Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gyoza Party

A lovely young lady knocked on my door tonight while I was making gyoza. She was actually looking for a party in another building, but I told her she would be welcome to come back and have gyoza if the other place turned out to be less exciting. She did not return, of course, but the brief encounter reminded me that gyoza is a great party food, because the making is as much fun as the eating.
I point out briefly here that this is also a way to buy a bulk amount of hamburger and make a combination of things that can be prepared and frozen for later enjoyment. I got two pounds of ground beef and used half for gyoza and half to make mini meatloafs, of which I will describe later.
Gyoza is originally Chinese, but I learned it in Japan. You will probably learn much more than I can tell you by checking out the official gyoza Web site at Nevertheless, we are now international enough to be able to make it almost anywhere, using prepared wonton/gyoza wraps. Almost anything can go into the middle. I loved a place in Tokyo's Jiyugaoka, in Setagaya-ward, famous for stuffing gyoza with all kinds of good stuff, from garlic to cheese, and preparing it as soup, steamed and fried, or deep-fried. Yum.
For a nice party food, it's easy to make about 60 gyozas (which are basically like ravioli, and I am fairly certain Marco Polo and friends must have brought the idea back from China, added tomato sauce and turned it Italian. I added a cup of finely chopped garlic, a cup of finely chopped mushrooms, a stick of finely chopped celery (you can use Chinese or Napa cabbasge or bok choy, of course), a couple of thumbs of finely chopped ginger, six or eight finely chopped scallions, for a typical mix. Add a tablespoon of corn starch, two tablespoons of sesame oil, two tablespoons of soy sauce, a tablespoon of five-star hoisin sauce, and a splash of sake. Moosh it all together by hand so all the ingredients are well blended.
Separate the wonton skins and spoon a blob of the mixture onto the center. wet half of the outer edge of the skin with water, fold together, then pinch tightly.
To cook, add a tablespoon of sesame oil and enough water to cover the bottom of a small fry pan. Add about 10 or 12 of the gyoza with a little space between each, cover and bring to a boil. Uncover, reduce the heat a bit, and allow the gyoza to brown on one side. Turn, brown again and they are ready to eat or put in a container to freeze for later enjoyment.
Serve with a combination of layu (chili oil), white vinegar and soy sauce.
Of course this goes great with beer or sake or Chinese plum wine. It is also a good appetizer to go with stir-fried anything, some egg-drop soup and a fortune cookie!

Cooking for One (Continued)

I really loved Jamie Oliver's effort to persuade American families to stop feeding their kids unhealthy foods and to wake up to the horrible abuses of wholesome cooking being perpetrated on our young folks. Of course he's not the first or only person to point out the ridiculousness of the U.S. Government standards for school lunch nutritional balance (ketchup as a vegetable, two carbs, God-knows-what byproducts in prepared luncheon meats, etc.) But it was a much-needed reminder we do not have to be obese or stupid.
I have been lucky to know how to eat healthy since I was a kid. Over time, I learned how to cook and I have been able to help my daughter with her cooking skills as well. We know cooking is not only fun but almost a survival skill in a culture surrounded by convenience foods. In defense, I have been working on my own convenience foods, minus the mystery crap in "prepared" foods at the supermarket. I know I can make better-tasting, more healthy, attractive, nutritionally balanced meals than anything in the frozen-foods section at the supermarket. And it is waay less expensive.
I cook for myself, and supermarket quantities are often intended for bigger families. So, as I've said before, I try to plan my purchases and my menu to account for the difference and to minimize waste and keep down my Social Security-induced budget.
I recently got a bargain on pork tenderloin in bulk. I broke up the package of eight fairly hefty chunks of good meat and froze most of it. And I used one of the chunks to make two servings (hearty servings at that) of stuffed tenderloin.
Stuffing is easy. I make bread, so I saved some of it and crumbled it up, dried it at 150F in the oven, and added it to a cup of chopped onion, a cup of chopped celery and two cups of mushrooms, two tablespoons of butter (yes, butter is fine as long as you don't have too much at one time.), water to cover, and some herbs. I used rosemary and basil, rough-crushed black pepper and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and stir.
I then cut the tenderloin pork in half horizontally, put the cooked stuffing into a 9x9-inch glass baking pan sprayed with olive oil, topped with the sliced pork, covered with aluminum foil and baked it at 350F (160C) for 40 minutes. I took off the foil and cooked another 20 minutes to brown the stuffing. This makes two hearty servings, one of which can be put in a container and stored in the freezer for at least a couple of weeks, so there is opportunity to make a lot of other recipes for the days in between.
I enjoyed one of the servings with a salad of fresh spinach and a whole tomato, hollowed out and stuffed with cottage cheese, and a side of mixed veggies -- green beans, peppers and onions.
The dessert is a raspberry turnover with vanilla ice cream. Is that bad?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Home Cookin'

My sister came by today with some homemade mushroom soup, part of the bounty of a mountain trek that yielded a whole bunch of morels. Blessed with this little surprise, I wanted to make a Sunday supper that would take advantage of the soup and clear away some leftovers at the same time. So this is not exactly a recipe, but an idea for a meal of country-fried steak, garlic mashed potatoes, mixed veggies, and a spinach-daikon salad.
Earlier in this beautiful day, I was thinking of reviving my long-lost bartending skills, and I wanted to start simple with back-to-the-basics margaritas and bloody Marys. So, the supper was washed down with what I think is a pretty decent margarita.
To replicate this supper, you'd need cube steak, potatoes, veggies of choice (I used broccoli, colored peppers and onion, garlic, flour, cream, an egg, butter, rosemary, basil and coarse-ground black pepper, a little kosher salt, some olive oil and canola oil.
The main event is country-fried steak, which is a way of turning a not-so-great piece of beef into a tasty main course. It is a cube steak, dipped in beaten egg, then dredged in seasoned flour and fried like frying chicken. The rest, as they say, is gravy. (To actually make gravy, use the leftover flour-herb mixture and the leftover frying oil from the steak to make a roux, add milk and season to taste, stirring until thick. I didn't make gravy this time because the garlic mashed potatoes stand nicely on their own.)
First, peel and rinse potatoes. I recommend two or three fist-sized potatoes per serving. You will also need garlic, at least two or three cloves per serving. Rinse the potatoes, cut into small cubes, add minced chopped garlic, a dash of salt, and enough water to cover, and cook the combination. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer until fork-tender
Meanwhile, with the backside of a hefty knife, whack the cube steak on both sides. It will look big, but will cook itself back down to size. Add a tablespoon each of canola oil and olive oil to a big frypan and heat. Dip the cube steak in well-beaten egg, then dredge in a bowl that has at least two tablespoons of flour, a teaspoon each of rosemary and basil, a half-teaspoon of ground black pepper, a dash of salt and whatever other herbs strike your fancy. A little Worcester sauce is not a bad addition. Coat both sides of the cube steak with flour, then gently place in the frypan of hot oil to brown on both sides. Remove to drain the oil, then place on foil in a 325F oven while dealing with the rest of this meal.
When the potatoes are done enough, remove from heat, drain, mash the potatoes and add at least a tablespoon of butter and enough cream to make the potato-garlic combination smooth. Bring your veggie medley to a boil, reduce to simmer, drain and add a bit of butter. Shake the pan to coat with butter.
I then ladled out some of that nice mushroom soup (mushrooms, potatoes, butter, onion, salt and pepper) into a bowl and microwaved for a minute, then sprinkled a little dill over it to serve.
By this time, it's easy to plate the cube steak (country-fried steak), add a couple of scoops of the garlic mashed potatoes, and the veggies. I made a little salad of fresh spinach and daikon, made a simple dressing, and felt pretty good about cleaning the fridge while also having a tasty combination of healthy foods for supper.
We will deal with the margarita recipe in a future posting.
I mused earlier about the challenge of cooking for one, or more specifically, buying for one and managing to minimize waste. I remember as a kid being reminded that other people in the world don't have it so good, and for all the progress we've made in the decades since then, we in rich countries still haven't found a way to balance our gross excesses against the poverty, ignorance and hunger of too much of the rest of the world.
I'm not on a feed-the-poor kick here, but I do think it is a good idea to do what we can, and we can at least try to cook in ways that reduce our own sloth and minimize waste (and waist).

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Stuffed Peppers

One thing I miss about Japan is the opportunity to cook for and get critical opinions from friends. Here, I am mostly cooking for myself, and, frankly, I am not the best critic of my own cooking. Another factor that I deal with here that was not a problem in Tokyo (because there were always people to share my food with) is that I am cooking for one. So I am still learning how to handle portions and minimize leftovers.
In one way, I am lucky to live near Winco, a giant, 24/7 supermarket that has almost everything I need to cook any kind of cuisine. On the downside, Winco tends to be a family-oriented supermarket, which means large-quantity portions of things like meats and poultry, so I have to plan ahead to break down and freeze big portions into small portions.
So, fast foward to today, when I decided to make stuffed peppers. This was partly because I hoped to use the balance of colored (red, green and yellow) bell peppers I used to make the Thai shrimp salad described in the previous blog.
With everyone's involvement, I could reduce some leftover brown rice, plus the leftover peppers, and dine in style.
Here, rather than a recipe, I will say that I used 1/3 of a pound of ground beef. Usually, I buy in bulk, then divide the meat into one-third pound portions that I can freeze as patties. In an emergency, I can make a hearty cheeseburger. If there is more time, I can thaw the meat and use it to make something more fancy.
I also make larger portions of brown rice. That way, I have some for curry in a hurry, and some in the freezer for a shot at curry or some other treat. I could also use a fistfull of frozen green beans, since a bigger portion would have meant more leftovers.
So, here I am with the meat all cut and frozen, then a portion of brown rice.
I also had a tomato that probably would not have survived more than two or three days, so I thought I'd stuff it, too.
In short, then, we have one whole green bell pepper and two partial colored peppers (one red, one yellow) and one tomato. I added tomato paste, garlic, basil, oregano, thyme, cilantro, rosemary and thyme to one thawed beef patty, added a cup of cooked brown rice, about a tablespoon of chopped garlic, a generlous splash of Worcester sauce, and a bit of salt and pepper and mixed it up. I spooned the rice-meat mixture into the pepper portions, and added a little grated mozarella and grated Parmesan (equal portions) sprinkled over the top of the meat. I put the leftover mozarella-Parmesan into the hollowed-out tomato, put the peppers and tomato into a glass baking disy with a splash of olive oil and a bigger splash of red wine, and put it in a 350F oven for 40 minutes.
I would say it was delicious. I also wish I had a second opinion.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My Thai

I have recently been on a Thai-food kick. With at least five Thai restaurants in Boise, including one just down the street, you might think it wouldn’t be necessary. But I like to remind myself that, even though I am in the part of the world where the deer and the antelope play, I learned a lot from my Asian experience, and keeping the distinctive character of different kinds of Asian cuisine is, for me, at least, important. Too much “fusion” can cause confusion.
So, after making not-bad red curry last week, it was time to make a shrimp salad. I might have been thinking about the impact of the horrid BP oil rig explosion and leak in the Gulf of Mexico and what it means for the shrimpers and the availability of shrimp. “Enjoy it while you can,” I guess. I wonder what the sailors felt after they dined on the last dodo?
Anyway, shrimp salad is basically shrimp and “salad,” and Thai shrimp salad means using a dressing that blends those essential chilis, ginger, garlic, sugar and I confess to using Japanese mirin and sake) and Thai nampla (fish sauce). Similar kinds of fish sauce are commonly used in Thai, Vietnamese, Lao, Cambodian and Philippine recipes.
The shrimp can be any kind, but of course they must be peeled, stripped of the poop vein and tails (unless you really like the tails). I used frozen Pacific jumbo shrimp. Plan on at least one cup of shrimp per serving, anyway. The shrimp I used were precooked, so I soaked them in water to thaw, drained, then soaked them again in sake (Japanese rice “wine”). Soaking in a cheap white wine also works, but sake gives a distinctly “Asian” taste.
The “salad” part of the salad includes:
1. Fresh ginger root (See how to select it and how to peel it:
2. Green onions (scallions!)
3. Daikon (Literally “giant radish root,” but a good one is not “hot,” but rather pleasantly mild. Learn more here:
4. Bell peppers (I use green, red and yellow to add color. The different colored peppers also have distinctive flavors. Learn more about their merits and nutritional value here:
5. Carrots (Rinse and scrape the outer skin gently away)
6. Celery (Rinse and peel away the “strings” )
7. Garlic (The amount can vary, depending on your taste. Garlic with the veggies is optional, but you definitely need it for the dressing. See Jamie Oliver’s advice on how to peel and chop garlic here: )
8. 1 cup (or more) chopped fresh cilantro (coriander )
The Veggie Prep
The most time-consuming part of the recipe is the preparation of the vegetables into matchstick-sized pieces,. Rinse, cut into pieces about 2 inches long, then slice them as thinly as possible, lengthwise. Here’s the technique:
For the Dressing
(and this is also a great sauce for Thai-style buffalo wings)
1. 1 cup water
2. 3 tsp. corn starch or tapioca-root starch
3. 3-4 cloves finely chopped garlic
4. 1 Tbsp. powdered chilis
5. ½ tsp. cayenne pepper powder
6. 1 Tbsp fresh-squeezed lime juice
7. 1 Tbsp. honey (Or more)
8. 2 Tbsp. fish sauce (Learn more here:

The Dressing Prep
Dissolve the cornstarch in ¼ cup cool water. Set aside
Add the remaining ¾ cup water in a sauce pan, heat to a boil and add the remaining ingredients, stirring to smooth. Reduce heat and add the dissolved starch, stir until the sauce thickens (About 1 minute). Remove and adjust the taste by adding honey (I added brown sugar) or more lime juice and fish sauce to enhance saltiness.
Allow to cool in the fridge before adding to the vegetables.
Combine the matchstick vegetables in a large bowl and toss by hand.
Drain the shrimp and add to the vegetables. Toss again to combine. Pour the dressing over the shrimp-vegetable combination. Garnish with more coriander and thin-sliced lime pieces.


Saturday, May 08, 2010

Yet Another Cheeseburger

My favorite among various claims as to who came up with the first cheeseburger is Lionel Clark Sternberger, who, according to Time magazine, "experimentally dropped a slab of American cheese on a sizzling hamburger while helping at his father's sandwich shop in Pasadena, thereby inventing the cheeseburger." That would have been in 1924. Of course we also get a lot of negative stuff about cheeseburgers, so it's interesting, and perhaps ironic, to note the Time obit for Sternberger also notes that he died at the age of 56 of "complications following diabetes."
Nevertheless, I suppose cheeseburgers (basically a hamburger with cheese) are one thing we can cite as typically "American" food, in the sense that it's probably what people think of first, just as we think first of sushi as Japanese food or spaghetti as Italian or sauerkraut as German.
As long as we're stuck with it, we might as well make the best of it. So, "experimentally," I offer another alternative cheeseburger recipe. If you want more recipes for cheeseburgers, plus a lot more information about cheeseburgers than you would probably ever need, try the site.
This particular cheeseburger involves the following ingredients:
1/2 pound of ground buffalo (or lean ground beef with as little fat content as possible)
1 or 2 strips of bacon
1/2 a wheel (sliced through the middle, in other words) of Camambert or Brie cheese.
A handfull of finely chopped garlic
Rosemary and basil to taste
Red wine
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Coarsly ground black pepper

The prep

Form half the ground meat into a circle, forming an edge with a spoon. This will be the "container" for the cheese wheel.
Chop the mushrooms and combine with the chopped garlic, rosemary and basil and add to the ground meat base.
Form the other half of the ground meat into a circle and place it over the bottom, patting the two together so they are sealed. Apply the bacon strip (or strips) around the edge of the meat patty.
Add the olive oil to a cast-iron skillet. I have a small one about 7 inches in diameter, which is just right for this project.
Place the patty in the center of the skillet.
Sprinkle a splash or two of red wine over the top of the patty and add the black pepper.
Bake in a 350F (160C) oven for at least 30 minutes (for medium-rare) or longer, depending on how well-done you want it.
Remove the baked patty from the fry pan (gently, with a spatula) and allow the excess juice to be soaked up by paper towels, or drain on a cooling rack.
That's it. This burger is fine with or without the lettuce, pickles, tomato and so on, and works well on crusty bread, most likely washed down with the rest of that red wine.
You may also want to look at the entry on french fries here as a side.

The pictures show the way to build up the edge of the first meat patty like a pie, to hold the cheese and the mushroom-garlic mixture before adding the cover layer of meat.

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