A Mess O’ Greens

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Today’s brunch actually started a few days ago. I had prepared some ribbons of collard greens (cooked just until tender, not to mushy death) using smoked pork necks as a base and my secret enhancements – a bit of butter, brown sugar, red wine vinegar, and hot sauce (not secret anymore, I guess) – in the pot likker to bring some character and complexity to it. For the uninitiated, pot likker (i.e., pot liquor) is the heavenly liquid that is left over after greens have been cooked. Needless to say, after I consumed the collards, I saved the pot likker to work its magic on another day.

Today was that other day. It happened that I had a bunch of greens from various sources in the fridge: kale, beet greens, mustard greens, and redvein dock; I also had a few stems of Tokyo turnips (aka hakurei turnips), the leaves of which would integrate perfectly with the verdant mélange, and of course, the transcendent pot likker waiting to be called upon to glorify the mundane.

On the side, I dished out some leftover potato salad with bacon (one of my signature recipes that calls for a ratio of 2 pounds of bacon to 4 pounds of potatoes plus lots of other good stuff) that I had recently made for a party (you know, how to win friends and influence people). The Japanese turnip roots got a shower of dill. But it still needed a bit more zhuzh to make a proper meal of it, so after a bit of contemplating, an over-easy fried egg with lots of freshly ground black pepper did the trick.

For a bunch of remains and surpluses, this is one of those times when the leftovers outshined their progenitors.
 
 

Japanese Curry

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

It’s been a minute since I posted any homemade Japanese food but since I cooked up this Japanese curry and it wasn’t bad, I thought I’d share. Actually, the word “homemade” might be something of a stretch: the sauce comes from a package, specifically the quick ‘n’ easy, rather ubiquitous S&B Golden Curry Sauce Mix, the hot variety – and for “hot”, read medium.

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Yes, Japanese curry is a thing; as a matter of fact it’s considered to be one of the country’s top two national dishes (the other being ramen) which are only then followed by sushi and miso soup. From The Japan Times: “The spice mix known as curry powder and curried dishes were most likely introduced to Japan via the Anglo-Indian officers of the royal Navy and other stalwarts of the British Empire. They were among the first Westerners the Japanese came into contact with, after Commodore Matthew Perry landed his Black Ships at Kurihama in 1853, opening the country to the world after hundreds of years of isolation. Since this new dish came from the West, as far as these Japanese travelers were concerned, it was classified as yōshoku (Western food)….”


After years of tinkering with flavor profiles and targeting them to local tastes, Japanese curry came of age, a countrywide comfort food that exhibits little similarity to the Anglo-Indian dishes that gave rise to it. Inside the box, you’ll find blocks of curry sauce mix, essentially an instant roux packed with all the typical flavorings. The instructions couldn’t be simpler: stir-fry chunks of your protein of choice (I used beef) along with some vegetables (onion, carrot, etc.) in oil for 5 minutes, add water, bring to a boil, and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Now if you do any cooking at all, you will immediately recognize that there’s no way red meat is going to tenderize during that meager interval, so put your optimism back in the pantry, take out your patience, and let the dish simmer covered for a good deal more time until the meat is actually tender. Then turn the heat off, break the curry-roux bricks into pieces, add them to the skillet, and stir until the sauce mix has dissolved completely. Simmer and stir for another 5 minutes or so.

I kicked up mine with some yuzu shichimi togarashi (seven spice mixture) that includes dried yuzu peel and red chili pepper and topped the rice with furikake. Raw scallion is a good foil for cooked beef and more important, I had some on hand, so why not?

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

My Beef with Stroganoff

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

Top Round London Broil was on sale at my local supermarket and the memory of Beef Stroganoff, an economical comfort food from my youth, came to mind: budget beef, sautéed mushrooms and savory gravy over noodles – what could be more fundamental? I’ve been tossing this together for so many years that the idea of consulting a recipe never crossed my mind, but since my obscenely large collection of cookbooks has been gathering cobwebs of late, I reasoned that a quick memory refresher couldn’t hurt.

The exercise brought me up short, however: every recipe I came across emphasized how “the quality of the beef makes the dish excel” and to “use filet mignon or ribeye…nothing less”. What? Slather filet mignon or ribeye in gravy? Now, where I grew up this preparation was considered a frugal approach to stretching meat; as a matter of fact, even to this day in my world, a great gravy is what makes the dish. So I returned the books to their dusty shelves and proceeded with my tried and true methodology:

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I seasoned the meat with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper and in a hot cast iron pan, seared it in a mixture of butter (for flavor) and oil (so the butter wouldn’t burn), flipped it once, and let it rest while I made the gravy.

In the same pan, I sautéed onions, added sliced cremini mushrooms, garlic, S&P, removed them from the pan, made a roux in it (nothing unique – standard rouxles apply), and used a very rich beef broth I had in the freezer plus Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, and dill. When the gravy had thickened, I would have customarily added sour cream at that point, but there was Mexican crema in the fridge and I swear it was even better than sour cream in this application and may become a new component of my “recipe” (such as it is).


After the meat had had a chance to rest, I sliced it thinly (prudent if it’s a tough cut)…


…folded it into the gravy along with the vegetables and ladled it over boiled, drained noodles.


A side of roasted Brussels sprouts rounded out the meal.

I don’t care what they say – I think this is a dish fit for a czar!

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Cinco de Mayo – 2021

Since it’s Cinco de Mayo, I found myself musing about some of the Mexican dishes I’ve cobbled together over the past year or so of quarantining and hyper-conscientiousness. I’m hopeful that my 👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳 series will be drawing to a close soon – but for just a little while longer, I’m still proceeding con cuidado.

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Chicken Mole. Shredded chicken, sautéed onions and the like combined with a packet of Mole Rojo Oaxaqueño (took the easy way out that time) topped with some crema Mexicana. (BTW, stay tuned for a post about the subtle differences among commercially available Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran cremas.) In the back, rice cooked in chicken broth along with onion, garlic, red bell pepper and achiote for color; freshly grated cotija cheese sprinkled on top. On the side, black beans, corn, and jalapeños with red pepper, onion, garlic and spices including Mexican oregano and Tajín.

And what did I do with the leftovers?

¡Las quesadillas estaban deliciosas!

For a side dish, I made esquites, the Mexican street food favorite: grilled corn with garlic, jalapeños, scallions, cilantro, crema and lime juice topped with crumbled cotija cheese and Tajín.


On another occasion, I was jonesing for fish tacos and it wasn’t even the officially sanctioned el martes. Besides, it gave me an excuse to break out the comal and make salsa cruda. There’s nothing auténtico about these, but they were a cinch to prepare. Pan seared fish, cut into chunks and set into a taco shell along with avocado, shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, and a bit of crema, all awaiting some homemade salsa to do the heavy flavor lifting.


The salsa cruda started by charring white onion, tomatillos, tomato, and jalapeño on a comal – shown here mid-blister. Added rehydrated dried ancho and chipotle chilies, cilantro, garlic, lime juice, olive oil, salt, and a pinch of cumin and Mexican oregano. I chopped it all by hand because a blender or food processor creates a thin salsa which is fine but I prefer some crunch.


The finished product. And last but not least…


…guacamole!
 
 
¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Crispy Prawn Chilli

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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At least that’s the way that Heng’s spells it on their label, and orthography notwithstanding, this stuff is outrageous.

On a recent visit to a market in Sunset Park’s Chinatown as I was ogling the infinitely many sauces and condiments, I couldn’t help but spot this product with its flashy reflective gold label. I suspected it might be a fishy requisite that could take its place beside the jumbo jar of spicy chili crisp in the fridge and I was not disappointed.

Remember when you first heard about sriracha and soon began dousing everything in sight with it – until you heard about spicy chili crisp and started slathering everything in sight with that? That’s where I’m at with Crispy Prawn Chilli now: I’ve even incorporated it into a dressing for seafood salad. There are other brands, of course (it’s not a new creation) just as Laoganma has its challengers in the spicy chili crisp division and Huy Fong has among sriracha rivals; Heng’s is a product of Malaysia.

The label lists its main ingredients as soybean oil, chilli, shallot, garlic, dried shrimp, sugar and salt; it’s spicy but not overly so, crispy and shrimpy, and can be used as a condiment at the table or in a stir fry as in this hastily flung together dish. For its maiden voyage, I decided to do a stir fry with Chinese cauliflower and peanuts to ensure that the prawn flavor wouldn’t compete with another protein in future applications, but now that I’ve experimented with it, I don’t think it would present a problem any more than fish sauce turns a dish “fishy”. Got a little delicate brown char on the cauliflower which played well with the crunch of the peanuts and the crispness of the prawn chili.


The verdict: delicious!

It’s also available in Fish and Cuttlefish versions, so now it’s back to Chinatown to sample its mates. (As if I needed an excuse. 😉)

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Friends with Benefits

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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I am genuinely fortunate that I have a couple of wonderful neighbors with whom I have become actual close friends. When they needed to go away for a week, they asked if I would water their plants, even though they are aware that I am far better at cooking with things that grow in soil than I am at caring for them (I have chronic black thumb syndrome). If that isn’t optimistic trust, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, just before they left, they generously made me the beneficiary of a sack of perishable upscale groceries that they thought might not survive until they got back. I love this. It’s like opening a basket of mystery ingredients on Chopped.

Among other surprises, I found a fennel bulb, a few strips of Applewood smoked bacon, and fresh quail eggs. Since I have too much time on my hands (help!), I decided to see what I could make out of the trio. I thought the delicate anise flavor of the fennel would contrast perfectly with the smokiness of the bacon, and I could use both the sturdy bulb and the feathery fronds in the dish. I decided to slice the bulb horizontally into planks and roast them because I could coax a bit of sweet caramelization out of them and roasted veggies always work. I butter-poached the quail eggs and set them on top of the fennel rounds, topped them with crumbled crispy bacon, added a few fennel fronds for garnish and a hint as to what lay beneath – and Bob’s your uncle, here’s the result: a seriously tasty treat made from components I likely would never have purchased for myself.

I truly like this couple a lot. But I wouldn’t hate it if they’d go away more often. 😉
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Ramadan 2021

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Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, the holy month in which the Qur’an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad; this year, Ramadan begins at sundown on Monday, April 12. During that period, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk; the meal that marks the end of each day’s fast is called iftar and often commences with three sweet dates which help restore blood sugar levels, after which the menu will vary by country and regional specialties.

In Iran, a rich stew (a khoresh) is not uncommon at the dinner table. This is fesenjan, a Persian dish often made with chicken, sometimes with duck like this one; the other two essential ingredients are walnuts and pomegranates in some form – my version uses pomegranate molasses although I’ve seen pomegranate juice pressed into service as well. Saffron rice in the supporting role.

(And that’s my grandmother’s serving dish if you’re curious.)

Ramadan Mubarak!
 
 

Cosa de Boniato y Chorizo

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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That’s not its real name, of course, but I haven’t come up with a proper one for it yet and I didn’t want to call the post “Untitled” because this serendipitous culinary invention may well be one of the best dishes I have ever concocted. Why serendipitous? Here’s how it came about:

I was playing Socially Distanced Produce Aisle Roulette; that’s where you stand six feet away from the person who got to the vegetable counter first and cool your heels as they pick over each Brussels sprout to select the winning candidates for their dinner. Truthfully, I don’t mind playing this game because I know that it will be my turn soon enough and it gives me time to peruse the landscape for veggies that had not originally made it onto my shopping list.

To its credit, my white-bread supermarket actually does carry some Latin American vegetables if you know where to look. They’re stocked at eye level – if you’re a Chihuahua. Check out the floor-level bins beneath the bananas and you’ll see the platanos. Look under the sweet potatoes and lo and behold you’ll find the boniatos. Appearances notwithstanding, these marvelous tubers aren’t yams and are only remotely related to potatoes (same taxonomic order, Solanales) – and in some respects they’re better than either. They’re a little on the dry side, quite sweet, and taste more like chestnuts than any other starchy veg that purports to taste like chestnuts. Cook ’em the same way you’d cook potatoes.

Anyway, as I patiently waited for an opening, I began to mull over what I might whip up using a boniato. For some reason, my bespoke recipe for potato salad came to mind, but with Mexican overtones. But please note: this was not destined to be “Mexican Potato Salad”. First off, the whole idea of that sounds coy, gimmicky, and likely to disappoint; secondly, I was envisioning a dish served warm, unctuous, and as a main course, not a side.

Nonetheless, I decided that a swap-in for each ingredient in my recipe would be a worthwhile idea, so here’s what I did: boniato for potatoes, Mexican chorizo for bacon, poblano pepper for red bell pepper, chopped white onion (very Mexican) for sweet Vidalia onion, cilantro for parsley, cambray onion (scallions would work, too) for celery (the crunchy contingent), and a garlicky, lemony aioli for the balsamic-vinegary, honey-mustardy mayonnaise that holds it all together – literally matching up ingredient for ingredient, but in different proportions of course.

As I said, in my humble opinion, it was amazing: sweet from the boniato, spicy from the chorizo, tangy from the aioli, yielding yet crunchy, lavish yet homespun, and incredibly delicious beyond even my most unbridled fantasies. Of course, the real test will be to make it again and see if I’m still blown away by it. Hey, I might even write down ingredient quantities next time! 😉
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

The Trinity: Pastrami, Swiss Cheese & Sauerkraut

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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I understand that gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins. Shown here is my chastisement for loading too much cheese into a grilled pastrami and Swiss with sauerkraut sammich. Not to mention the fact that, in defiance of orthodoxy, the only rye bread I could lay my hands on wasn’t crowned with caraway seeds, a venial sin to some, but heresy to me. I do confess that I sneaked some toasted caraway seeds into the sandwich filling to redeem it.


The absolution, however, came from the coleslaw that I improvised from shredded cabbage, apples, carrots, and cambray onions (aka spring onions, alliums that look like bulbous scallions on steroids). Fortunately, this miraculously droolworthy side dish turned out to be that supper’s saving grace.

Salvation through salivation.
 
 
(I think I’ve been writing too much about religion lately. 😟)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️