I can grill!

I can grill!

I’m ever so proud of myself.
Know why?
‘Cuz I can grill!!
 I can grill without setting the food, myself or the house on fire.
And the food actually tastes good.
Yay!
This opens up so many new cooking options.
Momsy bought me a gas grill as a housewarming gift.
As always,
So generous & thoughtful.
Thanks Momsy!
But I have to confess:
I was scared of it.
“No worries!”
A friend assured me.
“It’s just like broiling food; only you’re outside.”
Not reassuring.
The one time I tried to broil something, 
I set the food on fire.
Then, in an act of sheer idiocy,
I turned the fan on.
Little flames suddenly grew big ones.
Black smoke billowed out of my oven.
Luckily, we were in a full service condo at the time.
I called the concierge.
Porters & security guys came running to my apartment to rescue me.
Now it’s just my little family and me.
And this big old empty house.
I bet it’s quite flammable.
Couldn’t let my fears bog me down, though.
We’ve invited friends & family to visit over the next few months.
And I’ve promised to grill for them all.
So it was time to grit my teeth and get grilling.
I decided to start this whole grilling thing with veggies.
Big meaty portobello mushrooms.
Crisp asparagus.
A fleshy purple egg plant.
Two zucchini.
Two yellow squash.
Half a red and half a yellow pepper.
Olive oil, pepper and salt to season the vegetables.
Balsamic vinegar to splash on before eating.
And, of course,
A glass or two of red wine to fortify myself.
 Before grilling,
I coated all the vegetables in olive oil.
Then sprinkled with salt and pepper.
I also decided to try out my brother-in-law’s special potato recipe.
Parboiled potatoes.
Chopped bacon & onions (I sauteed these beforehand).
Rosemary.
Olive oil, salt & pepper.
Packaged in foil.
 
 Once the food was prepped,
It was time to grill.
Stationed my bigger boy on the deck for moral support.
He was also assigned the jobs of:
1.  Reading the detailed grilling instructions my brother, Andy, sent me.
2.  Setting the timer when necessary.
3.  Being ready to run for the fire extinguisher should I do something really stupid.
Luckily,
He ended up performing only tasks #1 and #2.
For future reference, here are Andy’s veggie grilling instructions:
1.  Preheat all three burners on closed lid to 400 degrees.
2.  Open.  Reduce heat to medium.
3.  Scrap any carbon off grill surface.
4.  Place veggies on grill.  Cook with closed lid for 3 minutes.
5.  Open lid.  Check.  Turn veggies.  Cook with closed lid another 3 minutes.
6.  Plate it all up & drizzle with balsamic vinegar before serving.
And here it is.
My first grilled dinner.
All in all, everything turned out really tasty.
Next time I grill vegies, I need to:
1.  Figure out how to coat the oil on everything more evenly.
2.  Cut the peppers in half only.  These were chopped too small and a few fell through the grill.
3.  Leave the potatoes on longer.
Next food item to practice grilling?
Steaks…
Did I ever mentioon how raw meat freaks me out?!
Ramen Fix

Ramen Fix

 
We’ve made our “NYC Must Do” lists.  One boy requesting a trip to the Barclay Arena for basketball and Cuban sandwiches.  The other wants to schlep out to the Bronx Zoo in hopes we can see that chimp swallow and regurgitate the pile of chewed up greens over and over again.
Me?  Lots of stuff I want to do before we go.  As much as I’m looking forward to our new family adventure, there are some things I’m really going to miss.  My NYC walkabouts.  Access to all the museums.  My gym (I really really love my gym and I really really hate to give it up).  My friends (of course).  And ramen.
Oh man, I’m really going to miss getting my ramen fix whenever the mood hits.
That’s why I’ve decided it’s necessary to eat at at least one ramen shop a week for the next seven weeks.  Forget worrying about the calories.  Give me extra toppings.  Bring on the pork belly.  Yes, I’ll have that special spicy broth with the creamy coconut milk.
Here are the ramen shops I’ll be frequenting:
  • Ippudo.  The original location is in the East Village.  But I prefer the newer Westside location.  The Akamaru Modern is my favorite (and what you see pictured above).  Love that rich pork broth and the perfectly cooked eggs.  When I want comfort food, I go to Ippudo.
  • Totto Ramen.  The ramen here is also outrageously delicious.  Chicken based broth with lots of yummy garlic flavor.  My only gripe about Totto is standing in line on the sidewalk and then eating while being crammed elbow to elbow with the other patrons.  But, on my final round of ramen eating in NYC, I’m planning to brave the line one more time for just one more bowl from Totto.
  • Ivan Ramen.  The ramen is good.  But the sides are what’s really drawing me back to Ivan Ramen.  Just thinking of the Chinese Greens and Garlic and Kewpie Ebi is making me hungry…
  • Tabata Ramen.  This is the place with the coconut milk, spicy chicken, cilantro and please don’t tell me how many calories ramen.

And after that?  I suppose it’s either the packaged stuff from the supermarket, or time to learn how to make homemade ramen…

Tea Eggs – First Attempt

Tea Eggs – First Attempt

 
I know how to make tea eggs now.  Hurray!!  Hurray!! 
Do you think I’m waxing a little too enthusiastic over some boiled eggs?  Maybe I am.  But my boys & I love eating tea eggs.  For years, we’ve practically brawled over the last tea egg every time we visit our favorite bubble tea house.  I can’t believe it never occurred to me to just make a batch myself!
Then a week ago, a friend dropped in to wish us a Happy Chinese New Year.  She brought some tea eggs her aunt had prepared.  It was a light bulb moment for me.  Shortly after inhaling our New Year’s tea eggs, I went online to find a recipe.
I found a beautiful tutorial on how to make tea eggs on Food52.  Thank you to Cynthia for the gorgeous pictures and recipe!
Since I couldn’t be home while the eggs simmered in the yummy tea mixture, I deviated from Cynthia’s recipe by using a slow cooker instead.  Once the eggs were soft boiled and cracked, I tossed everything into my slow cooker and set it to cook on low for 4 hours.
Here are a few pictures to document my first foray into making tea eggs:

 

Now bad, right?  My kids loved them.  Devoured them almost immediately.  And are now asking me to make a second, bigger batch for them.

Overall, I’m happy with my tea results.  But I need to figure out how to

  1. Keep the yolk edges from turning green and
  2. Infuse the eggs with a little more color and flavor.

I know it can be down because my friend’s Auntie achieved both.  So it’s back to the kitchen with another dozen eggs to see if I can do better the second time around… let you know if I meet with success.

Momsy’s Wontons

Momsy’s Wontons

I’ve been craving a bowl of my mom’s homemade wontons all week long.  Since she lives across the country, I had to settle for calling her to double check the ingredient list and for moral support as I chopped, wrapped and cooked for hours earlier today.  It was a lot of prep.  But so satisfying to slurp down a hot bowl of wontons and noodles on this frigidly cold winter day.

So next time I don’t have to bother Momsy a half a dozen times, and in case you’d like to make these as well, here’s what we need to know to make Momsy’s wontons:

Ingredients:

  • 1 pack wonton skins
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound shrimp (I bought these already cleaned and deveined)
  • 1 small can water chestnuts
  • 4 dried shiitake mushrooms 
  • 4 scallions
  • 2 eggs
  • A bit of minced ginger
  • A dash of oyster sauce
  • A sprinkle of white pepper
  • 1 carton of chicken broth
  • Spinach (optional)
  • Lo mien noodles (optional)

Prepping the pork/shrimp mix:

  •  Shrimp:  If your shrimp are not already deveined, you’ll need to do this first.  It’s a nasty job, so I buy the already cleaned stuff.  Next, place shrimp in a colander.  Sprinkle a bit of salt and a spoonful of sugar over the shrimp.  Toss and let sit for a few minutes.  Then rinse shrimp off and let it drain.  This should get rid of any sliminess and will make the shrimp a little crispier.  Chop shrimp.
  • Mushrooms:  I use dried shiitake mushrooms.  The flavor is quite strong, so you only need 4 of these.  Place mushrooms in a bowl.  Bring some water to a boil, then pour mushrooms and soak.  Once they soften up, drain off the water and mince the mushrooms.
  • Scallions:  Mince.
  • Water chestnuts:  Drain and mince.
  • In a large mixing bowl, add ground pork, chopped shrimp, minced mushrooms, scallions and water chestnuts.  Add a bit of ginger (1/4-1/2 teaspoon) and dollop of oyster sauce.  If you like, sprinkle white pepper and a little salt over this.  Now crack two eggs on top of everything.
  • Momsy always used a handful of chopsticks to do the mixing.  So I do as well.  I’m squeamish about the raw meat, so I use 3 sets of disposable chopsticks for this job.  Hold in one hand, gently stir meat and shrimp mix in a counterclockwise direction.  You want to stir just long enough blend all the ingredients together.  Do not over stir.  Do not change direction once you start stirring.

Wrapping the wontons:

  • Set up a little wrapping station.  Have wonton skins and bowl of meat/shrimp mix at hand.  Sprinkle flour on a few big plates or trays (so wrapped wontons won’t stick) and place within reaching distance.  Fill a small bowl with water.
  • There are multiple ways to actually wrap the wonton.  All of them are right so long as the wrapping holds everything together during cooking.  The following pictures show how Momsy taught me to do it (and please forgive the messy pictures – it was kinda tricky to wrap and take pics at the same time).

 
  • Place wrap in the palm of one hand.  Add a small scoop of meat in the center.
 
  • With your free hand, dip one finger in the water, then use wet finger to moisten two adjacent edges of the wonton skin.  The water will act as the “glue” to hold the skin together.
  • Fold skin in half along the diagonal to form a triangle.
  • Line the dry edges over the moistened edges of the wonton skin.
  • Pinch edges together thoroughly.
  • Dip your finger in the water again and moisten one of the folded over corners.
  • Gently place other folded corner over the moistened one.
  • Pinch together.
  • Go back and pinch together any edge that came unstuck.
At the stove:
  • Blanch any greens you want to add to your bowl of wontons.  Drain and set to the side.
  • If you want noodles, then precook this as well.  Drain and set to the side.
  • In a large pot, add a carton of chicken broth, 2-3 cups of water and 2-3 slices of ginger.  Bring to boil then turn heat down til broth is simmering.
  • Gently slide 12-15 wontons into the pot.  Place lid partially on top of pot (but do not completely cover).  Simmer wontons @4 minutes.  Cooking time will vary depending on how full you stuffed your wontons.  The shrimp cooks quickly, but the pork needs a little more time.
  • I always cut one wonton open first to make sure it’s thoroughly cooked before taking that cooked batch out of the pot.  But a rule of thumb is that when the skin wrinkles up over the meat & looks a little bit like rumpled brain, then the meat is cooked enough.
  • Do not layer the cooked wontons on top of each other if not serving immediately (they stick).  Place them single layer on a clean set of plates/trays.
 
To serve the wontons:  Add noodles, greens and wontons into a bowl.  Ladle broth over it all.  If you like, add a little chopped scallion, hot chili oil or soy sauce (I added a big spoonful of those chili bamboo shoots I told you about last post).  Enjoy.
I have only one gripe about making wontons… it took me a really, really long time to prep, wrap and cook everything and no time at all for my guys & I to eat them.  But boy, were they tasty…
Magic Pot of Porridge

Magic Pot of Porridge

 
“Xi-fan.”  It’s just a little bit of rice and a lot of water.  Brought to simmer and then cooked slowly with frequent stirring and adding of more water til it’s the right soupy consistency for the eater. 
It’s about as humble a dish as you can imagine.  But eating it makes me so happy.
It reminds me of Saturday mornings as a little girl.  My brother and I would wake up at the crack of dawn to watch our Saturday morning cartoons.  Our dad would bring us simple snacks like a chopped bananas or peanuts in little bowls while announcing “first course,” “second course…”  This would go on for hours til our mom woke up and cooked a big brunch.  My favorite brunch was xi-fan and all it’s fixings.
Momsy also cooked xi-fan for us when we were sick.  Now I make it for my boys when they are feeling under the weather.
My husband jokes that this is the most economical dish ever.  Start with one cup of rice and then keep adding water til you’ve made a pot of soup big enough to feed an entire family… hmmm… I wonder if this was the real reason we ate so much xi-fan growing up…

 Xi-fan can be eaten plain or with just a pinch of salt.  But really, it’s all stuff you can add in that makes it good.

 Some of the foods I like to add to my xi-fan are:

  • Chili bamboo shoots.  I love this stuff.  But be warned, it’s an acquired taste and is super smelly.  My kids think it’s just nasty.  And I’m sure Momsy is going to be appalled I dump it into my xi-fan (she only ever served this with regular rice).
  • Pickled lettuce.  Or pickled cucumbers.  Growing up, we had access to Asian groceries only once a year.  After we ran out of the Chinese pickles, my parents would chop up regular pickles instead and sprinkle with sugar and soy sauce.
  • Fried dace (fish) with salted black beans.  And yes, you eat the bones too.  I was repulsed by this the first time I saw it as a kid.  But my dad assured me it was “real good!”  He was right.  Recently, I find myself saying that exact phrase (with his intonation) to my boys.
  • Shredded pork.  This makes a yummy sandwich too.  Start with a soft white bread, slather on butter and then layer some of the shredded pork on top.  It’s tasty.  Seriously.  Try it.
  • Eggs.  Momsy always scrambled the eggs and added a little soy sauce.  I’m often too lazy to scramble eggs so I chop up boiled eggs instead.
  • Chopped scallions.  With a little white pepper and perhaps a dash of sesame oil.
  • Whatever else you feel like mixing in with your bowl of xi-fan.  When the Chinese pantry is running low, I’ll even add kim-chee or chopped up spam (or while we’re at it… chopped up hot dog doesn’t sound bad either) to my xi-fan…

About six years ago, my now-almost-12-year-old watched me fry rice.  I’d added far too many ingredients to the pan and he watched with wide-eyed wonder as I carefully mixed the mountain of fried rice without spilling it out of the pan.

“Mommy,” he asked, “Are you making a magic pot of porridge?”

That made me laugh.  And ever after, whenever I cooked up large portions of anything, I’d tell my boy I was making a “magic pot of porridge.”

That day, six years ago, I was really just frying up a ginormous pan of rice.  But perhaps the humble xi-fan with it’s little bit of rice and the many cups of water and all my happy childhood memories of this dish is my real magic pot of porridge.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches (and Awesome Neighbors)

Pulled Pork Sandwiches (and Awesome Neighbors)

We had our neighbors over to our apartment last night.  Since the plan was to just order pizza and hang out, my only “prep” for our evening was to open a bottle of wine.  Imagine my delighted surprise when they showed up with loaded grocery bags in hand and proceeded to put together the most amazing pulled pork sandwiches I’ve ever tasted.

The combination of sweet, sour, smooth and savory all sandwiched between fresh baguette was outrageously tasty.  I scarfed down more than I should have, then woke up this morning craving another one.  Good thing I took notes last night since I’ll be making these sandwiches again real soon.

Ingredients:

  • Pulled pork (from Sophie’s Cuban Cuisine)
  • Fried plantains (also from Sophie’s)
  • French baguettes
  • Sliced cheese
  • Tomato
  • Avocado
  • Lemon
  • Mayonnaise

Prep:

  • Cube the tomato and avocado.  Squeeze lemon juice liberally over both.  Toss gently.
  • Shred the pulled pork if necessary.
  • Slice the fried plantains.

Building the sandwich:

  • Slice baguette in half lengthwise.
  • Spread mayonnaise on bread.
  • Place cheese on one slice of bread.
  • Layer plantains on the other slice of bread.
  • Spoon diced avocado and tomatoes on top of plantains.
  • Add shredded pulled pork.
  • Sandwich together and either cut up to share or just devour the entire thing yourself (so tempting…).
  • Either way – enjoy! 

A huge “thank you” to Carlos & Dennise – you guys are the best neighbors ever!  Extra thanks to Carlos for sharpening all my disgracefully blunt knives…Dinner &  Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey on us next time!!