Friday, November 9, 2012

singing its braises

by Lisa

Last night, some magic occurred. I placed some wedges of cabbage in a pan, sprinkled over it carrots and onions, and poured some olive oil and broth over it and let it braise.

It only took reading two paragraphs of Molly Stevens* to be convinced to plan to braise the very next meal I would make.

We all know that braised food tastes amazing. But the science behind it we rarely think about. But Stevens' description of the cycle of flavor evaporating, condensing, and stewing again helped explain how this method of cooking transforms a dish, giving it the depth of flavor unique to braising.

I knew I needed to make her cabbage recipe - so rustic and delightful, one of those dishes that you know tastes a million times better than it looks.

I had gotten home early from work yesterday, so David and I walked to the store, like Parisians - only, we were carrying a backpack - and gathered the ingredients for this homely meal. (Note to self: Walking to the store and knowing you have to carry everything back on foot is built-in protection against Buying Everything In Sight.)

Although this dish on its own would probably satisfy me (I could probably eat the whole thing myself), I knew that Kenny would want some meat, so we got some pork chops as well.

And since the braise takes two hours, I had some time on my hands and decided to make chocolate cornstarch pudding for dessert (another post for another time). You should too. Rustic plus trashy-classic is always a success. I suppose it's comforting.

Truly, the art of uncomplicated cooking is so restorative.

(Aside: I also hope to make this caramel pudding soon. Thanks, Stephie!)

The World's Best Braised Cabbage
adapted from Molly Stevens' All About Braising

2 lb head of green cabbage (it's not that big looking, but try to not go over in weight), cut into wedges (keep the core to hold the wedges together)
1 large yellow onion, sliced thick (this part was the best - they get so caramelly - so I would maybe even throw in two)
1 carrot, sliced into coins
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (use your best)
1/2 cup chicken broth, or water (I increased this from the original recipe)
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
crushed red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 325. Lay cabbage wedges in a 9x13 glass baking dish (or a gratin pan if you have one). Try to make it fit in one layer. Scatter onion and carrot over cabbage, then drizzle olive oil and broth, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and red pepper. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 2 hours, turning the cabbage over once at the halfway point, adding more broth if dry. Before serving, remove foil and raise oven to 400, allow to brown slightly, about 15 minutes.

*Her book is perfectly titled All About Braising. Now I just want to use that phrase, all the time. "I'm 'all about braising!' What?! I am!"

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

the stories will come

by Lisa

Today I bring you another post. Two posts in week! Even two posts in year is almost like setting a record now!

(That's how productive I am.)

The stories will come, I tell myself. For now, I must just post, post, post.

Today's dish is one of Kathy's favorite. It's a homey, Vietnamese tofu with tomato dish that I imagine every family will make differently. Considering I'm not Vietnamese, I'm sure mine is like none other. Huzzah!

"Vietnamese" Tofu and Tomato

1 package fried, cubed tofu (I think it's 16 oz? I threw away the package. It cost me about $2.)
3 tomatoes*, cut into wedges
1 large onion (or 2 small), sliced (in the direction of stem-to-root)
3-4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled, but not minced (for the lazy)
6-8 oz (1 small can) tomato sauce**
1-2 cups water, depending on how much tomato sauce you use (see note below)
1-3 T fish sauce, to taste, also depending on how much water you use...
freshly ground black pepper
sliced green onions, for garnish

Heat wok or dutch oven (something higher-walled than a skillet is ideal), add a round of vegetable oil, saute onions for a few minutes. Add garlic, and stir for 30 seconds before adding the rest of the ingredients. You can do the fish sauce and black pepper last, so you can season according to how much water you used, and how sweet/salty the tomatoes/sauce are. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium and let simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes (depending on how hungry you are). The tofu will absorb some of the juices, and the sauce should be very watery in consistency, but not in flavor. Adjust fish sauce and pepper to taste. Garnish with green onions if you want to be professional, and serve over hot Jasmine rice.

*I used fresh, Roma tomatoes. This is a good fall/winter dish, because it can hide the dullness of winter tomatoes. I think I've done this once with canned tomatoes, and if you do, you can cut out the sauce, and maybe add some ketchup instead? See ** below.

**Although there are some alternatives to using tomato sauce, I think it works the best. You don't quite need 8 oz, but that is the size of the can so sometimes I just dump the whole thing in, then add enough water to dilute so it doesn't taste like you're eating spaghetti with rice. In a pinch you can use a bit of ketchup or tomato paste.

And if that wasn't enough to entice you to visit, please admire the new pillow I got for our guest bed. It is calling your name!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

sparing a moment

by Lisa

Reading this blog inspired me to post more regularly.*

That's what I said the last time, and while there's no promise that I really mean it this time, I can always try. Was it Luther who said that all of life is repentance? Turning around, getting up again and going?

Well, here goes.

I've been really grateful that lately I've been exploring more Asian food. I think that cooking for the kids has made me focus more on comfort foods, things that go well with rice. I realize that I really don't know anything about cooking Chinese food, so when I do make something good (even just a stir-fried broccoli) I'm ridiculously proud of myself. So, today I bring you dim sum style spare ribs. So unphotogenic. But so delicious!

Super easy to make, too. If you don't have a steamer (bamboo or metal), you can always buy the steamer racks (less than $1) you put at the bottom of a wok or dutch oven or big pot. And if you are a cheap student who doesn't even have that, you can - under such dire circumstances - prop up your dish with some chopsticks, or a corelle bowl or ramekin turned upside down. There are ways to get around this. Don't let anything stop you from steaming these delicious ribs.

Cantonese Style Spare-ribs
from Steamy Kitchen

1.5 lbs** pork spare ribs, cut into 1-1 1/2 inch pieces
2 T black bean sauce (or ground bean paste)
1 T Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry or vermouth) 
2-3 slices ginger, grated (microplane is the best!)

2 cloves garlic, minced (or grated, while you're at it)
1 t each, sesame and regular vegetable oil
1 t sugar
1 t salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 t cornstarch

Mix all ingredients besides the ribs together in the bottom of a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the ribs and coat with the marinade. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. (Or an hour if you want to squeeze in an episode of Psych, like I did.) Fill up your steamer with plenty of water and bring to a boil. Transfer the ribs to a 9" glass pie pan (or something similar) and place in steamer. Bring temperature down to medium or medium high, so that it's getting good steam but isn't overdone. Let steam for 20-30 minutes, until ribs are no longer pink. (Or an hour if you want to squeeze in another hour of Psych, like I did.) Remove from steamer and serve with a piping hot, fluffly Jasmine rice - the kind you want to lay your head down in like a pillow.

In closing randomness, something to make my mother-in-law proud:

baby's breath in a gravy boat!

* I told David I thought we should try to blog EVERY night, and post together. But I'm not sure we can follow-through with that, so we'll try blogging together - but in our separate places - and if we can commit, we'll go for it! I guess you guys can encourage us with your comments. :)

**Or 4+ lbs, like I had, and eyeball the math for multiplying all the rest of the ingredients proportionately. You know I always cook for 20.