this point the jalapenos and garlic were ready to take out but the onion and tomatoes needed more time.

After a few more minutes under the broiler the onion and tomatoes were ready.

At some point during this process you will probably become deeply skeptical that it's going to work.  You'll look at that blackened mess and think there's no way it will ever turn into anything edible.

 Oh, ye of little faith.  Just add some water and turn on the blender.  You end up with a beautiful salsa with cool little charred specks.  It's magic.  And delicious!

* * click here for a printable recipe * *

Roasted Tomato Salsa
Yield: 2 cups

5 Roma (plum) tomatoes
8 garlic cloves, peeled
2 jalapeno peppers, stemmed and seeded
½ medium yellow onion, peeled and cut in half (2 quarters)
½ cup water
½ - 1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the broiler with a rack at the highest position possible without having the food touch the heating elements. Place the tomatoes, garlic, chiles and onion on a baking tray lined with foil. Tuck garlic under other vegetables to avoid blackening (they’re easiest to tuck under the jalapeno halves). Broil, turning frequently until well charred, about 15-20 minutes. You may need to take some of the vegetables out earlier than others for all to achieve the right amount of charring. Set aside to cool.

Core the tomatoes. With a rubber spatula, scrape the roasted ingredients and their juices (including the blackened skins) into a food processor or blender and puree with the water until smooth.

Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Keep refrigerated or may be frozen.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Smoky Peanut Mole with Pork Tenderloin

Mole (molay) is a sauce that originated in Mexico's colonial period that typically contains one or more types of chiles, ground nuts, tomatoes, spices, and sometimes chocolate.  (The word "mole" actually means sauce in Nahuatl so saying "mole sauce" is actually saying "sauce sauce".)  A mole can have 20, 30, or even more ingredients and is one of the classic sauces of the world.  I've tried mole a few times and was never that fond of the chocolate element in the sauce, plus some moles can be very heavy and smother the meat flavor. But I was watching a food network special the other day on "the best sauce I ever had" and Michael Chiarello (a famous chef from the Napa Valley) chose the mole served with pork at Rick Bayless' restaurant Frontera Grill in Chicago as his favorite sauce.  I'm a big admirer of Rick Bayless' Mexican cuisine so I was immediately curious.  After a few minutes of surfing I found the exact recipe and was happy to discover his version didn't contain chocolate and it "only" had 16 ingredients.  And it was served over grilled pork tenderloin, one of my favorite meats.  So I had to try it.  Of course.

First you should know that this sauce took a little over 90 minutes to prepare so plan accordingly.  It wasn't at all hard, it was just time consuming.  Thirty minutes are occupied with letting some chiles soak in water and another 45 minutes are spent letting the sauce reduce and stirring it once in a while.  I would estimate active prep time at around 40 minutes. Having said all that, it was SO worth it.  The sauce has a warm smoky richness without being heavy or overly spicy.  It complemented the grilled pork perfectly but it would also be great with chicken or turkey.  Rick Bayless scores again!

I wanted to pass along a few things I learned along the way.  First, the recipe doesn't specify whether the peanuts should be salted or not, and whether the chicken broth should be low-sodium or not.  I always err on the side of less salt so I used unsalted peanuts and unsalted broth.  You add salt at the end and I found 1 teaspoon to be the right amount with the unsalted products.

Second, I found dried ancho chiles in my regular store with other dried chiles.  You might also check the Mexican food aisle.  They look like this.

The recipe tells you to stem and seed the chiles, then tear them into flat pieces so you can toast them briefly in a dry skillet to develop a smoky flavor.  The torn chiles look like this.
The other chile in the recipe is canned chipotles in adobo, which is readily found in most stores' Mexican aisle.

The final tip I wanted to pass along is my new favorite "how did I ever live without this" gadget called a Thermapen.  I stumbled across it on another food blog and learned it's the instant thermometer of choice for most competitive BBQ enthusiasts and many professional chefs, so I had to have one. What makes it so great is the really thin probe that can measure the temperature of even the thinnest piece of fish, plus the fact that it reads temperature in 3 seconds flat.   The Lawyer uses it every time he grills and thinks it really helps take the guesswork out of grilling.  He used it for the pork tenderloin in this recipe and it came out absolutely perfect - tender, moist, and slightly pink in the center. 

The thermometer turns on when the probe is opened, then turns off when it's folded back into the body for storage - couldn't be easier.  If you're a serious food person or you've ever had trouble deciding whether a chicken or turkey or roast was done, you need this.  You might not know it, but you do.  You can check it out at   I don't receive anything by endorsing it but I highly recommend it anyway. 

Try the mole.  It's one of the famous, classic dishes of the world, and rightly so. Now is a good time if you have tomatoes in your garden, plus it's another one of those food adventures we like to have.

* * click here for a printable recipe * *

Smoky Peanut Mole with Pork Tenderloin
Serves 6

2 medium dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ small white onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled
8 ounces (1 medium-large round or 3-4 plum) ripe tomatoes
1 cup dry roasted peanuts, plus additional chopped for garnish
2 slices firm white bread, torn into pieces
2 canned chipotle chiles en adobo, seeded
½ teaspoon cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican
1/3 teaspoon allspice, preferably freshly ground
About 3 ½ cups chicken broth
½ cup fruity red wine
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 bay leaves
Salt to taste
2 (1-lb) pork tenderloins
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
Cilantro for garnish

Tear the dried ancho chiles into flat pieces. Heat an ungreased skilled over medium heat and add the chile pieces. Briefly press the chiles down with a spatula. Listen for a crackling noise and watch for the color to change. Do not allow the chiles to start smoking – a burnt taste will significantly change the flavor of the mole. Place the toasted chiles in a small bowl, cover with hot water, and let soak for 30 minutes. Pour off the water.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add white onion and garlic cloves. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions and garlic are browned, about 10 minutes. Scoop the onions and garlic into a blender.

Preheat the broiler with a rack at the highest level. Remove the core from the tomatoes and place on a baking sheet lined with foil. Place under the broiler for 5 minutes, turn the tomatoes, and broil for an additional 5 minutes until the skin of the tomatoes is blackened. When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel the skin off and place the entire tomatoes, juices included, into the blender.

Add the peanuts, bread, chipotles, drained ancho chiles, allspice, and cinnamon to the blender. Add 1 ½ cups chicken broth and blend until the mixture is smooth. Add a little more chicken broth if the blades of the blender aren’t running smoothly. Put the mixture through a medium-mesh strainer into a bowl.

In the same large saucepan used to cook the onion and garlic, heat 1 tablespoon canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the peanut puree. Stir continuously for about 5 minutes as the mixture thickens and darkens. Stir in 2 cups chicken broth, red wine, cider vinegar, and bay leaves. Turn the heat down to medium-low, partially cover the pot, and let the mixture simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring regularly.

Taste the mole and season with salt (1/2 – 1 ½ teaspoons) and sugar. Remove the bay leaves. Keep warm.

Preheat the grill to high heat. Rub pork tenderloins with olive oil and season generously with kosher salt and pepper. Place on the grill and sear each side, about 2 minutes per side. Turn the heat down to medium-high and cook for an additional 7-12 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 145-150 degrees. Let the pork rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Serve several pieces of the pork with the mole sauce and garnish with chopped peanuts and cilantro.