Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sweet and Sour Pork and Bok Choy

We got some bok choy in our CSA recently, and I wanted to find a way to highlight it in a meal. Elspeth has liked the flavor in the past, but has also found the texture a bit puzzling. I decided to get out the handy-dandy food processor once more and see if finely processing the bok choy would make the veggie easier to consume but also still retain its flavor. We had some ground pork from the farmers' market in the freezer, so I thought I'd try to make an analog to the Teriyaki Ground Turkey and Vegetables dish that's become somewhat of a surprise hit in our repertoire. I knew I could use the teriyaki sauce again, but I wanted to try something new. (Why I wanted to try something new on a day when it was supposed to get to nearly 90 degrees F is a whole other story, but relates to the fact that 90 was the coolest it's supposed to be this week!). I wanted to go in a Chinese direction.

My all-time favorite Chinese cookery writer is Fucshia Dunlop, a British national who went to cooking school in Sichuan province. Her Sichuan cookbook Land of Plenty is a fantastic read as well as a wonderful source of information about Sichuan ingredients and tasty Sichuanese recipes. (I loved her memoir Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, as well, and, to my delight, I found out just now that she also has a blog http://www.fuchsiadunlop.com/blog/). The index of Land of Plenty didn't yield anything promising for bok choy, so I decided to look under pork. I wanted some sort of sauce that could go with the ground pork and vegetable. She has an excellent sauce she recommends for dipping wontons, but the chili oil component might not work for Elspeth. I finally hit upon her Sweet and Sour Pork recipe. She uses pork tenderloin and employs quite a different method from the one I wanted to use, but I knew the sauce recipe was a good contender. Thanks to my gluten-free experimentation, I even had potato starch on hand.

I decided to serve the pork and bok choy over brown rice. I can tell you with confidence that cooking brown rice in the microwave is not a good idea. I didn't want the stove to be on for the 40 minutes it takes to cook brown rice, and God knows I wasn't going to make the wonderful oven-baked brown rice that I make in winter time (or any time it's not over 80 degrees). I was heartened by a post on the Home Cooking board of chowhound from a very reputable poster about his success with microwave brown rice. Alas, the technique yielded a very wet bowl of rice, though I will say that the texture of the actual grains of rice was fine.

Couple this loose brown rice with the fact that I got carried away on the quantity of sauce needed for my pork and bok choy, and you end up with a meal of the consistency I like to call 'slop'. Sigh. It's very tasty slop, I'll grant, but let's just say I wouldn't make it the focus of a dinner party. Next time I would not double Dunlop's sauce recipe and I have given her original quantities here.

I wasn't sure how Elspeth would react to this meal. It is on the sweeter side, which she likes in dishes like that Teriyaki Ground Turkey and Vegetables recipe. However, the flavor profile is unlike anything she'd ever had before, largely due to the Chinese black vinegar. Thankfully, she seemed to like it and ate a reasonable portion even though her appetite has been dented by the heat. (Did I mention that it's hot? Or that we really dislike heat in this family?) If I were making this dish for adults or spice-loving children, I'd be tempted to add some chili oil or Sichuan chilis to the dish for an extra flavor element. I might also be tempted to reduce the amount of sugar very slightly, though if I didn't have such a large amount of sauce that might not be an issue. I'm going to (microwave) steam some cabbage we have on hand and add that to our next round to help give more depth of flavor.

1 TBSP neutral flavored oil (you could use chili oil here)
2-3 tsp garlic, minced or put through a press
1 inch piece fresh ginger, minced, put through a press, or grated on a microplane
1 lb ground pork
1 lb bok choy (or some sort of green cabbage)--1 lb is a guess, so use your judgment on the pork to veggie ratio you prefer
3/4 c. ginger-infused chicken stock or regular low-sodium chicken stock
1 tsp sesame oil
3 scallions, green parts only, sliced on the diagonal (optional--I didn't use any)

1/4 tsp salt
3 TBSP sugar (or evaporated cane juice)
2 TBSP Chinese black vinegar or Chinkiang vinegar
1 tsp light soy sauce
2 1/2 tsp potato starch OR 3 3/4 tsp cornstarch

  1. Whisk together the sauce ingredients and set aside
  2. Clean the bok choy and grind in a food processor until a uniform texture. You could use chopped bok choy if you prefer, of course, but might wish to add the stems first then the leaves to the skillet
  3. Heat the oil in a medium to large skillet over medium heat
  4. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for a minute or two
  5. Add the pork and bok choy and saute until the pork is fully cooked
  6. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil
  7. Re-whisk the sauce ingredients and add to the skillet, stirring. The liquid should start to thicken almost immediately
  8. Add the sesame oil and scallions if using, give the mixture a stir, and serve over rice

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Gluten-Free Tart Crust and Two Fillings

My husband's family all lives in town, and we celebrate everything with dinner. We all trade hosting duties. The host provides the main course and the rest of the guests provide the rest. There are only 9 adults who attend regularly these days, so it's a manageable size and everyone loves the entertainment that our toddler provides. One of the family has recently been diagnosed with celiac disease and tomorrow will be the first family celebration since then. We're all in agreement that we want to make a meal that the entire family can enjoy (rather than make a special, different meal for our celiac sufferer). I'm often on dessert duty and was excited to see what I could come up with. Though it would be easy to make a dessert that never would have had gluten in the first place, I wanted to experiment with a dessert that traditionally would contain the offending substance.

I can take no credit for the gluten-free tart crust recipe except for that of being able to find it on the Internet (via glutenfreegirl, I think). I wasn't sure if I should reproduce the recipe here or send people to its source at Hey, that tastes good! In the end, I decided to reproduce it here for convenience while giving full credit to Jill Elise (and her sources, The Joy of Cooking and Smitten Kitchen's version of Dorie Greenspan).

I was really impressed with how it came out. If I didn't know it was gluten-free, I couldn't guess. Maybe it's a bit crisper, but flavor-wise it's what I would expect from a pâte sablée.

My original plan was to fill this tart crust with the glorious raspberry tart inspired by Ruth Reichl's recipe in Tender at the Bone. The magic of the recipe she learned in France is that half the raspberries are baked into the tart and the other half are left raw and piled onto the tart. The combination of fresh raspberry and jammy cooked raspberry is divine. However, the recipe itself gave me problems. I consider myself an intermediate baker and a good direction-follower (in baking, anyway). Yet each time I made this tart, it refused to set in the middle. Enter Deborah Madison. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone has a prune tart that I thought would be easily and deliciously adapted to a raspberry tart, and I was right.

I've also had chocolate pie on the brain. Cook's Illustrated periodically tries to upsell me by sending me sample copies of their sister magazine Cook's Country. I find this magazine a bit too country for me, but this particular sample issue had a recipe for French Silk Chocolate Pie and I found my mouth watering. When our dinner gathering switched to brunch, I opted to change my tart to a chocolate one instead of having to procure raspberries from somewhere other than our favorite vendor at the farmers' market. The recipe is a bit of a pain in the ass because of all the time spent with a hand mixer over the stove, but I think it was worth it. Next time, I'd be tempted to add a slug of whisky (not sure where in the process, though, probably along with the eggs so the alcohol could cook out) or a bit of strong coffee.

Most of the recipes at Hey, that tastes good! use a rice flour mix. I made up a bunch to have for family dinners. The only difference in the proportions I'm giving here is that I use all brown rice flour instead of a 50-50 mix of brown and white, mainly because I don't want to have two kinds of rice flour on hand. She does a combination for economical reasons, which would be more important to me if I needed to cook gluten-free all the time. You will only need 3/4 cup of the mix for the crust, so you may wish to halve her usual amounts.

RICE FLOUR MIX: 2 c. brown rice flour, 2/3 c. potato starch, 1/3 c. tapioca

The dough was quite sticky (perhaps I overprocessed) and made more than could fit in my removable-bottom tart pan, so you may want to keep aside some of the dough to make tartlets. Mmm, tartlets.

3/4 c. rice flour mix
3/4 c. ground almonds (almond meal)
1/3 c. powdered sugar
large pinch of salt
scant 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
4 oz. (1/4 lb, 1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten

  1. Pulse dry ingredients in a food processor briefly
  2. Add the cold, cubed butter to the food processor and pulse until the mixture is coarse with lumps the size of peas
  3. While the processor is running, add the beaten egg. Mix just until the dough comes together
  4. Pat the dough into your tart pan and prick it all over with a fork
  5. Freeze for half an hour (Note: I always want to use my Pyrex pan for tarts, but I love this freezing method to help prevent shrinking. I switched to my metal pan because I don't want to risk shattering by putting the Pyrex directly from the freezer into a hot oven. I may be over-cautious but I'd hate to risk it)
  6. While the dough is cooling, preheat the oven to 375 (I think that next time I'd do 350)
  7. When the dough is cooled, place a large, greased piece of aluminum foil on it, shiny side down (to prevent overbrowning)
  8. Place the tart pan on a baking tray (for convenience) and bake in the oven for 25 minutes
  9. If you're going to make the raspberry tart, remove tart crust from oven, take off the foil and cool. Proceed with raspberry tart recipe
  10. If you're making the chocolate tart, you will need to bake the crust completely. At the 25 minute mark, remove the foil and continue baking. Start with 10 minutes and increase as needed until the crust is golden brown all over. (It tends to be darker than a traditional crust, possibly because of the almonds). Cool and proceed with the chocolate tart recipe

1 fully baked tart crust
4 c. raspberries, halved (it's okay for 2 c. of the raspberries to have been frozen, but do thaw them first. You really need fresh raspberries for the topping, though)
1/2 c. crème fraîche
1 egg
1/2 c. sugar
1 c. ground almonds (almond meal)

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  2. Cover the bottom of your par-baked tart crust with 2 cups of raspberries (fresh or previously-frozen)
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients
  4. Pour over the raspberries in the tart crust
  5. Bake until the custard is set (puffed and golden), about 35 minutes
  6. Remove from the oven and cool completely (I like this tart best cold)
  7. Just before serving, heap the remaining 2 cups fresh raspberries on top of the tart
You could also use just a regular (or gluten-free) pie crust instead of a tart crust

1 fully-baked tart or pie shell
1 c. whipping cream (cold)
3/4 c. evaporated cane juice
2 TBSP water (hmm, I forgot this when I made it and it seemed to turn out okay)
8 oz. 70% (or more) cocoa chocolate (I used Theo's Jane Goodall bars)
1 TBSP vanilla extract
8 oz. (1/2 lb, 1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and softened

  1. Whip the cream to stiff peaks and then refrigerate
  2. Melt the chocolate and set aside (I used the microwave and started with 2 minutes at 70% power)
  3. Set a small amount of water in the bottom of a double boiler to simmer
  4. In the top of the double boiler, combine the eggs, sugar and water and set on top of the barely-simmering water. Ensure that the bottom of the bowl does not make contact with the water
  5. Using an electric mixer on medium, beat the eggs, water and sugar in the double boiler until it is thick and creamy. The temperature of the mixture needs to reach 160 degrees to make sure the eggs are absolutely safe. This took longer than the 7-10 minutes suggested by Cook's Country, possibly because I was too conservative with the water temperature
  6. Turn off the stove and remove the top of the double boiler to set it on a counter. Continue beating with the electric mixer until the custard is at room temperature and very fluffy, about 8 minutes
  7. Now add the chocolate and vanilla extract to the room temperature custard and mix until well-blended
  8. Beat in the softened butter, a few pieces at a time, until the mixture is glossy and smooth (I only had 7 TBSP of butter on hand and didn't miss the extra 1 TBSP at all)
  9. Now, fold in the chilled whipped cream until there are no white streaks left
  10. Pour the filling into the prepared tart shell. If there is any left over, just put it in little bowls to chill and eat as pudding later
  11. Refrigerate the tart and any pudding cups at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours
  12. Serve with whipped cream and garnish with fresh berries if in season (cherries, raspberries, strawberries, even blueberries would be good)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Summer Smoothie

I suppose that this recipe isn't that much different than the guidelines already published in my first Smoothie post. However, there is some new information I'd like to share.

In my original post, I'd speculated that avocado might be a good addition to a smoothie, but I hadn't yet tried it. Since then, I can confirm that avocado works beautifully, so if you're wanting to get some quality fat and calories into yourself or your loved one, I recommend using them. Thanks to a Trader Joe's Frequent Flyer, I got the idea of freezing avocados. This had never occurred to me before, but it's brilliant. The days of Elspeth eating 1/4 to 1/2 an avocado per day are over now that she's eating all the foods we do, so it's hard for us to use up an avocado without it getting nasty. Freezing comes to the rescue--there is no discoloration or anything. My guess is that a previously-frozen avocado is best used in mashed or blended form, but that's how we're most likely to want to use it anyway. My plan is to quarter and peel a ripe avocado, tray freeze it, and then store in a freezer bag for easy use in smoothies.

The other thing about avocados is that, while we can't get locally grown ones, they do at least grow in California. Bananas, our other common smoothie 'smoother' do not. So if I want to decrease the amount of tropical fruit we consume, avocado is a great substitution. (Not to mention the fact that I'm rather squeamish about overripe bananas).

There is no real need to use frozen ingredients in the smoothie; I simply think that the texture is really nice when using frozen items (the avocado or the berries, etc). What I did in this case was pit and quarter my apricots and my cherries and then stick them in the freezer for an hour or so until I was ready to make the smoothie. So nice to use the bounty from the farmers' market.

I use the nut-soaking shortcut almost exclusively now because Elspeth doesn't decide a day in advance what she's going to want for breakfast the next day.

INGREDIENTS (for 2 servings of smoothie)
1/2 c. raw almonds plus water to cover
3/4 to 1 c. water
1/4 to 1/2 avocado
2 apricots, pitted, quartered and lightly frozen
1 large handful cherries, pitted and lightly frozen
2-4 TBSP multi-grain cereal (optional)
1 TBSP ground flaxseed (optional)
1-2 TBSP agave nectar (optional)

  1. Place the nuts in a medium bowl and cover them with water. Microwave them at 50% power for 5 minutes and then let them sit for another 5
  2. Place the nuts, the 3/4 to 1 c. water and the avocado in a blender and process until very smooth. You should scrape down the mixture once; you may need to add a bit more water
  3. Add remaining ingredients and process until the mixture has no lumps
  4. Adjust texture and sweetness as needed and serve

Friday, July 17, 2009

Agave Limeade

I feel I must post a link to the Whole Life Nutrition website, as I have adopted and adapted so many of their recipes for my kitchen. Here is yet another, for limeade using agave (or honey). We had a bag of limes from Trader Joe's lying around and Elspeth was a bit peeved that Evan and I were having a couple of Pimm's No. 1 Cups (well, peeved that we wouldn't share with her, that is), so I decided to make her her own special drink. She was unsure at first, but seemed to warm up to it. She skipped the limeade part and just referred to it as 'gaveh nekar'. Both Evan and I liked it a lot. I didn't make any adaptations except for making a larger batch. I also skipped making the raspberry ice cubes because I'm lazy that way.

3/4 c. freshly-squeezed lime juice
3/8 c. agave nectar (or honey)
6 c. water

Mix all ingredients in a pitcher and stir. Taste and adjust sweetness, if needed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Simple Blueberry Muffins

We've just started blueberry season here and scored ourselves half a flat of organic beauties at the farmers' market. Though in some ways it seems a shame to cook such wonderful gems, it's hard to beat a good blueberry muffin. There are tons of good recipes out there and this one is not going to set the world on fire with its innovation. But if you're looking for a good-tasting, easy recipe (that would be fun to make with kids, if you're so inclined), this one works for us. I got the original recipe out of or that infamous Betty Crocker (or was it Better Homes and Gardens) cookbook whence came the Snickerdoodles and Russian Teacakes recipes, but I've made a few modifications over the years, mainly because I increased the batch due to the fact that my muffins must be bigger than the recipe-writer's.

I don't health-food these up too much. If you want to throw in flaxseed or wheat germ or cornmeal, go ahead.

This recipe also works brilliantly with huckleberries, the tart and translucent relative of the blueberry. You can use either the purple or the red kind.

2 eggs
1 c. milk
1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 1/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 c. organic evaporated cane juice sugar
1 TBSP baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 c. fresh or frozen blueberries (I never bother to thaw first if using frozen)

  1. Make sure oven rack is in the center and preheat oven to 400 degrees; prepare a muffin tray
  2. Stir together the flour, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs lightly
  4. Add the milk and the vegetable oil, mixing well after each addition
  5. Stir in the sugar and beat until well mixed
  6. Add the dry ingredients you'd set aside and stir until the batter is just moistened
  7. Fold in the blueberries
  8. Distribute the batter evenly into the muffin cups and place in the oven
  9. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the muffins are well-risen with a nicely golden cap
  10. Serve warm (we like to reheat leftovers in the toaster oven--they also freeze well)

Warm Almond Drink with Spices

This tasty treat really hit the spot for me when I first brought Elspeth home. It's yet another recipe from Whole Life Nutrition. The authors call it Warming Raspberry Leaf Almond Drink. If it's hot where you are, I bet it would also be nice iced, kind of like iced chai or horchata.

The original intention behind the recipe is to 'nourish breastfeeding mothers, especially in the early postpartum stage'. Our dear friend made this for me in my 'third day crazies' stage of motherhood and it may well have saved my sanity even if it had an unquantifiable effect on my milk production.

You essentially make your own almond milk first and then make the spiced tea part of it. Thus, you could streamline by using prepared almond milk. If it is sweetened, simply omit the honey in the recipe. And if you're not a nursing new mom, it would still be delicious without the raspberry leaves, so you could further decrease the amount of time to prepare this soothing beverage.

4 c. water
1 c. raw almonds, ground to a fine powder

2 c. water
2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
3 sticks cinnamon
4 whole cloves
2 tsp fennel seeds
3 tbsp dried raspberry leaves

1/3 c honey or to taste

  1. Place four cups of the water in a pot with the ground almonds and cover. Bring to a boil and simmer on low for 30 minutes (still covered)
  2. In a smaller pot, combine remaining 2 cups of water with the ginger, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and fennel seeds and simmer for 30 minutes, covered
  3. Remove the pot from the heat and add the raspberry leaves
  4. Let steep, covered, for 10-20 minutes
  5. Strain the herb mixture into a blender (discard the herbs)
  6. Add the almond milk mixture to the blender and blend on high until very smooth
  7. Add the honey and blend an additional minute
  8. Strain drink through fine mesh strainer if desired (I don't bother)