Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Indian Spiced Cauliflower Soup

Last night I tried my hand at Indian cooking for the second time; the first time was about three years ago, when I attempted an Indian take on tomato soup and grilled cheese after a trip to the emergency room. The meal turned out terribly: the soup was like water and I forgot the toasts under the broiler and they came out charred.  Erik and I still laugh about it, as it was one of about three meals that I've ever made that neither of us liked. However, last night I had my game face, and was armed with the right ingredients, arguably a better cook book (Best-Ever Indian Cookbook--how could I go wrong?), and I was ready to focus and get it right.

While I am a great appreciator of Indian food (it's basically my only must-have any time I'm off-island), I hardly know enough about the actual cooking of Indian food and planning of a menu to formulate a proper meal, so I just chose the first 2 easy recipes I came across in the first chapter (Soups and Appetizers), and went from there. The Spiced Cauliflower Soup was easy and delicious, and packed with healthy ingredients like vegetables, calcium- and protein-rich yogurt, superspice turmeric, and low-fat to boot. The Samosas, though healthier than some restaurant ones because they were baked, not fried, presented problems for me because of the old phyllo dough that I had on hand, which in retrospect would have been better off tossed in the garbage... So I will tell you about the soup, since I was made it with ease, but I will hold off of the samosas until I have a chance to try them again, and won't have to preface the recipe by saying "make sure you phyllo dough isn't total crap, flaking apart on one side and a soggy gelatinous blob on the other...."

My only warning about this soup is that turmeric STAINS. Everything.  I splashed some on the counter, which is now covered with yellow spots, the (formerly) white ladle is now bright yellow, and the lid of the blender looks like someone took a neon yellow highlighter to it. Did I mention that none of this stuff is mine, rather, it belongs to the couple for whom I'm currently pet sitting? At least I still have 2 weeks to work with the bleach... When you are blending this soup, be careful, and don't put down anything that has the soup on it on a porus surface, unless you want the exploding highlighter look in your kitchen as well...

Indian Spiced Cauliflower Soup (From Best-Ever Indian Cookbook)
4-6 Servings

* 1 small head of cauliflower, cut into florettes
* 1 large potato, such as a russet or yukon gold, peeled and diced
* 1 large onion, diced
* 1 tablespoon oil
* 1 clove of garlic, smashed
* 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, finely diced or grated
* 2 teaspoons of turmeric
* 2 teaspoons of ground coriander
* 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds (or ground cumin, if that's what you have)
* 1 teaspoon of black mustard seeds
* 4 cups of vegetable stock
* 1 1/2 cups low fat plain yogurt (I'm a fan of Greek yogurt, such as Fage or Chobani brands)
* Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.
* Chopped fresh cilantro, to garnish

1. In a large, heavy bottomed pot, combine cauliflower, potato, onion, oil, and about 3 tablespoons of water. Put over medium heat, and when the liquids become hot and bubbly, reduce heat, cover, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Add garlic, ginger, and spices, stir around, and cook for another 2 minutes. Add vegetable stock, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 20 minutes.

 3. Working in batches, puree soup in a blender. (Careful here--you don't want any yellow soup explosions! If the soup is still hot, remove the middle part of the blender lid, and cover with a dishcloth or paper towel while you're blending to allow steam to escape.) 

 4. Return pureed soup to the pot, and stir in yogurt. Do this either off the heat or over very low heat to prevent the yogurt from curdling or separating. If you think of it, bring the yogurt to room temperature while you are preparing the soup; this will make incorporating the soup easy.  Seaon with salt and black pepper to taste, and serve up and top with fresh cilantro leaves. Enjoy!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Grilled Flat Bread & Greek Style Salad

Grilled flat bread is an easy, customizable accompaniment to any dish, but I particularly like it along side a hearty salad, such as my Greek-inspired salad.  By mixing in any flavorings you like to homemade or store-bought pizza dough, you match the flavors of your bread to the flavors of your dish, for a cohesive, balanced meal.  The following is just a simple onion and herb flat bread, but your imagination is the limit on the types of spices or herbs that you add.  Brushing the finished bread with garlic butter or a flavored oil can even intensify the flavors and add an extra layer of decadence. 

Onion and Herb Flat Bread

* 16 oz of pizza dough--homemade, (recipe follows) or purchased from the grocery store
* 1/4 cup finely diced red onion
* 2 teaspoons crushed dried rosemary, or chopped fresh rosemary
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Roll out pizza dough so it's about 1 inch thick.  Sprinkle the dough with the onion, rosemary, and salt, and fold in half and half again.  Knead the dough a few times, until all the ingredients are evenly incorporated.  Set aside in a bowl for 20 minutes to allow the dough to rest.

2. Heat a grill pan over medium heat and brush with olive oil.  Roll out the dough until it's about 1/2 inch thick (depending on the size of your pan, you may have to do this in 2 batches).  Place the dough on the oiled pan and cook for 4-5 minutes, until the bottom is golden and firm enough to hold its shape when flip the dough.  Brush the top of the dough with oil, then flip and cook on the other side for 4-5 minutes.  Remove from the pan, and using a knife or a pizza wheel, slice into wedges and serve.

Easy Pizza  Dough (From the new Gourmet cookbook)

This pizza dough can be used for grilled flat bread, or any other pizza you'd like.

* 1 1/4 oz package (or 2 1/4 teaspoons if it's from a jar) of active dry yeast
* About 1 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour, divided, plus more for kneading
* 3/4 cups warm water, divided. (105-115 degrees F)--if you don't have a thermometer, this is quite warm to the touch, just slightly cooler than shower water
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil

1. Mix 1/4 cup of the warm water, the yeast and 1 tablespoon of flour in a cup and let sit for 5 minutes. The yeast mixture should look creamy

2. In a mixing bowl, combine 1 1/4 cups flour and the salt. Pour in the yeast mixture, the rest of the water, and the olive oil, and stir until smooth.

3. Mix in the enough of the remaining flour (about 1/2 a cup) until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl.

4. Turn the dough out on to a clean surface and knead with lightly floured hands, adding more flour if the dough starts to stick to your hands. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.

Here is a good YouTube video that demonstrates kneading: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWj8oHMPFm0

5. Form the dough into a ball and place on a lightly floured surface. Dust with flour and cover with saran wrap and allow to rise in a warm, draft free place for about an hour and a quarter, until doubled in size.

At this point you can roll out the dough, add the fillings, and proceed as described above. 

Greek-Inspired Salad

A trip to Greece three years ago taught me that a true Greek salad is little more than large slabs of feta cheese with a few slices of cucumber, tomato, thick red onion rings, and olives along side, all drizzled with olive oil.  Because of the saltiness of feta, I found the cheese to vegetable ratio too skewed for my palate.  I like to add crunchy romaine lettuce to my Greek-inspired salad and dice my vegetables and feta cheese a little bit smaller for an even distribution of flavor and texture.  I wouldn't exactly say I follow a recipe for my salad, so let this list of ingredients be a guide, but alter the amounts of each component to please your own palate.

For the salad:
* Romaine hearts, sliced crosswise into 1 inch pieces
* Grape tomatoes, halved
* English cucumber, cut lengthwise into quarters, and then sliced about 1/4 inch thick
* Red bell peppers, cut into bite-sized pieces
* Red onion, thinly sliced
* Kalamata olives, halved
* Feta cheese, cut into 1/3 inch cubes

For the Dressing:
* 1 part fresh lemon juice
* 2 parts extra virgin olive oil
* A hearty sprinkle of dried oregano
* Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine ingredients in desired ratios in a large salad bowl.  Squeeze lemon juice in a separate bowl, and slowly add EVOO, whisking as you go.  Whisk in oregano, salt, and pepper, and adjust seasonings, if necessary.  Dress the salad, tossing gently to coat all the greens and veg, but not breaking up the feta cubes.  Serve with grilled flat bread, and enjoy!

Poached Pears in Raspberry Sauce

Poached pears are one of my favorite light desserts, and a perfect make-ahead dessert when you are having people over for dinner.  Everything can be done ahead of time and just sit in the fridge until you are ready to serve up a sweet yet light ending to any dinner.  My mother used to make spiced poached pears when I was younger, although I had forgotten about them until I discovered this recipe in one of my favorite cook books, (and one that I've mentioned before), In The Kennedy Kitchen.  Neil's recipe is a a cinch to follow, but I simplify it even more by using the poaching liquid to make the sauce.  The following recipe is for 4 pears, but the recipe can easily be increased, as long as you have enough sauce pans!  Also, by using good quality frozen raspberries you can make this dish year round!

Wine Poached Pears with Raspberry Sauce (Adapted from In The Kennedy Kitchen)
Serves 4

For the pears:
* 4 Bartlett or Anjou pears, firm but ripe
* 1 bottle of Chardonnay or any white wine that you like--sweet or dry
* 1 1/4 cups white sugar

For the sauce:
* A 12 oz bag of frozen raspberries, (organic, if you can find them), thawed, or 1 1/2 pints of fresh raspberries
* 1/2 cup of the poaching liquid

* Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, to garnish (optional)

1. Peel the pears and cut out the bottom 1/2 inch of the core using a paring knife.  Leave the stem on top, for an elegant presentation.  Slice just enough off the bottom of the pears so that they will stand upright.

2. In a saucepan, dissolve the bottle of wine and the sugar over medium heat.  Add the pears, lower the heat, and cover.  Simmer the pears until they are tender--if you started with ripe pears, this should take about 20 minutes.  If your pears are quite hard to start, this may take up to 45 minutes.  Check on them periodically--they are done when they can be poked with the tip of a knife easily, but not yet falling apart. 

3. Meanwhile, puree the raspberries in a mini food processor or blender.  Transfer the puree to a large meshed sieve and press the puree through, straining out the seeds.  I have found that you really need to take a rubber spatula or a spoon and mush the puree around to press the liquid through, and periodically take your spatula and wipe off all the puree that sticks to the underside of the sieve.  If you feel like a lot of the puree is still sticking to the seeds, add a few tablespoons of water to the puree, mix it around, and this should help. 

4.  When the pears are soft, remove from heat.  Take out a 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and add it to the raspberry puree.  Taste the sauce and add more poaching liquid if it is still too tart.  When desired sweetness is achieved, transfer the pears, still in the the remainder of their liquid, to the fridge to cool--at least 2 hours but up to 24.  Cover the raspberry sauce and refrigerate until it is time to serve.

5. To serve, place each pear in a shallow bowl and pour a pool of sauce around each pear.  Add a small scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of fresh whipped cream, if desired.  For even more pizazz, a sprig of mint is a nice garnish, or light sprinkle of grated dark chocolate, but these will taste divine as is.


Fresh Whipped Cream

* 1/2 cup of heavy or whipping cream
* 2 tablespoons white sugar
* 1 teaspoon of real vanilla extract

Combine ingredients in a bowl and whip with an electric beater until cream is thick and holds its shape.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Easy Waffles From Scratch

From time to time any experimental cook will find herself stuck with half a bag of this or that, some leftover ingredient from some dish that they tried. A few weeks ago I tried my hand at Ethiopian cooking, and every recipe I found for injera, the traditional pancake-like Ethiopian bread, uses self-rising flour. Not wanting to alter the recipe on my first effort, I bought self-rising flour, which is just all purpose flour with a certain proportion of baking powder and salt mixed in. I won't buy it again now that I know what it is, (I can make it myself), but still I am saddled with about 7/8ths of a bag of flour taking up precious real estate in my tiny pantry. The challenge when you have these extra odds and ends is to find recipes that use the right amount so you can use them up. (Heck, I'm still trying to finish off that chili in adobo that I bought last summer!) What to do with this flour...? Well, the cat house has a waffle maker, and I haven't had a waffle in years (college, maybe?) so the answer is obvious!

It was a challenge to find a fast waffle recipe; many use either yeast or whipped egg whites as leavening agents and require rest time before cooking. Let me tell you, I am a hungry girl in the morning. Sometimes my hunger even wakes me up. Don't know why, but that's just the way I am. So I didn't have the patience to let some batter sit around for an hour. The easiest recipe I found on AllRecipes.com uses baking powder instead of yeast or whipped egg whites to get a nice light texture, while the vegetable oil--marginally healthier than melted butter because of the lower saturated fat numbers--gives them a lightly crispy exterior, and overall the taste was far superior to the waffles from the just-add-water mix we tried last weekend. Best of all for me, the flour & baking powder measurements made substituting the self-rising flour a cinch. I served them with a simple strawberry sauce made from frozen berries and warm maple syrup. Nothing better on a Sunday morning.

Easy Waffles
Makes 6 7-inch waffles

This basic waffle recipe is quick and simple, whether you are trying to use up self-rising flour, or want to stick to basic. You could also substitute in some whole wheat flour to improve the health-factor :)
* 2 eggs 
* 2 cups all-purpose flour and 4 teaspoons or baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt  
OR 2 cups of self-rising flour and 1 teaspoon of baking powder 
* 1 3/4 cups milk
* 1/2 cup vegetable oil 
* 1 tablespoon white sugar 
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat an electric waffle iron.

2. Beat eggs in large bowl with an electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in milk, vegetable oil, sugar, vanilla, flour, baking powder, and salt (if needed) just until smooth.

3. Spray preheated waffle iron with non-stick cooking spray. Pour approximately 2/3 cup of waffle batter onto hot waffle iron . You will know they are done when the waffle iron lid lifts easily and the waffle is golden brown. Serve hot. 

Simple Strawberry Sauce

You can make this sauce all year long with frozen strawberries. Buy the plain strawberries, not those packed in sugar sauce--although you will be adding sugar to the berries, it's better to control that amount.  

* 1 bag of frozen strawberries 
* 1/4 cup of water
* Sugar, to taste--I used about 1/4 cup
* Juice of 1/4 of a fresh lemon

1. In a medium sauce pan, combine strawberries and water over medium-low heat. Cover, and cook until strawberries have thawed, stirring occasionally.  

2. Using the back of a fork, crush some of the strawberries to thicken the mixture. Add about half of the sugar and lemon juice, and cook for a few minutes until sugar has completely dissolved. Taste, and add more sugar as needed, and cook until it's all dissolved. If you are going to be serving this sauce alongside maple syrup, be sure not to over-sweeten the sauce, since the maple syrup will take care of that!  Serve immediately, or keep in the fridge and reheat gently before serving.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Shortcut Soup

I have a backlog of recipes that I've been meaning to blog about, but I haven't written much lately because I haven't photographed anything because my camera is back at my cottage, while I've been cooking at the house where I've been cat sitting all winter.  However, I've decided just to forge ahead in the blogging, and I'll fill in photos later, because all of these recipes are definitely keepers, so I'm sure I'll make them again soon.

I'm calling tonight's recipe Shortcut Soup, but 400 Best-Ever Soups, the book in which I found it, calls it Butter [Lima] Bean, Sun-Dried Tomato and Pesto Soup.  It's a shortcut soup because instead of simmering a laundry-list of ingredients for hours to create complex flavor layers, this soup uses just three ingredients that already pack a flavorful punch, along with healthy lima beans, to create a fast soup that tastes like it was on the stove all day.  While I managed to take about five times longer than necessary to cook this soup, and created a huge mess in the process, I was pleased with the result....although on second thought, it's probably good that I didn't have a camera to document the cooking.

As mentioned, I've been cat sitting this winter, and I made this soup at the "cat house" tonight.  After failing to find canned lima beans at my local grocery store, I had to boil dry ones, so that added an extra hour to the cooking process.  When I got to the blending stage, I realized that the blender (which Erik declared probably dates back to the Eisenhower administration) leaked, so I had to quickly dump the soup back in the pot before it all oozed out.  In my haste I whacked the ladle, catapulting soup all over the stove, the counter, the floor, and the cookbook, which is actually a library book...oops.  At that point I decided to switch to the food processor to finish the blending, which worked fine, though food processors are just inherently slower and messier than blenders (when your blender isn't leaking, that is) when you're working with liquids.  However, I eventually got all the soup blended, and dinner was finally on the table.  To round out the meal I toasted thick slices of whole wheat ciabatta topped with brie under the broiler until it was bubbly and melting into the nooks and crannies.

Butter Bean, Sun-Dried Tomato and Pesto Soup (Adapted from 400 Best-Ever Soups)
Serves 3-4

* 2 14-ounce cans of butter beans (lima beans), drained and rinsed or about 2/3 of a pound dried lima beans, boiled until tender (about 1 hour), or about 4 cups of frozen lima beans, thawed.
* 1 quart of good quality chicken stock, or vegetable stock, if you want to make a vegetarian meal
* 4 tablespoons of sun-dried tomato puree, or about 8 sun-dried tomato halves, finely chopped
* 5 tablespoons of good quality store-bought pesto, or homemade, if you feel so inclined
* Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. In a large sauce pan (4 quarts or so) combine lima beans and the stock, and bring to a boil.

2. Reduce the heat and stir in the tomato puree and the pesto.  Cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.

3.,  Transfer the soup, working in batches if necessary, to a blender and puree until smooth.  Return to pan and reheat gently, about 5 minutes.  Season to taste, if necessary--between the stock and the pesto, the soup is plenty salty, but a generous grind of fresh pepper gives it a nice punch. 

If you have the right ingredients and reliable appliances, this soup can be on your table in just about 20 minutes.  Enjoy!

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Few Changes Around Here

I know that over a month ago I claimed that I was going to revisit the title of my blog, as well as some of the stylistic elements.  But I've been lazy.  And my computer crapped out about a month ago, and only today I started looking into getting it fixed, so I've actually been spending less time staring at screens (although I couldn't exactly tell you what I've been doing with all those extra hours....)

Anyway, the one change I am trying to make is to improve the labeling of my recipes so they're easier to sort through by primary ingredient and/or food type (entree, dessert, etc.)  Before I go all gung-ho on this, I would love to hear back from any of you readers who actually read my blogs for the recipes, (ie, those who would potentially use this feature) and hear any suggestions or comments about how I can make it more user-friendly.  I mean, I love to hear from anyone who reads this, so let me know what you think :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Asian Flavors, Part Two

If you were paying attention in Part One of this posting, you will remember that I also bought wonton wrappers.  (Incidentally, Stop n' Shop ALSO carries these--see Breakthrough, also in Part One--I never noticed them before because they're kept behind a two by two foot column that blocks them from view.  Stupid layout.)  These wrappers are so versatile--you can use them for dumplings and potstickers, or you can take the Italian route and use them instead of pasta dough to make ravioli (this might be my next project using the leftovers!)  

I was first inspired to use them after seeing Alton Brown's episode of Good Eats titled Wonton Ways.  In the episode he makes pork potstickers, vegetarian steamed dumplings, and then deep fried purses filled with pear and walnut--another variation that I probably won't try, because I'm not really into deep frying.  Right after seeing that episode, which must have been 2 years ago at this point, I tried the pork potstickers, which were delicious.  Last night I returned to those recipes and decided to mix & match the recipes; I made potstickers again but used the filling from the vegetarian dumplings.  Erik wasn't totally sold on the idea of tofu, but he came around, and quite honestly, once it's mixed in with all the other flavors of the filling the tofu is barely noticeable--it really just adds bulk to the filling.  To complement the pot stickers I made a Honey Soy dipping sauce, which came together in minutes, and was so much more interesting and complex than plain soy sauce.  To round out the meal I boiled frozen edamame (picked up at the Asian Grocery but also available in the "healthy" frozen section of your grocery store), sprinkled generously with kosher salt.  The potsticker portion of the meal is a little bit labor intensive--between prepping and cooking it probably took me about 2 hours--but it's a fun project when you have a free afternoon, or a sous chef to help you in the kitchen to speed up the process.

To get an idea of what you'll be doing, check out this clip from Wonton Ways, where Alton is putting together the vegetarian filling.  He also demonstrates his own steaming method, which is a great way to make these even healthier.

Vegetarian Pot Stickers (adapted from Alton Brown)

* 1/2 pound firm tofu, pressed and diced in 1/4 - 1/2 inch cubes
* 1/2 cup grated carrot
* 1/2 cup shredded Napa cabbage (sometimes called Chinese cabbage--just don't use plain!)
* 2 tablespoons chopped scallions, green and white parts
* 2 tablespoons finely diced red bell pepper
* 2 teaspoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
* 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
* 1 tablespoon soy sauce
* 1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce (Asian/Int'l aisle of grocery store)
* 2 teaspoons sesame oil
* 1 teaspoon of salt
* 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
* 1 egg, beaten
* Wonton wrappers, about 40
* About 1 2/3 cups chicken broth
* Vegetable or canola oil for brushing pan
Special equipment:

* Pastry brush
* 10-12 inch nonstick saute pan with tightly fitting lid

Note: Press tofu to remove excess water before dicing.   See this tutorial to learn how.

1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees F.
Check out all that healthy color!

2. Combine ingredients from tofu through egg in a large bowl.  Stir gently, trying not to break up tofu chunks.

3. Unwrap your wonton wrappers, but keep covered with a damp cloth while you are working, so they don't dry out.  Remove 2 or 3 wrappers and a time and lay on a clean surface.  Place a scant tablespoon of filling in the middle of each wrapper.  Brush two sides of the wonton wrapper with water.  Fold the wrapper so it makes a triangle, and pinch the sides together firmly.  As you complete the wontons, place them on a sheet pan covered by a damp cloth.

4.  When you have finished forming your wontons, heat your nonstick pan over medium high heat.  When the pan is hot, brush lightly with vegetable oil (you can also use your pastry brush for this, just be sure that it is made either of silicone or natural fiber--you don't want a plastic one to melt!).  Add 8 to 10 potstickers at a time to the pan and cook for 2 minutes, without touching.  After 2 minutes, gently add 1/3 cup chicken stock to the pan, turn the heat down to low, cover, and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove wontons to a heatproof platter and place in the warm oven. Clean the pan in between batches by pouring in water and allowing the pan to deglaze. Repeat until all the wontons are cooked. Serve immediately with soy sauce, or, even better, the Honey Soy Dipping Sauce.  (I really should emphasize, after eating the leftovers for 2 days now, HOW GOOD the sauce is.  I mean, I love the potstickers, but they would be nothing without the sauce.  It is just that good--sweet, salty, spicy, gingery...it has everything going on :)

Honey Soy Dipping Sauce (adapted from Emeril Lagasse) 

* 1/4 cup soy sauce
* 2 tablespoons orange blossom honey (I used regular honey and just a tiny bit of orange zest)
* 2 teaspoons grated or finely minced peeled fresh ginger (grating the ginger on a Microplane gives it lots of kick!)
* 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
* 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
* 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Grocery note: If you use sesame seeds often, it is so much more economical to buy them in your store's international aisle, where Asian brands come in much larger containers and cost far less than the dinky McCormick bottles in the spice aisle. 
Whisk together soy sauce, honey, ginger, sesame oil and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. (If you are having trouble incorporating the honey, like I was, microwave for about 20 seconds and whisk again).  

This sauce can be prepared 1 day ahead and kept covered in the fridge.  Just before serving stir in sesame seeds. 

So that summarizes my Asian cooking adventures, but I am going to give you the links to the recipes for the pork potstickers, as well as the fried pear & walnut pockets, if you are just going wonton happy.  The pork pot stickers are actually a perfect recipe if you need to use the other half pound of pork that you'll likely be left with if you make the Dan Dan Noodles, and they're also great because they use a lot of pantry staples, so once you have the wonton wrappers you'll be ready to rock and roll (or rock and fold, in this case).  

I hope you enjoy these recipes if you find yourself approximately 26 miles away from Chinese food (by water), or if you just want a healthier spin on some of your takeout favorites.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Asian Flavors In Your American Kitchen: Part One

This morning I had a breakthrough at the Stop n' Shop: it actually carries a number of Asian ingredients that I was convinced I couldn't get on island!  Happiness!  There are several recipes that I've been wanting to blog about, but I thought I couldn't get the ingredients locally, so I hadn't been able to cook them and photograph them, but now I know that even my provincial grocery store is more well stocked that I previously imagined, so this week I am tackling a few head-on.

This story starts when I was staying with my friend Kristen in DC last month.  On my last night there we made homemade vegetarian sushi and dim sum (i.e., a variety of frozen dumplings and buns).  It was so much fun that I wanted to get some supplies so I could try it at home, so this past weekend while I was off-island I went to an Asian grocery store, and picked up a bag of rice, nori, vinegar, and then impulsively I grabbed some wonton wrappers and udon noodles.

I nabbed the udon noodles for take two of a recipe called Dan Dan Noodles that I found in Cooking Light this past fall.  During take one I had to use spaghetti, because I couldn't find any proper Asian-y noodles.  As it turns out, when I pulled up the Dan Dan Noodle recipe to start cooking, I realized that it actually called for Chinese egg noodles, not udon after all, but since I had them I used them, and the recipe was just delicious.  Then today--breakthrough!--Stop n' Shop actually carried udon after all!  The other ingredient I had trouble finding the first time around was sambal oelek, a fresh chili paste.  I bought some in Chinatown over Christmas to add to the pantry, but then of course this morning when I was looking for Hoisin sauce, and there's the darn sambal oelek, right at eye level.  Not sure if it was there last November, when I was searching for it, but no matter.  So long story short, now that I have my ingredients and know even provincial grocery stores like mine have these ingredients, I feel like I can share this recipe with you, readers, since I am confident that you can find everything you'll need.

Below is the recipe for the noodles, with a few adaptations by me, most notably the addition of finely chopped red bell pepper to up the veg content and give it a punchier appearance.

 Dan Dan Noodles (Adapted from Cooking Light, November 2009)

* 1 pound frozen fresh wide Chinese egg noodles, thawed, or Udon noodles, or thick spaghetti
* 2 tablespoons canola oil
* 1/3 cup dry-roasted peanuts
* 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
* 1 tablespoon sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste)
* 1 teaspoon sugar
* 2 garlic cloves
* 1 (1/2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled
* 8 ounces lean ground pork
* 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
* 3/4 cup thinly diagonally sliced green onions
* 1 1/4 cups chopped seeded peeled cucumber
* 3/4 cup of finely chopped red bell pepper
* 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Cook egg noodles in 6 quarts boiling water for 3 minutes, or cook noodle variety of choice according to package directions.  Drain noodles, reserving 3/4 cup cooking liquid.

2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add peanuts to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until fragrant. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Combine peanuts, soy sauce, sambal oelek, sugar, garlic, and ginger in a mini food processor.  Process until finely ground.

3. Cook pork in the large skillet over medium-high heat 8 minutes or until done, stirring to crumble. Add peanut mixture and the 3/4 cup of noodle cooking liquid to pork; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute, stirring frequently.  Add the lime juice and onions to pork mixture, add noodles and toss well. Place about 1 3/4 cup noodle mixture in each of 4 bowls; top each serving with a generous heap of cucumber, red bell pepper, and cilantro.

 Sadly, all I can show you is the leftovers container, because I was so hungry while I was cooking this that I didn't take a picture of my pretty presentation.  But there it is in all it's meaty, peanuty, spicy glory.  The picture really doesn't do it justice.