March 29, 2005

armenian easter bread

En route to dim sum at Shangri-La in Belmont, which by the way is a fantastic Chinese restaurant in the least likely of settings (the name! the weird black & white mosaic tile entry! the T-shirt printery next door!) where we had some spicy beef noodle soup that contained some absolutely top-shelf beef that was soft, moist and still marbled with tender connective tissue despite its long stewing time (better than our own beef by a long shot), and also some fried string bread and spicy steamed spare ribs and soft boiled dumplings in spicy soy sauce that I know as suan la chow show from having had them at Mary Chung's. Where was I? Oh yes -- en route to this deliciousness, I saw a woman walking past us carrying a large cake or bread ring studded with red orbs. It looked rather festive and very intriguing, and I suspected it may have emanated from the Eastern Lamejun Bakery next door to Shangri-La.

Of course I was not able to resist. I scoped out the goods while waiting for our table, and scooped up the goods as soon as we were done with lunch. We ate the treasure with friends who came over that evening with fancy cheeses & wines. It turned out to be a firm, sweet, light, eggy bread like challah but a bit dryer and sweeter, with a very nice flavor and a touch of sesame seeds on top. The orbs, as surmised, were hardboiled eggs dyed red, presumably for some kind of Easter symbolism (I am not so up on my specific Christian-pagan imagery). It's too bad that organized religion is responsible for so much evil in the world, because the rituals and celebratory foods are really quite delightful.

Posted by foodnerd at 10:33 AM | Comments (1)

March 28, 2005

casablanca kicks ass again

For years I have been eating at Casablanca in Harvard Square, and it has never yet disappointed me. The menu is hard to describe, sort of a pan-mediterranean quasi-north African flavor, with simple food in creative combinations, prepared perfectly.

For instance, tonight I had a dish I have had once before and was unable to resist ordering a second time: grilled bluefish over black chickpea puree and green beans, with yogurt sauce. This time the fish had a pomegranate-citrus glaze and a lemony sauce along with the yogurt. The tangy, sweet, earthy, nutty, creamy flavors all blend perfectly with the rich fish, and the green beans are bright green yet soft, and add a fresh clean flavor to the complex richness of everything else on the plate. Tallasiandude used to think he disliked bluefish until he tasted my dinner tonight.

Fish here is always utterly fresh and delicious, and cooked perfectly. Normally I won't ever order fish in the first place, because it generally is not fresh or not cooked well or both, and it's just a depressing waste of time, but at Casablanca I eat fish more often than not. Tallasiandude and D both had the poached sole, mild and clean, glowing white against a pool of black rice, black trumpet mushrooms and yellow foot mushrooms in a dark-colored but light-flavored broth, with brussels sprouts & cipollini onions. Very different from the richness of my fish, but nearly as lovely. And B had a stunner of a dish: venison with braised pears, toasted hazelnuts, sauteed spinach, blue cheese, and a sweet orange vegetable in phyllo that we think was honeyed butternut squash. The sauce was very thin and slightly sweet, not syrupy but just enough to set off the lean meatiness of the venison. The dish would not have worked as well with beef, but with venison it was tone perfect.

Even simple salads and starters are great here. Tallasiandude had romaine hearts with parmesan cream and a soft poached egg & crostini; he gave me the olives because he hates them, but loved the rest of the dish. My salad was frisee and endive with pink grapefruit, walnuts and aged goat cheese. I loved it, and the flavor combo was terrific, but I am a cheese whore and would have gone easier on the walnuts and upped the cheese, which got a little lost. D had a grilled portobello which he adored, and B had a gorgeous velvet-brown soup of caramelized fennel and potato.

I can't gush enough about this restaurant. The food is so good, and so *reliably* good. It's interesting AND satisfying. It's healthy: lots of vegetables and legumes and grains, and the portions are sane. And it's a fancy festive place with a relaxed atmosphere, so you can dress as you like -- even better, you can get the same food in the bar, which is louder and even more casual. If only every spendy restaurant was this good...

Posted by foodnerd at 12:27 AM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2005

chilli garden

Based on the contents of a long article in the Boston Globe food section, I have been wanting to check out Chilli Garden in Medford for a while now. And this weekend I got my chance, as I was planning to get together with S + D, old friends who live in Medford, for brunch. And hoo boy, it delivered.

Do not be dismayed by the first page of the menu, which is alarmingly standard Chinese-in-America offerings; turn the page and relax into 4 pages' worth of Sichuan dishes, many of them with an adorable little sputtering-cherry-bomb icon next to them indicating spicy heat. We had some pickled wild vegetable, dan dan noodles (SO good), and dumplings in spicy vinegar sauce. These dumplings were the best thing on a table full of great things. They were so fucking good I ate the sauce with a spoon, and my tablemates were gracious enough to let me have most of it. I love my friends.

We also had some shrimps in spicy sauce with broccoli & chunks of dried chile pepper, ma po tofu, and twice-cooked pork belly in black bean sauce with green peppers (not gross bell peppers, happily, but some sort of more delicately flavored slightly-spicy pepper). This last wasn't spicy, but the thin-sliced pork was terrific, very meaty and flavorful, and the fat was nice and soft and yielding, not at all stringy or icky in any way. (Again a waitress tried to steer me away from a fatty pork dish, and again I have been amply rewarded for my insistence. Let's hear it for fat pigs and their wondrous transformations by the cuisines of the world!)

Dessert's good too. We had black sesame rice balls, which are little mochi-like balls stuffed with sweet black sesame paste (identical to the sesame tea-cake tallasiandude brought back from China), and floated in hot syrup or water. They are DEE-licious. As it happens, I had this same dessert for the first time just last week, at Anna's Dessert House in Chinatown. The ones at Anna's were more syrupy sweet, while the ones at Chilli Garden were much finer & lighter. Yum yum yum.

I recommend you try this place out, and bring friends so you can have a wide selection of dishes. It's easy enough to get to by car, and it appears to be very close to the commuter rail stop as well, so no excuses. Keep them in business; I want to go back next time I am back in Boston for a visit.

Posted by foodnerd at 05:31 PM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2005

vegetarian times - feh!

My friend gave me some old magazines because she knows I'll read anything about food -- there were some Food & Wines (including the one I read on a plane and copied out a dozen recipes by hand because I was extra bored and they sounded good), and some Vegetarian Times. Now, I am no vegetarian but I have friends who are, and I can see how it might be appealing for a variety of reasons, so I try not to be a bigot about it. But this magazine SUCKS.

First of all, the nutrition is horrible: a meal of pasta with tomato-eggplant sauce is not "balanced perfectly" by a green salad and breadsticks. A recipe for pad thai has no protein whatsoever, neither eggs nor tofu. A committed vegetarian or vegan is going to need better than this to stay healthy.

Some of the recipes sound okay -- a curried red lentil & coconut milk soup for instance -- but most of them are pathetically boring. A reader-featured recipe is a dish of sauteed onion & red pepper braised with a can of white beans. As if a vegetarian with a week's worth of experience in the kitchen couldn't come up with that one. Please. The best recipes seem to be the ones cribbed from the cookbooks being pimped in "feature" articles.

And finally, the editorial is pretty poor. One article used the phrase "rein in" at least twice, and misspelled it "reign in" both times. That is just bone ignorance, and there are droves of competent copyeditors who would love the chance to work at a magazine; hire one, for heaven's sake. And I do wonder what articles on yoga and living simply have to do with anything about vegetarianism. It's more like this is a pamphlet for earnest crunchy wanna-bes who aren't quite sure how to get started.

When I compare this with the things that I find on vegetarians' blogs, like (which I would link to if the site was up), there's no contest. I didn't even notice Fae was vegetarian until she mentioned it, because all her recipes sounded so yummy. No matter what you eat or don't eat, there is no excuse for crappy food and poor nutrition, and magazines like this one are a scandal.

Posted by foodnerd at 03:23 PM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2005

just when you thought it couldn't get any worse

When the foodstuff itself is used as a marketing medium, something is horribly, HORRIBLY wrong. *shudder*

Posted by foodnerd at 03:56 PM | Comments (0)

March 24, 2005

boiled dinner, yum yum

Every March, the markets get in the gray corned beef, and therefore I make boiled dinner. There is not much from the WASPy side of my family that's worthy of a foodslut's repertoire, but this one is top-notch.

The thing to bear in mind is that you need to get gray corned beef, not red. My mother maintains that the red doesn't taste as good, and I tend to agree. Interestingly, my friend who joined us this year for boiled dinner said she normally doesn't like the salty meat when her family makes this dish, but that the meat we had was much better, not as salty and strong. I suspect that this is because we use the gray: the gray has no saltpeter in it. The saltpeter is what keeps the red style from turning gray during its brining time. Sadly, you can almost never get gray corned beef outside of St. Patrick's Day season, and it is even harder to find outside of New England, I am told.

Take large piece of gray corned beef and put in a large pot full of water, lots and lots of water. Add a handful of black peppercorns and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook at least 2 hours. Skim off the crud as it rises. Top off liquid with more water as needed. Once the meat has floated, that seems to be the indicator that it's done, and it's time to add vegetables. Pull out the meat and turn the heat back up to bring the liquid to a boil. I like to use potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, and parsnips, all cut into biggish chunks. Once the veggies are soft and nearly done, after 40 min or so, add wedges of green cabbage. If these are holding together well on their own, just chuck them in, but if they are coming apart you can fix this with a couple of toothpicks stuck in each to hold them together. The cabbage takes 10 or 15 minutes to get nice and soft. Once it's all done, add the meat back in to warm it up.

To serve, fish the meat out and slice against the grain. (Remove any slabs of fat you don't want to eat.) Fish the veggies out of the broth and plate along with the sliced beef. Everything is nicely salted and seasoned by its long bath with the salted meat. Spicy mustard goes well with this dish, as does beer. The leftover broth makes fantastic quick-n-easy soups, so be sure to save it.

Posted by foodnerd at 08:51 PM | Comments (2)

March 22, 2005

spicy greens

Tonight's kale came out really good, probably my favorite greens version so far, so I have to write it down so I don't forget what I did.

Slice 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, and large-dice half a large (or 1 small) onion, and small-dice half a red pepper. Slice a bunch of kale into half-inch shreds. Heat a bit of olive oil in a deep frypan, and saute the onion, sprinkling with a pinch of salt, then add the garlic and pepper and saute until soft. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes to taste. Put in the kale and wilt it so you can fit the whole bunch in the pan. Sprinkle with a generous amount of salt -- this appears to be key, since I used more than I often might. Once it's wilted, add a can of chicken broth (low sodium). Cook until kale is tender and dark green, but not yet olive green. Cover it if you like, to keep it from drying out. When it's done, add some hot sauce -- I used a bit of insane-o habanero jamaican stuff and a few dashes of Frank's Louisiana hot sauce. Grind a little black pepper over it. It's spicy and tangy, and savory from the chicken broth & salt. Nummy with pasta mixed in, or over rice.

Posted by foodnerd at 10:08 PM | Comments (0)

our cat is a freak

This cat will not touch bits of chicken or pork from our plate, and doesn't like cheese or milk. What he does like, though, is starch. He licks the crumbs left on the plate from your sandwich. And just now, we were finishing up some seafood noodles, and offered him a bit of surimi. He licked it and turned away. But when we offered a bit of the noodle, he sucked it right down. He is a very odd kitty. But adorable.

Posted by foodnerd at 12:06 AM | Comments (5)

March 21, 2005

ham-scallion-parmesan mini cakes

I love savories. I'll take salty over sweet every time. So when I saw parmesan muffins in Gourmet a few months ago, I figured that might be an easy but festive thing to make for xmas gifts for littlelee & spleen. They came out cute, with their shaggy shredded topping, and they seemed to go over well, but I never got to taste one. So when IMBB went cupcake, I knew I had to make the recipe again. But this time, I embellished.

I had scallions left over from a fit of chinese cookery, and there was some ham end as well, so I diced them up small and used them in place of the rosemary in the original recipe. The muffins themselves came out quite light, and have an almost cakey texture, so I think of them more as little savory cupcakes rather than muffins, which I normally find rather dense and hefty. I took this batch over to some friends' house for a brunchtime visit to their new baby, and we ate them with a bit of cheese and fruit for a light meal. This recipe is staying in the repertoire -- it's quick and easy, and what's not to like about adorable little cheesy pastries?

2 eggs
3/4 cup milk (I used 1%)
1/2 cup e.v. olive oil
1 cup grated parmesan (I of course used extra, and subbed romano)
1.5 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar (I may skip the sugar next time & see if they are even more savory)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp finely chopped garlic (about one large clove)
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary (i subbed 1-2 finely chopped scallions and about half a cup of finely diced deli ham)
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Preheat 350F. Whisk eggs, milk & oil. In another bowl, whisk half the cheese or slightly more than half with all other dry ingredients, then add wet ingredients to dry. Whisk to blend. Line 12-hole muffin pan with paper liners and divide batter among them. Top with the rest of the cheese. Bake 20-25 minutes until tester comes out clean and tops are nice and golden. I checked mine at 20 min, and thought they needed 1 or 2 more minutes; they were a bit pale on top and the tester was clean but moist. But cleverly I neglected to put the timer on and sat down to share a bit of tallasiandude's breakfast -- at least 5 minutes later I jumped up with a shriek and yanked them out of the oven, fearing a panful of cinders. But they were just nicely golden and crunchy on top, so I guess this recipe is pretty forgiving. *grin*

Posted by foodnerd at 11:45 AM | Comments (3)

March 17, 2005

change of venue

um, so yeah: foodnerd is moving to chicago for a new job. This is exciting but also very scary, because tallasiandude is unfortunately staying in boston. :-( So if anybody knows of someone nice who needs a roommate in chicago, and wouldn't mind living with a foodslut, let me know. You can email me at foodnerd -at- paisleysky -dot- net. I'll be back and forth between the two cities periodically, so you'll be getting double your money's worth. Or something. *grin*

Posted by foodnerd at 03:43 PM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2005


Posted by foodnerd at 06:59 PM | Comments (1)

March 13, 2005

post-race feed

tallasiandude ran a half-marathon this morning, and for various reasons didn't manage to eat well the rest of the day. Meanwhile I happened to go to the Super 88 Market downtown with my parents and nabbed some good stuff. So I made yu hsiang pork (out of Pei Mei volume I) and chinese broccoli, and a double batch of rice. The pork was nice and spicy-salty, and I put in thin-sliced wood ears and red peppers just for texture and extra flavor, which worked well. I love yu hsiang dishes even in crappy restaurants, so I think this one is going into regular rotation along with the beef & broccoli recipe. The chinese broccoli, which has to be one of my favorite vegetables, was just blanched and drizzled with oyster sauce mixed with a little soy sauce to thin it down.

8-10 oz pork, boneless, cut into thin strips
2 tbsp wood ear
half a red bell pepper
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp corn starch
vegetable oil to fry
2 tsp chopped ginger (I used 4 small slices)
1 tsp chopped garlic

1 tbsp chopped green onion
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp black chinese vinegar
1 tbsp hot bean paste
1/2 tbsp shaoxing wine
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp black pepper

Marinate pork in 1 tbsp cornstarch & 1 tbsp soy for 15 min. Soak wood ear in warm water 15 min, then cut out & discard hard stemmy parts, then slice thin. Dice pepper. Mix up the sauce and let stand. Heat a little oil quite hot in a wok or skillet, fry the pork just until not pink, and remove to a plate. Add a bit more oil and fry the pepper, wood ear, ginger & garlic for a minute or so, scraping the pan if necessary. Add the pork back in along with the sauce, and fry until the sauce thickens a bit. Serve with lots of rice.

Posted by foodnerd at 07:16 PM | Comments (1)

March 12, 2005

Noodlefest 2005

I've previously mentioned my love of clear broth soups. But my true love is actually noodle soup.

For some, their idea of comfort foods are things like meatloaf, mac 'n cheese -- which I totally get. But growing up, on those cold, gray and rainy days in southern California (no, seriously), it'd be a bowl of ramen noodles that warmed me up.

In high school, when we were allowed to leave campus, we'd sometimes have back-to-back free periods which would give us an hour and a half to make the half-hour drive down to Chinatown, eat at California Beef Noodle King and then drive the half-hour back just in time for AP E&M.

Yeah, I love me some spicy beef noodle soup.

There are several restaurants in the Boston area that serve nu ro mian (beef meat noodle), but none has ever been quite what I was hoping for. Tai Shiang Garden in Chelmsford was the first -- a close enough approximation, but slightly off on both the broth and the noodles (they use what looks like udon). Chung Shin Yuan in Newton and Shangri-la in Belmont have both been pretty good -- the broth is almost exactly as I'd like it (with some day-to-day variation), but they both use noodles that remind me of linguine.

A few years ago, I finally decided to take measures into my own hands. I got a recipe for the soup base (beef/tendon and broth) from Mom and tried making it myself. Combined with some fresh noodles bought at the Super 88, we were pretty happy with the results. (I tried making my own hand-pulled noodles, but that experiment was an unmitigated disaster.) But we ended up with an awful lot of meat and broth. The solution? Invite friends!

And thus, Noodlefest was born.

The first year, we provided both the beef broth and a pork broth (made from Magic Hocks) for a secondary pork and pickled cabbage option for our non-red meat eating friends. No allowances were made for the vegetarians. (Sorry guys, but you can't please all of the people all of the time.) We suffered through a few logistical problems -- inadequate rate of noodle availability, bowl shortages, and the pork broth wasn't quite up to expectations (guests were happy, we were disappointed) -- but overall, things went well.

That year, we also tried to cap the number of guests, fearing that we'd run out of soupy goodness. It was close, but things worked out fine, and I think we ended up having soup noodles for an extra couple of days.

Emboldened by the previous year's success, this year, we decided to step it up a notch: open invite, make more food.

We had a better handle on how much food we needed. We figured that we had ironed out some of the logistical problems that we had had with production. We even did a few preliminary trials of broth for the pork and pickled cabbage.

And to address our tableware resource issue, we made it BYOB -- bring your own bowl. (We still bought extra chopsticks and soup spoons.)

* * *

So, here's the beef:

(the numbers in parentheses are the original amounts used to make a normal batch.)

Soy, wine, paste, garlic, peppercorns.

(1-1/2) -> 5+ lbs. Stewing Beef
(1) -> 2 lbs. Beef tendon
(5) -> 15 cloves garlic
(5) -> 15 green onions
(5) ->15 slices ginger (probably 1/8" cross-sections)
(3) -> 9 star anise
(1) -> 3 T brown peppercorns
(3/4) ->2 cups soysauce
(2) -> 6 T wine
(1/2) -> 1 cup oil (approximate)
(3) -> 9 T hot bean paste

1. Cut beef and tendon into cubes and cook for a minute in boiling water.

Stew beef is convenient here because it's already mostly cut up for you. I ended up cutting some of the pieces down. I'd also recommend getting the tendon cut for you at the market.

As an experiment, I tried cooking the larger pieces of tendon and then cutting them up after the first hour of cooking, but I don't feel like the flavor got into the tendon as quickly, and it seemed to take a little longer to cook sufficiently.

Incidentally, I think that the tendon is ESSENTIAL for this recipe even though there are plenty of people that are grossed out by it. Even cooked, people seem to find its fatty, gelatinous appearance to be unappetizing. But it's this soft, almost melt-in-your-mouth texture when it's at its most delicious. It's yummy like fat, except that it's not bad for you because it's tendon, which is, as I've learned in my physiology class, all connective tissue, which is PROTEIN! (Not that I think fat is really that bad for you, but I realize that it's not a popularly held belief.)

Anyway, moving on...

2. Drain off the water and return beef to pot. Add boiling water to 2" above beef. (I find it convenient to actually have 2 large pots of boiling water so you don't have to wait for the water to come up to boil again.) Add anise, green onion and ginger. Use low heat and stew covered about 1 hour.

Straining the oil mixture.

3. Heat oil in another pan, when hot add the garlic and peppercorns and stir fry till brown. Then add hot bean paste, soysauce and wine. Bring to boil, then lower heat and cook for 2 minutes.

And now a word here about the bean paste. When we first tried to make this recipe, the bean paste was probably the hardest thing to get. Not because it was hard to find. No, the problem was that when we got to the sauce aisle in the Super 88, FoodNerd and I were confronted with a whole section of spicy bean pastes, different brands, different beans, different ingredients. We ended up leaving the store with two bottles and have since decided that Ming Teh brand broad bean paste with chili was the way to go.

4. Strain oil mixture into the beef pot and stew until beef is tender.

The original recipe said something like another two hours, but we've found that it takes about six for the tendon to really soften up.

* * *

The pork noodle soup broth is a bit simpler. It's a basic chicken stock supplemented with a little ham to round out the flavor. The goal was for it to have a rich, savory flavor while still being clean and light. I think the key ingredients are the ginger, cooking wine and white pepper. It's got to be good and peppery.

2 lbs chicken
1/2 lb Virginia ham (salty country ham)
5 green onions
5 slices ginger
1 cup cooking wine
white pepper

The above is only an approximation -- we mostly did things by taste.

We first par-boiled the chicken and ham the same way we handled the beef in the beef broth. It's a nice way to get some of the gross stuff out of the meat. After replacing the meat into a fresh pot of boiling water (we topped off a 2-gallon stockpot), we added the green onions, ginger and cooking wine and then reduced heat to a simmer.

After cooking for several (4-5) hours, we added a bit more cooking wine and generous amounts of white pepper and salt to taste. Remember your goal: peppery and savory. (FoodNerd says also "piquant." That's the last little shot of wine into the broth.)

* * *

We also made a second beef broth to supplement the primary stew broth.

A quick run down: beef neck bones, browned in oil in a large stockpot (I think it was FoodNerd's 3-gallon pot), then sweated (covered) in cooking wine. Filled the pot with water and added ginger (a few slices), green onions (5-6?) and soy (maybe a cup). Cooked the crap out of it. (The usual -- bring to boil, then reduce to simmer for, oh, maybe 5-6 hours.) Season to taste with white pepper, salt and more soy. Supplement with chicken broth. (I think I added a 1-quart container of store-bought broth.)

* * *

So, those were the broths. For the pork and pickled cabbage, we sliced pork (tenderloin? cutlet? steaks?) into thin strips and marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, cooking wine and corn starch. This was stir fried at high heat and then added sliced up pickled radish and greens. This has been another difficulty -- finding the correct pickled greens. We ended up using a mix of various types without properly documenting them. Sorry. And still we really haven't found the same type that is used in the restaurant soups.

It all comes together with the noodles. As mentioned, my chief complaint with the commercial sources of these dishes is that they use substandard noodles. That's what it's all about. It can make or break the dish for me.

Since making them myself has proven to be a non-starter, the next best thing has been to buy fresh noodles from the the 88. I've liked two brands, and both are simple flour noodles that are labelled as "thin Shanghai style" noodles. (The Twin Marquis brand that calls them "plain noodles (thin)" actually labels them as Shanghai noodles in Chinese characters. Amazingly, my studying hasn't gone completely to waste!)

The previous year, I was trying to cook the noodles to order. I'd throw a bundle in for 2-3 people, cook them up and then fish them out. I'm not sure what I was thinking -- like I was expecting a bunch of people to come in, and half of them would say something like: "Hey, noodles. Cool! Do you mind if I just hang out here and watch some of y'all eat?" Yeah, so cooking small batches of noodles one at a time -- dumb idea. I'm inviting people to Noodlefest. When they show up, they're all gonna want to eat noodles.


I ended up spending a lot of time trying to fish out a bunch of cooked noodles while the water was still boiling, putting them straight into people's bowls, and then putting another batch in. And as the evening worn on, not only had I scalded my hands a couple of times, but the cooking water got thick and cloudy with all the loose flour that was on the fresh noodles to keep them from sticking to each other. It was gross. At some point, we ended up dumping the water and starting fresh, which of course took more time.

One of the reasons for this was a lack of burner space. I think we had two giant stockpots on the stove, a skillet with the pork and cabbage and then the pot for cooking noodles. And it was a tight fit since they were all oversized pots.

Stockpots: the final solution.

The solution: crockpots!

One crockpot was dedicated to the chicken/pork broth. The other two were used to hold beef broth. The beef and tendon, topped with broth, went into a separate pot. And we precooked the pork and pickled cabbage and put it in a cassarole dish set on a warming tray.

This freed up the stove for two pots in which to boil water for cooking noodles. While one pot was cooking noodles, filled to capacity, we could bring water up to boil in the second pot. A third burner was used to cook down spinach in the beef broth.

When the noodles were cooked, I strained out the water, dumped the noodles back into the pot with cool water to stop the cooking. That's key: you don't want the noodles overcooked -- it's important for the noodles to have a little chew to them.

Then, serve into bowls, add spinach and beef (and tendon, for a few), and then top off with broth. Add a dash of chili oil if you want a little extra zip. Similar process for the pork and pickled cabbage, but we let the pork be serve yourself -- I just doled out noodles and broth.

A cold and snowy week in February: not the best weather for travelling, but perfect for some noodle soup. We had a few no-shows, but I think we still ended up with over 20 people. Sharing the love.

All told, a good night.

Posted by tallasiandude at 10:07 PM | Comments (3)

a redemption of sorts

I have been kvetching a lot lately on this blog about my inadequacies with pastry and sweets of all kinds. Normally I have the same trouble with pie crust. My mother has the magic hands, and can just chuck ingredients in and make beautiful crusts by feel. Her mother was even more brilliant. I however generally get floury or oily crapola.

Tonight was different. Tonight was a good crust day. I found a recipe online and just went for it. 2 cups flour, 12 tbsp cold butter cut into chunks, a sprinkle of salt. Cut the works with a pastry cutter (I am finding smearing motions along with cutting motions work well) until finely combined but not completely without chunks. 6 tablespoons cold water (plus more if needed, this time i think i used 7), stir with fork until it starts coming together in parts, then use hands to knead and squeeze gently together until it's not got any flour left. It barely held together, there were lots of cracks, but I could *feel* the beautiful soft elasticity in the dough. Normally it doesn't feel anything like that, so I don't know what I was doing right this time. I squished it together, worrying I was overworking the dough, and rolled it out on a floured marble board. No holes, no insurmountable cracking. I didn't chill the dough before rolling as most recipes have you do -- i just went straight from bowl to roll, and then once the bottom crust was in the pan, i stuck the whole pan in the fridge. Then the top crust went outside into the 40F night, still on the board. Filled crust right from fridge and then straight into the 400F oven.

It came out flaky, crisp and super-buttery (it was an all-butter crust, it oughta be). Imagine that. Yay!

Posted by foodnerd at 12:25 AM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2005

pizza, sort of

I dug out the Trader Joe's whole wheat pizza dough from the freezer today, and so my heart got set on pizza for dinner. Per tallasiandude's pizza preferences and the fact that we had long-leftover pepperoni in the fridge, I made pepperoni & mushroom 'za. Several things were learned:

1. Cento San Marzano passata crushed tomatoes make a fantastic pizza sauce if you sprinkle it with salt, pepper, oregano, a tiny bit of basil, and garlic powder. A lazy girl's dream.

2. Don't use an insulated cookie sheet, and do be sure to heat up the pan before putting on the dough if you can. Otherwise you get soggy bottom crust. And then you have to put two pieces on top of each other, douse them in olive oil, and rebake them like faux calzones, flipping the sandwiched pizza lumps to crisp up both crusts. Oops. Still tasted good.

Posted by foodnerd at 07:20 PM | Comments (0)

March 10, 2005

so, so wrong

and in case that wasn't quite clear:

Be frightened.

Posted by foodnerd at 07:21 PM | Comments (1)

March 09, 2005

more chicago eats

At last I have eaten the duck fat french fry. I went to Hot Doug's encased meats emporium, and had duck fries, a lamb-mint sausage with feta, and a Cel-Ray soda, all of which I enjoyed immensely. The fries could have been crispier for my taste, but never have I enjoyed a mostly floppy fry so much, as they had lovely potato and fat flavor, and perfect amounts of flaky kosher (sea?) salt clinging to them. The floppiness may have been because I arrived around 11am, just before the lunch rush -- as I left there was a line out the door -- and word on the street says the duck fries are best when they're busy. Hilariously, the place is in the middle of nowhere, and yet sees a constant stream of hipsters and weird old guys and yuppies with little kids. Viva Doug and his encased meats for all!

Fantastic quesadillas at Dona Lolis on Clark in Rogers Park, especially the huitlacoche, though the squash blossom and chicharron were nice too. Homemade corn tortillas, so very dense and filling, with wonderful homemade flavors.

Really good Thai food at Spoon Thai, especially the pork larb from the special menu, a salad of thin sliced fat-streaked pork, all tangy with lime and onion, savory with fish sauce and a hit of chili pepper.

And lastly a sunday brunch at Jamaica Jerk, also up north in Rogers Park, which looks to be a family run place. It has a bright interior with a seascape on one wall, and a panorama of delicious things to eat: brown stew chicken and oxtails with beans were both super-dark brown and intensely savory; saltfish with bacon and tomatoes and spice was just lovely, especially with the thick chewy fried-starch triangles (bammies, no idea what they are made from); festival, floury little pillows of deepfried goodness; coconut shrimp that were just the right amount of sweet and crunchy; and pineapple-sorrel juice that was outrageously purple and delicious.

So yeah, Chicago has the good eats. Yum. :-)

Posted by foodnerd at 08:45 AM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2005

has anybody seen, a quiche dyed dark green?

Continuing on the eat-lots-of-veg and spend-little benders I am on these days, I give you a quiche made of leftover napa cabbage sauteed in leftover bacon fat, leftover broccoli, leftover scallion, free extra-sharp cheddar from the parents, leftover cream, 4 eggs, and a lonesome leftover frozen pie shell. With a bit of salt, pepper, nutmeg & savory. Nummy, if a tiny bit watery from slightly undersauteed cabbage. *grin*

I should have photographed the stir fry the other night -- pork cutlet, broccoli, napa, onion, garlic and ginger, in a plain sauce of shaoxing wine, soy & cornstarch, with a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. It was really good, if I do say so myself. Hee.

Posted by foodnerd at 08:24 AM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2005

faux chex snax

I was seized by a fit of discontentment and restlessness and frustration today, and though I am not generally an emotional eater, I just could not stop looking for something to eat. Since cooking usually keeps hunger at bay for me, and since nothing in the house looked good anyway (I must have PMS), I decided to MAKE a snack. The box of faux Rice Chex had a snack mix recipe, which I adapted liberally, and the result is insane salty spicy goodness. You might want to be less salt-rageous.

4 cups chex
some peanuts
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp worcestershire
1-2 tsp hot sauce (Frank's), to taste
1 tsp or more garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
few dashes chili powder
few pinches salt (I used more than a few)

Melt butter in large bowl in microwave, add seasonings, stir, add chex and peanuts, toss a lot to combine (rubber spatula works well), microwave 2 min, stir again, microwave 2 min, stir again, and if they seem well seasoned and dry enough to be crispy, let them sit until cool enough to eat, otherwise nuke 2 more min then stir and let cool. Mack down as needed. Let the rest dry completely and then put it away in a tupperware.

If you don't like it as it's heating, you can sprinkle more stuff directly over it, toss to blend, and keep going -- i did that with worcestershire, hot sauce and garlic powder, and salt (which was probably unnecessary, but oversalty got the job done today). This has the advantage of being wheat-free, if you use rice and/or corn chex, which is nice if you are unfortunate enough to be sensitive to it, and really it's not so much butter, so it's almost kinda sorta healthy and stuff. Yep, right, uh huh.

Posted by foodnerd at 08:48 PM | Comments (0)