Friday, December 25, 2015

Hot and Sour Soup

Last Year's Post: Cheddar Olives
Two Years Ago:  Spanakopita

I'm a big fan of hot and sour soup, and order it almost every time I see it on a menu - it's sort of my test to determine the quality of an Asian restaurant.  I've discovered a lot of really bad soup along the way - bland, gummy, or just plain tasteless - which is really sad because hot and sour soup should be just the opposite:  hot in both temperature and spiciness with eye-popping vinegar and rich broth.  It's perfect for cold temperatures and/or cold and flu season.

I was really happy when I came across this recipe in Saveur magazine many years ago because it's everything hot and sour soup aspires to, and I've been making it ever since.  I typically serve it with egg rolls for a light dinner and once (and only once) made both the soup and homemade egg rolls on the same day.  After work, no less.  I don't think we ate before 9pm that night and needless to say I now either make one or both in advance, or buy frozen egg rolls (gasp).  Obviously I'm not as emotionally vested in egg rolls as I am in hot and sour soup.

The recipe is easy to make but there are two things to note.  First, it calls for 4 ounces of lean pork (such as pork tenderloin or pork chops), but you won't find an amount that small to buy.  You can either buy a larger amount and reserve the rest for something else, or first make a pork dinner and reserve 4 ounces of leftover cooked pork for the soup.  Both ways work fine.  If you use cooked pork,  just add it later in the cooking process.

The second thing is the white pepper - don't be tempted to substitute black pepper and don't leave it out - it's an essential ingredient that adds heat and unique flavor to the soup.  It's worth the trouble to find it at a store.  Some major grocery stores carry it as do specialty grocery stores, Asian markets, and my favorite spice store Penzeys.

This is the best hot and sour soup I've ever had and I highly recommend trying it.
Hot and Sour Soup
Serves 4-6

Note:  the recipe assumes you start with raw pork.  If using leftover cooked pork, follow the directions except add the pork with the taro or potato, mushrooms and tofu rather than earlier.

For the pork:
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon brandy
1 teaspoon cornstarch
¼ pound lean pork, cut into ¼” dice (see note)

For the soup:
3 tablespoons cornstarch
8 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon coarse salt
¼ cup cubed peeled taro or potato
6 shiitake or wood ear mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and cut into ¼” dice
10-12 ounces firm tofu, drained and cut into ¼” dice
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon toasted Asian sesame oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

For the pork:  combine soy sauce, brandy and cornstarch in a small bowl; add pork and mix well.  Let marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes.

For the soup:  combine cornstarch and ¼ cup water in a small bowl.  Put stock, soy sauce, vinegar, white pepper, cayenne and salt into a large pot.  Stir in cornstarch mixture.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add pork, reduce heat to medium-low, and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until soup has thickened, about 30 minutes.  Add taro or potatoes, mushrooms, and tofu and gently simmer until taro or potatoes are tender, 15-20 minutes.

Slowly drizzle egg into simmering soup in a thin, steady stream (don’t stir as you pour or the egg will form clumps).  When egg strands float to the surface, stir in oil.  Serve, garnishing soup with cilantro.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Italian Grilled Seafood Salad

Last Year's Post: Kale and Pancetta Salad
Two Years Ago:  Brie & Pomegranate Toasts

Seafood salads are a staple of Italian Christmas Eve dinners.  This one instantly transports you to Sicily with its combination of radicchio, orange and kalamata olives in addition to the shrimp and squid.  If you're like me and slightly squeamish about eating tentacles, make the salad with all shrimp instead.  (My Italian friend Angela is probably gasping in horror.)  Either way, it's a very healthy entree salad.  The sweet orange balances the slightly bitter radicchio, and the meaty olives and smoky seafood make it completely satisfying and perfect for a light dinner.

If you're not familiar with radicchio (rah-dee-kee-oh),  it's a leaf chicory (whatever that is) and it looks like this.

You'll find it with the vegetables in the produce section.  When I was going through the check-out line, the cashier (who I've seen there many times before) actually picked it up and said "I've never seen this before.  What is it?"  Really?  Anyway, it reminds me somewhat of cabbage in terms of texture.  The bitterness adds a nice element to salads that also have a sweet note.

Start by briefly marinating and then grilling some beautiful shrimp (and squid...if you're that type of person).

Next, prep the radicchio and greens.

Layer on the orange segments, juice of the orange, olive oil, and olives.

Finally add the shrimp on top.  The whole process takes less than 30 minutes and is very simple, but the result is special.

Italian Grilled Seafood Salad
Serves 4-6

Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ pound fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed, rinsed and patted dry
¾ pound squid, cleaned and patted dry (or substitute more shrimp)
½ cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
2 cups baby arugula, washed and dried
1 cup radicchio, sliced
A good handful of Italian parsley leaves (about a ½ cup), washed and dried
1 orange

In a large bowl, add the zest and juice of the lemon, garlic, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil; season with salt and pepper.  Add the shrimp and squid (if using) and mix to combine.  Marinate for 10 minutes.

Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium-high.  Place the seafood on the grill and cook until grill marks develop and the seafood is cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. (Tip: skewering the pieces helps in flipping.)  Remove from the grill and set aside.

Place the arugula, radicchio and parsley in a large shallow bowl or platter.  Peel the orange with a knife and cut each segment out between the membranes.  Drop the segments on top of the greens, then squeeze the orange over the salad to get as much juice as possible.  (Discard what’s left of the orange.) Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with freshly ground black pepper.  Place the olive and shrimp on top and serve.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Sugar Snap Pea Salad

Last Year's Post: Bang Bang Turkey
Two Years Ago:  Sausage and Cheddar Breakfast Strata

I saw this interesting treatment for sugar snap peas on a food network show and just had to try it.  The original recipe was supposedly for a side salad but I made it heartier by adding Gruyere cheese and walnuts in addition to the pancetta and sugar snaps, which made a great and satisfying dinner.  You could certainly serve it as a side salad if you want and probably eliminate the pancetta and cheese.  (Or not.)  It would be particularly spectacular on a holiday buffet table, don't you think?  Don't make the mistake of thinking this is some wimpy food just because it's a salad based on a vegetable.  It has BIG flavor and BIG crunch.

The treatment for the sugar snaps is really easy - blanch in boiling water for 15 seconds to set the color, then shock in ice water to stop the cooking.  Remove, pat dry, and cut in half lengthwise.  The result is really pretty and some of the peas stay in the pods and some fall out, giving your salad some textural contrast.  I love it.

Pancetta is my new-found substitute for bacon because one of my pet peeves is how thick bacon has become. Why does everything have to be super-sized?  One of the great things about bacon is (was) its crispness.  When you have thick-cut bacon (or even worse, slab bacon) the best you can possibly hope for is chewy and greasy.  I once went to a new restaurant and was excited when they asked me whether I wanted my bacon medium or well done.  I should have known just by the question.  The bacon was definitely well done but it was so thick that the result was a literally inedible piece of bacon jerky.  Pancetta, on the other hand, is available in your deli aisle and is cut beautifully and elegantly thin.  The only downside is that it's so thin that it can go from perfect to burnt in about 2.3 seconds.  Mine was about 1 second away from being burnt but it was perfectly crisp and tasted just like great bacon.  The lesson here is keep an eye on your pancetta even though I reduced the roasting time in the recipe slightly when I re-wrote it.  I wandered away and was busy being entranced by the sugar snaps until the pancetta timer went off.  Do as I say, not as I do.

oof, that was close....
The Lawyer pronounced this salad "really, really good" so that's good enough for me.

print recipe
Sugar Snap Pea Salad
Serves 4 as a main dish, more as a side dish

¼ pound pancetta, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
1 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed
½ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup minced red onion
½ cup Gruyere cheese, cut into small cubes (or your favorite cheese)
½ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Place the pancetta slides on a baking pan and roast for 7-8 minutes until browned and crisp, watching closely so they don’t burn.  Remove from the oven and place the pancetta on paper towels to drain.

Meanwhile, bring 2-3 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add 1 teaspoon of salt.  Fill a large bowl with ice water and have a large sieve or colander ready in the sink.  Put the snap peas in the boiling water for 15 seconds, then immediately drain and put into the ice water.  Cool completely, drain and pat dry.  Cut each snap pea in half lengthwise and place in a large bowl.

To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, and lemon juice.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Add the red onion, cheese and walnuts to the bowl with the snap peas and crumble the pancetta over the top.  Pour enough vinaigrette on the salad to moisten and toss well.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Southwest Eggrolls (baked not fried)

Last Year's Post: Beer Cheese
Two Years Ago:  Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

I found this recipe online as a Chili's Copycat for their Southwest-Style Eggrolls at a "top secret recipes" website, and the guy really nailed it - the flavor is just like the restaurant version.  I made one important change to make it healthier because I don't want to deep-fry anything:  I made it using phyllo dough and baked it until crisp and brown.  The result was fabulous and reminded me not only of those famous eggrolls, but also of a good restaurant chimichanga.  The eggrolls satisfied my Mexican cravings without a trip to the nearest Mexican restaurant, which always involves mass quantities of chips and salsa in addition to re-fried beans, none of which are healthy.

There are a fair number of ingredients and a good amount of prep in the recipe, so if you like them I would suggest making a double batch and freezing some for the next time.  To minimize the prep, use already-cooked chicken from the deli and use your mini food processor to mince the bell pepper and onion.  Be sure to mince ingredients before measuring.  How do you know to measure before or after chopping?  If the recipe says "2 tablespoons minced green onion", mince it first.  If it says "2 tablespoons green onion, minced" measure it first.  Make sure everything is prepped before you start cooking the peppers and onions because it goes fast from there on out.

The filling can be assembled in advance, leaving just the wrapping and baking for the end.  Don't worry if the phyllo sheets crack a little here or there, they get rolled up so many times that you'll never know the difference.

You can make these normal size and cut them up for appetizers or leave them whole as an entree.  They're actually bigger than an eggroll - more like a smallish chimichanga.  You could also making a small version by cutting the phyllo sheets in half and using less filling which would make them easier to dunk and pop in your mouth.  Phyllo is very flaky and the edges will crumble as you cut or bite the eggroll, but to me the trade-off is well worth it to avoid deep frying.

The other nice thing about making the eggrolls yourself - besides the fact that they're much healthier -is that you can make them as spicy as you want.  This recipe is very slightly spicy (the restaurant version needs to please everyone) but you can make it spicier by adding more jalapenos or more cayenne.  And then you can have your very own, favorite recipe southwest eggrolls piping hot right at home.

print recipe
Southwest Eggrolls
Makes 8 large eggrolls

Note:  to freeze for later, assemble eggrolls and freeze, then place in a resealable bag.  To bake, thaw eggrolls and bake as directed.

For the eggrolls:
2 cooked chicken breasts (from a rotisserie chicken or leftovers), diced into small cubes
¼ cup minced red bell pepper
¼ cup minced green onion
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
¼ cup frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry, finely chopped
¼ cup diced canned jalapeno peppers
2/3 cup frozen corn
½ cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon minced cilantro (or substitute parsley)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 ½ cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
16 (9”x14”) sheets of phyllo dough (one sleeve from a package of frozen phyllo dough), thawed
Olive oil or olive oil spray, for brushing

For the avocado-ranch dipping sauce:
1 avocado
¾ - 1 cup ranch dressing

Preheat the vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add the red pepper and onion to the pan and sauté 1-2 minutes until tender.  Add the spinach next, stirring to break up clumps, then add the jalapenos and stir to combine.  Next add the corn and black beans and stir gently, then add the cilantro and spices and stir one final time.  Remove from the heat and let cool.  When completely cool, add the shredded cheese and stir to combine.

Note:  the filling can be made in advance.  Cover and refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 425d.

When ready to assemble, remove the phyllo sheets from the wrapper and place flat on a work surface.  Immediately cover with a damp towel to make sure they don’t dry out.  Remove one phyllo sheet and place on a second work surface, keeping the remaining sheets covered with the towel.  Brush the sheet with olive oil or lightly spray with olive oil cooking spray.  Top with a second phyllo sheet and brush or spray with oil again.  Working with the short side nearest you, place a heaping ½ cup of filling on the lower part of the sheet leaving a 1” margin on the bottom and sides.  Fold the phyllo from the bottom up over the filling, then fold in 1” on both sides and roll up completely.  Place wrap seam side down on a baking sheet lined with foil; brush with oil.  Repeat with the remaining filling, phyllo sheets and oil.

Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown.  Let stand 5 minutes to cool.  While the eggrolls are baking, remove the avocado from its shell and mash, then combine with the ranch dressing.

Serve the eggrolls with the sauce on the side.