Thursday, September 26, 2013

Spinach and Chickpeas with Lemony Rice Pilaf

What can I say, rice always seems to make its way into my 'fast and easy' meal choices during the week. Needless to say, we eat a lot of rice in our house, and my version of rice pilaf has a bit of delightful toasted orzo added to it, transforming it into what my husband likes to call 'rice a roni, but better.' 

This one is especially quick since a lot of the ingredients are easy to keep on hand for whenever the mood strikes you to whip something like this up. It's definitely filling enough for a meal for 3 and elegant (and easy) enough as a side with a larger meal for special guests. I put mushrooms in just about everything, but feel free to tweak it by adding or subbing in some of your favorite veg. 

for the lemony rice pilaf            

1 cup of your favorite long grain rice
1/2 cup orzo pasta
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
peel and juice of medium lemon
2 tsp sea salt
3 cups low sodium chicken broth

for the spinach and chickpeas

1 lb bag of frozen organic chopped spinach
1 14 oz can chickpeas, drained, rinsed
   and smashed a bit with potato masher
1 medium onion, chopped
10 oz cremini or button mushrooms, sliced

3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Place a medium pot that has a tight fitting lid over medium heat. Add the oil, butter and onion and saute till the onion begins turning translucent, about 5 minutes. 

Add the orzo and stir constantly till the orzo has become golden brown. Add the rice and stir for another 2 minutes, then add the broth, lemon juice and peel. Bring to a boil over high and stir once, then cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 20 minutes, then remove from heat and let sit covered for 10 additional minutes. 

While the rice is cooking, place a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil and onion with a pinch of salt. Saute till softened, about 7 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook till the liquid has released, then add the frozen spinach and another pinch of salt. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, then uncover and cook for another 5 - 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chickpeas and stir well, cooking long enough for them to be heated through. 

Remove the lemon peel from the rice and fluff with a fork. Serve the spinach and chickpeas over the rice and top with the feta or parm. This dish is great served family style, particularly if it will be as a side, or in individual bowls.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Twice Cooked Pork with Sofrito Rice

Recently my mom was asking me if I knew of some versatile new seasoning she could try to liven up her cooking a bit. I felt a bit stuck in a rut myself, and remembered that I've always wanted to try making sofrito but have been too lazy... so of course I told my mom she should make it, since she usually has more gumption than me in the kitchen. Luckily my mom has always been very generous, and froze me a cup of this amazing stuff. It can really go in just about anything, particularly any Latin American dish, and make it something really spectacular. Sofrito is so fragrant that its pungent aroma can be noticed through a zip lock bag, after the sofrito has been frozen. 

I had a bunch of leftover braised pork shoulder from a ramen experiment, and had no idea what to do with it. I remembered the sofrito my mom had left me in the freezer and knew I should incorporate that. I just started cooking, not having any clue where I was going to end up, but thankfully I wrote it all down because this meal ended up being really tasty. Not to mention fast, which is what I needed the day I made it since my daughter needed my undivided attention, hence the lack of photos in this post. 


for the sofrito rice

1 cup of your favorite long grain rice
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 Tbsp sunflower oil
1/2 cup sofrito 
1 3/4 cups low sodium chicken stock or water
2 tsp adobo seasoning

for the twice cooked pork

~2 lb cooked pork shoulder (about 4 cups)
   -I prepared mine by slowly braising it in a stock that had been made by simmering dried 
    shitake mushrooms and kotsuobushi, but any way you've cooked it (unless its been 
    slathered in barbecue sauce) where a mild flavor is yielded should work.
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 heaping Tbsp adobo seasoning
1 tsp cumin
6 - 8 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup unfiltered cider vinegar
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
a few splashes of your favorite hot sauce

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

Place a medium pot over medium high heat and add the sunflower oil and onion. Saute for about 3 minutes, then add the sofrito. Cook till nearly all the moisture has evaporated, then add the rice. Saute for a few minutes till most of the rice has toasted a bit and turned opaque. Add the stock or water and adobo. Bring to a boil, giving it a couple good stirs while it comes up to temp. Cover and dial heat back to low and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let the rice sit for another 10 - 15 minutes, covered. Don't peek! 

While the rice is cooking, place a large enameled cast iron pan or non-stick skillet over medium heat. While the skillet is heating up, quickly pull apart the cooked pork if needed. Add the oil and pork to the pan, followed by the garlic. Saute for 5 minutes, then add the remaining ingredients and give it a good stir. Cook and stir occasionally till nearly every bit of moisture has evaporated and the pork starts sizzling again. Add a bit more vinegar or hot sauce to taste. 

Fluff the rice with a fork and serve in a large bowl, topping it with the pork and black beans. Serve with lots of hot sauce, or some nice crema and cilantro, or serve it along side some corn tortillas or roll it all up in a burrito. Either way, it's going to be really delicious.

*updated 9.24.13

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ode to Cincinnati Chili

Before ever trying Cincinnati style chili, I knew I'd love it. Tons of noodles, melt in your mouth ground beef, and copious amounts of bright orange extra sharp cheddar cheese. Oyster crackers are optional, yet essential in order to soak up that little pool of ethereal grease floating on top. 

The first time I had it wasn't in Cincinnati, but in my hometown of Milwaukee at Real Chili. It was not a good experience. Although they don't boast their recipe as being 'Cincinnati' style, that is basically what it is. I went there with my husband while I was pregnant, and needless to say I was very excited about what I was about to experience. When I witnessed the server pull up a heaping ladle of the stuff, without mixing in the grease slick on top, I knew I was in for trouble. My bowl consisted of noodles literally drowning in grease, with a bit of chili on the side. Not so good, and the little person that I was sharing my meal with had quite the acrobatic show to let me know that she wasn't having it. If only she had stirred the pot before filling my bowl! It would've been such a more enjoyable experience. I knew that despite the extremely off ratio of chili to grease, the chili was really good. Yet I needed a good home experience before I'd venture out for this kind of chili again.
So began my mission to find an easy yet authentic and genuinely good version of this chili with so much potential. I found a great one by Dax Phillips that I've slightly adapted, and it's truly dynamite. I serve it up a bit differently than true Cincinnati style that offers up to '5 Ways' to adorn the chili. Noodles are a given - I used orzo tossed with a touch of butter and a bit of freshly ground nutmeg that pairs amazingly well with the chili. And since I adore beans, I put them in the chili instead of on the side... and I may be insulting some people here, but black beans made their way in with the kidney beans. Although there wasn't much grease left for the oyster crackers to soak up due to the brilliant method of cooking the beef before adding the spices and other ingredients, they were a welcome addition. I've got a couple ways to enjoy the large amount you'll probably have leftover that I usually did with my Turkey and Soy-Rizo chili, such as Cheesy Chili Mac, which is always a huge hit in our house.


3 lbs ground beef, up to 90% lean
7 cups water
2 bay leaves
5 Tbsp chili powder
3 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp allspice
3 tsp adobo or 5 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
3 Tbsp cider vinegar
3 Tbsp Worcestershire 
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 28 oz can + 14 oz can salt free diced tomatoes OR
   8 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
cooked orzo pasta for serving, with lots of grated extra sharp cheddar and toppings of your choice

Set a large dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot over medium heat and add the ground beef and water. Bring to a steady near boil and cook till nearly all the water is gone, about 45 minutes to an hour. While your beef is cooking, skim the fat and 'scum' off the top and discard. You may find it hard to believe at first, but your beef will end up looking like this at the end of the process-
Add the remaining ingredients all at once(!), except for the beans, noodles and toppings, of course. Give it a good stir and bring to a gentle simmer
After the chili has cooked for a bit, it should look a bit like this-
Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 2.5 hours, stirring occasionally. Add the beans and cook for another 30 minutes, uncovered. Once the chili is done, the tomatoes will have completely disintegrated in the chili and it will be a deep, rich brown color. Yum. Remove the bay leaves and discard.

Boil up enough orzo pasta to yield ~4 cups (nearly a pound) and toss with 1 Tbsp unsalted butter and 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg. Serve chili atop the orzo with finely chopped red onion, lots of grated extra sharp cheddar (preferably the neon orange variety) and oyster crackers.

The original recipe states that one should let the chili cool to room temp and store in the fridge overnight to develop the flavors as well as skim off any additional fat that rises to the top. I've tried this way once, and I didn't feel it was a necessary step since there was nearly no grease sitting on top of the chili. The flavors do develop a touch after a night in the fridge, but after smelling this chili cooking for a few hours, I doubt you'll be able to wait that long.

Recipe adapted from Dax Phillip's Cincinnati Chili

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Tom Kha Kai

Tom Kha Kai is probably my favorite soup of all time. A few years ago a close friend's boyfriend and fellow culinary enthusiast 'El Capitan' showed me his way of preparing it. Since I always get a hot pot of this whenever I go out for Thai food, I was extremely stoked to learn how to make it at home. Although the ingredients were much more exotic than what I was accustomed to, it's a fairly simple soup to make. It takes some time, and a lot of tasting to get the perfect balance of flavors that suit one's own tastes. And it is very, very worth it. 

This soup can be made with a wide variety of add ins, and El Capitan favors lots of seafood in his version of Tom Kha. Since there are some shellfish allergies in my family, I only use chicken, which is what the 'kai' is for. Any asian grocery should have the ingredients you need for this, and they are all inexpensive. Most of them can be frozen as well, and are used in tons of other authentic Thai and Laos cuisine. I've included some photos of most of them so if you've never used them in your own cooking, you'll be able to find them with ease. 










Galangal and kaffir lime leaves can be well wrapped in wax paper then placed in a freezer bag and be frozen for up to 3 months. The palm sugar keeps for a very long time in your pantry, and the lemongrass is the only thing that can't be kept for longer than a week in the fridge. Palm sugar comes in large discs, or jars of smaller, tablespoon size pucks. I went for the puck variety since it was easier to gauge the amount used. Galangal looks similar to ginger, and is a bit similar in taste as well, yet there is a very noticeable difference, so it is pretty essential to use rather than ginger. The kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and galangal are used to flavor the broth, which is the base of the soup and gives it its characteristic background of flavors. 

Here are some of the beautiful oyster mushrooms I bought for the soup. Normally straw mushrooms are used, yet I didn't find any fresh ones at the store, so I preferred these. They have a mild mushroom flavor, which is another important factor. You don't want any ingredient's presence to outweigh another's in this recipe, so it's important to use a subtly flavored mushroom. Cremini or shitake are definitely out. 

My favorite Thai restaurant has broccoli and snow peas in their tom kha, so that's what went into mine as well. Traditionally bird's eye chilis are used to add the heat, but since we were sharing this with a 2 year old, I backed off of those and relied on sambal, sriracha and good chili oil to spice up our own bowls. A couple of chicken breasts, lots of coconut milk, cilantro and good chicken stock, and you're in business baby.


2 quarts low sodium chicken broth, or homemade
5 14 ounce cans of your favorite full fat coconut milk
2 stalks lemongrass, pounded fiercely with the back of a knife & cut into thirds
8 - 12 kaffir lime leaves, depending on size
3 - 4 inch piece galangal, sliced
~3 palm sugar discs, crushed (this is where your tastes come into play - you may like this soup a tad sweeter than myself)
2 cups snow peas, halved
3 cups broccoli florets
12 - 16 ounces oyster mushrooms, stems removed and torn into bite sized pieces
2 - 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 - 3/4 cup fish sauce (again, you may want more or less of this, so start small)
juice of 6 - 8 limes
1 bunch cilantro, leaves removed and set aside
lots of sambal, sriracha and chili oil to taste
cooked jasmine rice (optional)

In a very large pot (at least 6 quarts) over medium heat, add the chicken broth, coconut milk, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and galangal. Bring to a low simmer and dial back heat to low. Once at a simmer, let the ingredients steep for 30 minutes or so. Your kitchen should smell very fragrant, and the broth should taste quite strong. Remember, you will be adding quite a few other ingredients, and this infusion should not be diluted, but complimented. Remove the leaves, lemongrass and galangal with a slotted spoon and discard.

Keeping the heat on low, add the chicken breasts and poach till fully cooked, about 15 - 20 minutes depending on size. Remove and set aside to cool. Shred into large yet bite sized pieces.

Add the crushed palm sugar, lime juice and fish sauce. Then taste, taste, taste! I find that I like a lot of fish sauce in this. Although it is incredibly pungent, it helps develop the unique taste of this soup, and you may need more than you think. Ideally there should be an equal balance of sour, sweet, salty and spicy, with the major umami boost that the fish sauce provides. Some like a bit more lime than sugar, more spice than umami. Start with the minimal amounts and go from there. Ensure that the broth simmers for a few minutes with a few thorough stirs before tasting so that the additions are well incorporated.

Once you have a nice balance going in your soup, dial up the heat to medium and add the broccoli and mushrooms. If you'll be using straw mushrooms, use about 2 - 3 drained cans. Cook for 5 minutes before adding the snow peas and shredded chicken. Once the chicken is warmed through, its ready to serve.

Add a few sprigs or a handful of cilantro and sambal, srirach, and/or chili oil to taste. Serve over several spoonfuls of jasmine rice. Any leftover soup can be frozen for up to 1 month.

Recipe adapted from El Capitan (aka GT, Spacemage)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Korean Pancake

For me, savory pancakes rarely disappoint. These Korean Pancakes are more like a savory crepe though; instead of being filled with succulent goodies, these have them mixed right into the batter. It makes them a bit more difficult to flip, but they come out looking really lovely and the slightly caramelized add ins are on display.

These are very simple and easy to make, but just like with any pancake or crepe recipe, there is some personal fine tuning occasionally needed. Even though the first couple attempts may not produce the most beautiful pancake, they will always taste amazing. They are thin with slightly crisp edges that have a subtle chew, and an intensely flavorful and quick sauce to season them with is all you need to make this a complete snack or appetizer. 

Customarily the simplest recipes call for only a healthy amount of scallions added, but I had some bean sprouts I needed to use up so I tossed those in as well. You can really add whatever you like, as long as its done sparingly. A little goes a long way with these, and you don't want to weigh them down too much or they will be impossible to flip without tearing. Some coarsely chopped rock shrimp, thinly sliced mushrooms, julienned bamboo shoots - have fun with it.

makes about 4 pancakes; 4 1st course/appetizers or 2 snacks

3/4 cup rice flour
1/4 cup AP flour
* You can easily use all rice flour, or AP flour for this (although you'll get a thicker and less delicate pancake with AP flour), but I prefer this ratio the best. 
~3/4 cup ice water
1 egg beaten
1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
3 cups bean sprouts
1 bunch scallions
2 Tbsp butter 
2 Tbsp Bragg's liquid aminos or low sodium soy sauce
canola oil for frying the pancakes

for the dipping sauce

scant Tbsp gochujang (korean hot pepper paste)
2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Start with preparing the sauce. Combine all the ingredients in a small glass bowl and whisk together. Taste and adjust ingredients to your preference. Set aside.

Place a 12" non-stick skillet over medium heat and add the butter and Bragg's. Add the well rinsed and dried bean sprouts to the pan. Saute for 8 minutes, or until nearly all liquid has evaporated. If there is still quite a bit of liquid left in the pan after 8 minutes, create an open space in the center of the pan by pushing the sprouts to the edges. Dial up the heat a bit and let most of the remaining liquid cook off. Place the cooked sprouts onto a plate and set aside.

While your sprouts are cooking, thinly slice the white part of the scallions and chop the green into 1 - 2 inch pieces. Combine the flour(s), egg, fish sauce and most of the water. Whisk until just combined. The batter should resemble crepe batter, or a very thin pancake batter. You may need to add more ice water if this isn't the case.

Place an 8" non-stick skillet over medium heat and add a scant Tbsp of canola oil. Add a quarter of the chopped scallions (both white and green) and saute for about a minute. Add a quarter of the cooked bean sprouts. Add a couple ladlefuls of your pancake batter, taking care to swirl the pan around immediately after to create a thin pancake. Cook until the top of the pancake looks nearly completely dry, then carefully flip and cook for another minute. These steps will look something like this:

Continue the process 3 more times, mixing the batter a little to prevent it separating before using every time. Serve immediately or at room temperature with the spicy, salty, tangy dipping sauce.