Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Two legs of lamb for Xmas

Well the holidays have certainly been a food extravaganza.

Thanksgiving was a flurry of activity filled with friends, family, fiance, and food. Poppa Kang's Thanksgiving Turkey is always to die for. I've attempted his recipe once with satisfying results but nowhere near as wonderful or beautiful as his bird consistently turns out year after year.

Christmas this year was food-glorious. Forget the gifts, just feed me! The night I got home, my mother fed us ox-tail stew. When I was 15, I lived in Paris for a year with my dad and whenever I came home to visit, this was the dish she always had waiting for me. Her ox-tail stew always conjures up feelings of homecoming, motherly love, and comfort.

Christmas eve was spent at the Kang residence. My mom made up a gigantic batch of spring rolls -- about 70-something of these delicious rolls filled with napa cabbage, black mushrooms, shreds of pork. They are rolled in paper thin skins (very different than the thick cardboard skin of eggrolls) fried in vegetable oil and then served with Marukan seasoned rice vinegar and a delicious chilled Chardonnay. These spring rolls are 1) an exclusive Liu (my mother's side) family recipe that I have never seen made anywhere else other than my own home and 2) are a once-a-year deal -- usually on Chinese New Year, but now that my sister lives in Michigan we ceased this opportunity of her home visit to make them. My sister and I have also vowed to learn this recipe so that the legend lives on.

Christmas was at my future in-laws' house and my Christmas gift to them was to make Xmas dinner. The menu was butternut squash soup, mixed greens salad (with walnuts of course!), two roasted legs of lamb (with the bone) in fennel butter, whipped cauliflower, mint and pea rice (made by Andrew), and sauteed zucchini (a last minute addition).

The butternut squash soup is quite easy. I hate cutting up squash so I typically splurge for the precut, packaged kind. I was cooking for 10 people so I picked up two packages. First I heat some olive oil, throw in a half a large onion (minced), and then a few cloves of garlic. After that is cooked well, I add the squash and let it cook for a few minutes. Then add water until it covers the squash. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat, and let simmer. When the squash is soft enough that a wooden spoon can easily split a chunk, I turn off the heat and let it cool a little. Then I puree the whole mess. Return to the pot and heat at low. Add water until it is at a proper consistency -- not too thin but not so thick that it is like baby food. Stir, stir, stir, and while stirring, add in heavy cream to the liking. I like to make the soup the night before and let it sit in the fridge -- the tastes are released overnight and it saves time. When ready to serve, reheat and be sure to stir. Serve into bowls and add a swirl of cream and a sprig of fresh thyme for a garnish.

The lamb legs were made from a recipe I found on Epicurious (enter "lamb and fennel") with a few adjustments and I changed some of the quantities of spices according to personal taste. I bought two legs of New Zealand lamb from Whole Foods -- free range and happy little guys, I guess. They were rather fatty and needed some trimming. I did this the morning of Christmas (mostly b/c nobody else was awake yet). Then I marinated the lamb legs in a concoction of red wine, minced garlic, salt, crushed pepper, lime juice, olive oil, and soy sauce. I let the legs marinate for at least 5 hours, though had I not been so full and lazy the night before I would have started this process then.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Before roasting, the roasting pan should be placed on two burners and the leg is browned on all sides. This is a pretty difficult task and the only reason I do it is because the recipe instructs me to. I'm not experienced in roasts so I'm not entirely sure why I do this and I so rarely buy a leg of lamb for myself that I don't want to try it without doing this step. Anyway, a sturdy set of tongs helps this happen.

Then the leg is smothered in the fennel butter -- a concoction of butter, a generous amount of ground fennel (must be ground to release the oils -- putting it through a grinder or food processor will not do the job), ground pepper, ground dried rosemary, minced garlic, dijon mustard, and a little bit of soy sauce (not too much since it is already in the marinade). All of this is whipped up into a butter and you can use a half or more to cover the leg.

Roast the leg for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and roast for another 40 minutes or so (you want the meat rare and my main complaint about my Christmas roasts were that they weren't rare enough). When the roast is done, take out the legs, remove from pan to platter and tent in foil for at least 20 minutes. This is a good time to serve the soup and salad.

The drippings can be used to make a gravy with the remainder of the fennel butter although I admit, I am terrible at gravies and they always separate and wind up being too oily/fatty for me. My cousin-in-law (??) gave me some tips about what I can do in the future so I'll try that out. Bridget Jones's mother also mentions sieving so I'll try that in the future as well.

Dinner was quite successful and I was happy to serve my future in-laws. I am pretty sure that my love language is serving and cooking so this was my best way of expressing my gratitude and happiness to them. We all had a good time with my fiance, his parents, his brother, cousins, aunt and uncle, and neighbor. His cousin and her husband also brought their 8 month old baby who is just now beginning to taste non-baby food and he really seemed to enjoy the cauliflower and squash soup.

Last holiday is New Year's Eve and then it is DIET TIME, especially because my wedding is in June and boy do we have an amazing menu for that day. Until next time, happy cooking and happy eating. xoxo

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cashew butter dreams

When I get myself a brand new shiny powerful Cuisinart food processor, I am totally making jars and jars of cashew butter.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dear God

Why did you make the two most important men in my life hate ginger as much as I love it?


Sunday, October 17, 2010

A remedy for travel and/or colds

It's officially soup season and I've made this fish soup twice in the past two weeks.

The first time was on my last day in Ann Arbor, when I visited my sister at the University of Michigan. We had originally planned to make this soup for dinner but got lazy and had it for the late lunch/early dinner I had before I boarded my flight. Maybe it's the Asian in me, but noodle soups always make me feel nice and homey and safe. It was a good pre-flight/last meal until Thanksgiving with my sister meal with a Mission St Pale Ale. Considering that my 1 hour flight turned out to be almost 3, it kept me well satiated throughout the ordeal.

The second time was yesterday, after waking up with a terrible head cold and gross nasal drip. Throughout a delirious nap I couldn't think of anything but this fish soup so when I finally woke up, I dragged myself to Whole Foods on 97th (the best Whole Foods in Manhattan by far) just to get the ingredients for the soup. I made enough for me, Andrew, and the next few days. Andrew and I had this soup with a bottle of Orleans Hill Cote Zero 2009 (not bad, not great, good with fish, organic, "sulfite-free," but most importantly, $8.99 at Whole Foods).

The best part about this soup is that it is fast, cheap, and of course healthy (always the shining benefit of a meal). All kinds of variations can be made to it and I'm still working on perfecting the details and ingredients since this is one of my newer dishes. This is a good soup for pre or post travel, a bad head cold, or just change-of-weather-scuffed-boots blues.

1 carton vegetable broth
2 cloves garlic
1 stalk green onion
A small nubbin (about 2 cents worth) of ginger
Noodles -- the first time we used Chinese wheat noodles, the second time I used rice vermicelli (although I had really wanted the mung bean variety)
1 filet of white fish (tilapia works well)
Leafy greens -- napa cabbage is preferred but it's out of season right now so the first time we used iceberg lettuce and the second time, I used romaine lettuce
Black pepper
White pepper
Soy sauce
Rice vinegar
Sesame oil

1) Pour vegetable broth into a large pot and set on high heat to boil
2) Add 2-3 cups water
3) Add a few pinches of salt and black pepper
4) Slice garlic cloves, add to broth
5) Mince ginger, add to broth
6) Cube the fish, add to broth
7) Chop or julienne green onion, add to broth
8) Pour in 2-3 capfuls of soy sauce, 2-3 capfuls of rice vinegar, and a dash of sesame oil
9) Let the soup heat to a boil; in the meantime prepare noodles
10) The soup is pretty much ready after it hits a rolling boil and you've lowered the heat and let it simmer for at least 5 minutes. The longer the soup is heated, the more the flavors are unlocked but note that the fish will break down more over time. It is up to you when you want to eat.
11) A few minutes before serving, throw in the leafy greens. Napa cabbage would need 5-10 minutes, iceberg lettuce needs about 5, and romaine lettuce needs 1 minute.
12) Serve with noodles
13) Add white pepper to taste
14) Tastes super good (and great for the sinuses) with Sriracha hot sauce!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

a thought from mark bittman

ah, the joys of a food processor. i dream of the day i own a state of the art food processor.

September 14th's "The Minimalist:"

The Food Processor: A Virtuoso One-Man Band

i will most definitely make dumplings all the time as soon as i own one of these puppies.

there are few more pleasurable things in life than a sharpened knife

tonight i took a break from my routine of work, post-work errands, home, crash, sleep and actually came home at a decent hour. my roommate from the month i lived in a barrio in managua, nicaragua during a semester abroad is crashing on my couch tonight so i felt like it would be a good time to cook dinner in large proportions, to feed both me, her, and me in the next few nights.

the menu: broccoli steamed (not really sure what my methodology qualifies as) with garlic, eggplant with garlic and hoisin sauce, cashew chicken with red peppers, and couscous and scallions (i don't eat rice). this is, obviously, influenced by the years i spent around a chinese dinner table.

first and most importantly was the glass of chardonnay that i was hankering for all day -- it was a very long tuesday that was preceded by a very long monday. you can always start a meal right by having taken the time to pour yourself one.

the menu seems complex but is really rather simple and i think i threw it together in about 30 minutes (give or take, as it was a bit impeded by the drinking). i don't eat rice (only on rare occasions), so i replace rice with couscous.

broccoli and garlic:
heat olive oil
add chopped garlic
add broccoli crowns
add water
add salt
add soy sauce paste
add white pepper
cover with lid and let steam/cook until broccoli is crisp but cooked through

eggplant with hoisin sauce:
slice eggplant into bite size pieces (i like to slice width wise into rings and then quarter the rings)
heat olive oil
add chopped garlic
add eggplant
add water if necessary
add a pinch of coarsely ground black pepper
let eggplant cook until soft
add hoisin (i like lee kum kee) sauce (2-3 tablespoons)
let cook until eggplant is cooked through and soft
add tablespoon or so of cornstarch, stir
cook until cornstarch is mixed with sauce

cashew chicken with red peppers:
cube organic, boneless chicken breast (1-2 pieces), place in bowl
add chardonnay
let the chicken and chardonnay sit for at least 10-20 minutes (prepare the chicken first, then do all the other dishes before preparing the cashew chicken with red peppers dish)
in the meantime, dice red peppers
add a tablespoon or two of cornstarch to the chicken and chardonnay, stir until cornstarch is dissolved
heat olive oil
add a small amount of minced garlic
add chicken, cook until about 2/3 done
add red peppers
add a few dashes of soy sauce, a generous amount of sesame oil, a hint of sweetened rice vinegar
add cashews
stir until chicken is cooked through

couscous with scallions:
pour a cup (or whatever quantity you so desire) of couscous into a bowl
set an equal amount of water to boil
thinly slice a stalk of scallion (green onion)
add half to the boiling water, the other half to the uncooked couscous
when the water boils, add to the couscous
let sit for 5 minutes
add olive oil
fluff with fork

serve all the dishes together, family style preferred. with wine, even better.

thoughts: next time i might add slices of chicken or tilapia (with cornstarch, to keep it from flaking) to the eggplant. or maybe even shrimp! i had shrimp in my freezer (deal: $5.99 a pound!) but i was too lazy to thaw/defrost it.

make sure your knife is super sharp, it makes everything ten times more pleasant.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

tonight i hate cooking

sometimes the stars are misaligned and things just don't go well. or sometimes you're just so freakin' hungry and weak from the hunger that cooking is the most daunting task and once you lose your focus, everything goes reeling out of control.

i'm sitting here trying to eat this bowl of peanut butter sesame noodles with carrots, cucumbers, and eggs but the cooking experience was just so irritating that i've lost my appetite.

after work i went for a run and during the entire run all i could think about was food and how hungry i was because i really didn't have much to eat today (coffee, soup, granola bar). at around 96th street i decided that i was done and was set on making these noodles, so i headed back to 62nd and forced myself to do some long-procrastinated errands before i stopped by whole foods for the few ingredients i needed to make dinner.

when i got to the columbus circle whole foods, it was -- as always -- swarming with people and i began to feel weaker and weaker as the run and the low caloric intake caught up with me. i circled around and around looking for cucumbers until i finally gave up and asked. i was pointed in the right direction but they were buried under a whole bunch of eggplants and when i finally got to them (having first knocked over three or four eggplants and bumped into people with my gym bag, bags from the pharmacy, and dry cleaning) they were sad and wrinkled and old. i finally found the best of the worst and then went in search of bean sprouts but for the life of me could not find them. i finally gave up my search even though i had a deep hankering for them and proceeded to get a bottle of sparkling water, scallions, and eggs. then i stood in line for 20 minutes just to buy these 4 damn ingredients. i was already feeling annoyed.

when i got home, the third floor walk up seemed to be equal to everest and when i finally got inside i practically collapsed. at this point i really should have just eaten the leftover pizza in the fridge (trust me, i don't always cook) but i was on this weird psycho mission to cook dinner. when i finally set some water to boil i got started but then my phone kept on ringing and dropping calls and making beeps and clicks at me -- sometimes i feel too connected to the world and hate that my phone has to remind me every time i have a call, text message, BBM, instant message, Facebook message, etc. i also hate that i don't know how to ignore it and i allow it to drive me batty.

as i progressed in my cooking, i just got more and more irritated as my foot started to itch and i couldn't unitch it and then i remembered that i don't have a vegetable peeler (how have i survived without one for so long??). i couldn't julienne fine enough and i kept dropping things and then i scalded the eggs. the peanut butter wouldn't thin and my foot kept on itching. i mean, it couldn't be THIS DIFFICULT when this is supposed to be a fast and easy meal!!!! by the time i finally finished cooking i hated my life and food and everything and that's when i started writing this. but then my hunger took over my hate and i scarfed it down and while the veggies are a bit on the large side, it's not bad.

well, that's that and i'm feeling better now and if the starts were aligned and my foot wasn't so damn itchy, this is how you would do it:

chinese style noodles (by this i mean the thick, "homemade" style kind)
organic, pure crunchy peanut butter (no added sugar)
bean sprouts
1 clove of garlic
rice vinegar
soy sauce
sesame oil

1) boil water for noodles. cook noodles according to package. when noodles are cooked, drain and toss with a generous amount of sesame oil.
2) peel and julienne carrots and cucumbers. be sure to de-seed the cucumbers before julienning (i like to cut it in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon). set aside.
3) use some of the boiling water to thin the peanut butter. stir the peanut butter until it reaches a thin, creamy consistency.
4) mince garlic. add to peanut butter.
5) heat a medium skillet and bring the heat to low. crack the eggs, beat, and pour onto the skillet, spreading it out thin and evenly on the skillet. pop any bubbles that form and let the egg run through the holes to create a fluffy egg pancake. remove from heat and cut into strips.
6) put the noodles into a large bowl and add peanut butter sauce. add a few capfuls of rice vinegar (according to taste) and a few dashes of soy sauce. toss the noodles.
7) top the noodles with the carrots, cucumbers, and eggs.
8) chop up the scallion and add to the noodles.
9) serve with a dollop of sriracha on the side, according to preference.

if you don't drop anything and scald the eggs and fail in every single way possible, this should take no more than 20 minutes to do. fast and easy and healthy -- especially if you use peanut butter with no added sugar. i like the bits of peanut in the crunchy peanut butter but if you don't like that texture, using creamy peanut butter would serve better. in the past i've also included slices of golden mushroom and boiled chicken but that's under ambitious circumstances and clearly, today, just making dinner was an ambitious goal in and of itself. yeesh.

Hamburgers for the in-laws

Last Sunday, my boyfriend proposed to me during a lovely outing to The Cloisters and since then life has been a flurry of activity as we get prepared to throw the biggest party of our lives. Of course we are very focused on making sure that the food and drink is amazing (and, you know, that we're well prepared for marriage!), but in the meantime we needed to have an "in-law convention" and figure out our budget, game plan, and guest lists.

My parents volunteered to host the convention at their lovely house in Princeton, NJ and Andrew suggested that he and I cook dinner for our prospective future in-laws. This was a very nerve-wracking idea but at the same time, I felt like it would show our sincerity and it would be a nice gesture. At first we had some grandiose ideas of steak and homemade gnocchi and then I contemplated a Chinese-style beef noodle stew but all of these things would wind up being too stressful for something already kind of stressful so we decided to go a bit more low-key and Labor Day appropriate and went with hamburgers, potato salad, and clams casino.

It was a lovely and perfectly temperate day and when we got to the house, my mom was already bustling in the kitchen preparing a beautiful fruit salad. She had champagne grapes, red grapes, strawberries, green grapes, and slices of mango artfully placed in a glass bowl and she quipped that while she doesn't really like to cook, she certainly loves to arrange. There was also boiled peanuts (very Chinese) and steamed edamame to entice our appetites. AND of course their fridge was stocked with beer and we had our choices of Yeungling, Red Stripe, and Corona.

Cooking in their kitchen was a welcome change from my itty-bitty kitchen in Harlem and there was plenty of room to move around and loads of counter space to prepare on. It was a fun environment as we all had our individual cooking projects but we talked and bantered and it was one of those quintessential bonding-in-the-kitchen moments.

To begin with, my dad provided a couple of bottles of wine (including a stellar riesling) from his increasingly stellar wine collection as well as amazingly delicious hamachi kama (Japanese cuisine: the grilled jaw/cheek of yellowtail tuna) served with ponzu and scallions for an appetizer. This is one of our family's all time favorite foods and apparently we even get these cuts of tuna from a special dealer -- you can't just get them in the store. My dad lived in Japan for a while when he was a young boy so he is well versed in Japanese cuisine and it is always such a special treat when we have hamachi kama. It is a meal in and of itself!

Following the hamachi kama were Andrew's clams casino and I wish I had paid more attention (but I couldn't because I was preparing food too) to what he was doing because it was a symphony of tastes and I couldn't get enough. I don't know much about seafood, especially products with shells and this was thoroughly impressive. What was even more impressive was that he managed to portion it all perfectly; a common problem that I face is that I always make too much or too little but he managed to have the exact amount of everything. I am so grateful that I will be marrying a man who can cook.

My contribution was the hamburgers and potato salad -- once again, two dishes that I know are a sure thing because I've done them on numerous occasions. One thing that I've learned over the years is that when you need to 100% impress, go with something you know you can do. Friends are always a good guinea pig group, but future in laws seems like an audience that you should feed with confidence.

My hamburgers are a hit at home but this was the first time I was making so many patties so, in true Angelica fashion, I once again over estimated and wound up buying nearly 4 pounds of ground Angus beef. This resulted in 12 patties! As always, I never really know how much of everything I put into my food, I do it by feel, taste, and knowing my ingredients. So first I took the ground beef and dumped it into a large mixing bowl. Then I took a bag of Cape Cod reduced fat kettle chips (reduced fat is better because there is less salt) and smashed them up into fine crumbs. I use these as a kind of breadcrumb and also in this way, I don't actually ever have to add salt to the mix (which I feel like sucks out the moisture in the meat). Following this, I minced up about half a bulb of garlic and 2/3 of a large yellow Spanish onion (or a small one, I guess). The last main component is chopped portobello mushrooms (I prefer mature portobellos, not baby bellas). I don't really skimp on any of these ingredients as they really provide taste and texture to the burgers. Of course the main star is the beef, but I would say that for 2 parts beef there is 1 part onion and 1 part mushroom.

Into this mix I added soy sauce paste (I like Wan Ja Shan), Worcestershire sauce, red pepper flakes, ground black pepper, minced fresh parsley, and a generous dose of finely grated parmesan cheese. Three eggs were beat and then added for cohesion and then I mixed this all up by hand, trying to avoid handling it too much because I've heard that the more you handle it, the less likely it will stick well in patty form. I usually then take a small sauce pan and heat it up and taste test -- I very rarely get the right taste down on the first try so I'll cook up a small amount and then add more of the sauces and spices until it tastes just right. After everything was mixed up, I let it refrigerate for at least an hour. Dad grilled these babies up and we topped them with Swiss cheese, onions, romaine lettuce, and tomatoes.

The side dish was potato salad -- simple, but certainly not the healthiest! First I set a pot of salted water to boil and then I take russet potatoes (5 -- again, overdoing it) and chop them up into small cubes. When the water boils I dump them in and let them get soft but not so soft that when I later stir them they become mashed potatoes. You still want some form of the cube so keep an eye on them and don't let it over boil. In the meantime, I hardboiled 5 eggs (set salted water to boil, then add the eggs and let boil for 10 minutes, drain afterwards). When they were cool, I peeled them and cut them up into cubes. I then boiled (briefly) carrots and frozen peas. (When short on time, frozen peas and carrots are fine, but for some reason I prefer to boil my own carrots, but peas are great either fresh or frozen.) I also chopped up some Yellow Spanish onion and a bunch of mini pickled gherkins (aka cornichon). I also usually cube some ham but this time around we had dashed around the grocery store and it was the one ingredient I forgot. When the potatoes were ready, I drained them and added in all the just mentioned ingredients, along with a generous heaping of mayonnaise and dijon mustard. I added ground pepper and minced parsley for taste and mixed it all to the desired consistency. Something to remember is that the more you stir, the creamier it gets. After everything was all mixed up, I threw this into the fridge until sufficiently cold.

So we feasted like kings and followed it all up with tiramisu and tea for dessert. It's a surprise that after all of this we were able to stay awake to discuss the logistics of the impending wedding. If one thing is for sure with my future in-laws and my parents, it's that neither Andrew nor I will let the other starve! It was a perfect Labor Day meal that reflected both our American and Chinese/Asian tastes. Moreover, since I live in the city now, it was the rare chance to have something grilled. I love the smell of a charcoal grill and it certainly felt like the last hurrah of Summer, as some trees are already changing color. Soon it will be pies and stews and hot pot and turkey. How time flies, and the craziest part -- by next Labor Day, I will be married!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A night in Little Italy

Natalie came up the other evening for a night in the city. Even though it was a Saturday, I had to stop by the office for a few hours to get some work done and hadn't eaten much throughout the day. By the time she got here I was so hungry and I was craving Italian food and wanted to go down to Little Italy.

I haven't been down to Little Italy in years, so we headed down there with the mission to find the best pasta we could. After a few parking debacles (namely finding a spot two seconds too late and getting it jacked from us by some Canadians) we finally strolled down the streets of Little Italy and came across Grotto Azzurra, a restaurant that has sat in the heart of Little Italy since 1908. Yelp reviews waver on this establishment, but that evening, it was perfect for two hungry ladies who had a penchant for heaps of pasta. The host lured us in with promises of half priced drinks so we took an outdoor seat and people/tourist watched and sipped cocktails.

I had a blood orange martini which was divine and Natalie's mango pear martini was also delicious -- so delicious that a tippling fly dove right in for a sip (and its death). Natalie and I have been best friends since the 6th grade, so something about that evening was really significant to me as we chatted about our lives and some major turns they have been taking. I think that at that moment I was struck with a moment of true, unadulterated gratitude for life, a best friend, good food and drink, a job that paid for this all, and the opportunity to live in this wonderful city. I felt like we were finally women, grown from the days that we bickered over who would call Domino's Pizza for delivery or cried over broken teenage hearts.

The food came out and it was one of those thrilling food moments -- to see so much food piled on your plate. Definitely one of those eyes bigger than your stomach moments. Natalie had seared scallops on pesto risotto and I had gnocchi with gorgonzola and walnuts. We washed it down with a bottle of French chardonnay and I ate until my stomach hurt.

After dinner we skipped dessert and desperately needed to walk around so that I didn't feel like a potato sack full of wet dough. We searched for bubble tea, but the strange phenomenon of Chinatown seems to be that it shuts down at 8PM. Even on a Saturday night. We found a place that was serving papaya bubble tea but then they realized they had no more tapioca so Natalie was left with papaya tea that was ultimately, not very good.

Nonetheless, the dinner was delicious and was warm and satiating and exactly what I had been craving all day. That, in and of itself, is one of the greatest feelings in the world but it was coupled with a lovely moment with a best friend and I couldn't ask for anything more than that.

Next step: make my own gnocchi and make it ten times better!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A warm house

Back in July, as a "thank you," I had a housewarming party for the people who had helped me move in to my new apartment in Harlem. It was an exciting event for me because it was a) my first dinner party in my new digs, b) the first time some of my closest friends would be meeting my boyfriend, and c) an experiment in gathering some people who did not know each other well and who's only connection was mostly me.

I've always been intrigued by the challenge of throwing the perfect dinner party -- inviting the right mix of people, maintaining interesting conversation, coming up with a menu that pleases all guests, providing enough wine/cocktails, and being able to cook, socialize, mingle, and entertain all at the same time without breaking a sweat. Needless to say, I broke a sweat.

I had invited my boyfriend Andrew, my best friend from since childhood Natalie, my best friend from since high school Jan, and my college roommate (and the best penpal) Kari (theme: people from different stages of life?). Natalie brought over Dogfish Head Raison D'Etre (one of my favorites), sorbet from The Bent Spoon, and a toy for my cat. Jan, knowing the kind of wino that I am, brought me an amazing 8-glass set of Reidel wineglasses, which truly make the perfect "ting" when set down on the counter. Kari had made from scratch one of the most amazing cheesecakes I've ever had in my life and hauled it all the way from Brooklyn. Andrew provided labor, assistance, and the coolest turkey/bird of paradise constructed from two pineapple.

The menu was organic pork chops with a pineapple-honey sauce, served with brussels sprouts salad and whipped cauliflower.

To start with, I made hummus as the appetizer, just a little to whet the appetite. I usually try to keep myself stocked with cans of garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) and tahini so if I have an unexpected visitor or hunger, I can whip up hummus real fast. I just dump a can of garbanzo beans (with the liquid) into a blender, add a ton of tahini and olive oil, a clove of garlic, a pinch of sea salt, some lime juice, and then blend away. I like to serve the hummus on a flat plate with a little well in the middle for some olive oil and then sprinkle the edges with paprika (and no, you cannot substitute chili powder for paprika). What was sad was that I had bought and cut into triangles whole wheat pita from Whole Foods and it was disappointingly stale.

I was also bummed that I hadn't had enough time or money at the time to go out and buy materials for cocktails. I like to be able to provide a gin and tonic or vodka and cranberry if one doesn't want wine or beer, but moving is hard and one has to make priorities. Unfortunately, hard liquor was not on the top priority list of "things to buy" at the time.

A few hours prior (around 2PM), I had trimmed the pork chops (when preparing meat, I always go organic; I'm uncomfortable with conventional meat) and marinated them in Yellowtail Chardonnay, crushed black pepper, slices of garlic, and a very small amount of sea salt. I marinated both sides of the meat for about 1-2 hours on each side. I pan-seared these babies in olive oil -- it took forever and I wish I had a grill or was more confident about broiling. I served the pork chops with a sauce that was made out of pineapple, wildflower amber honey, dijon mustard, and a clove or two of garlic (I had blended it altogether). I was generous with the dijon mustard which gave it a good kick and an interesting component. I would have liked to marinate the pork chops in this mixture -- I think maybe next time I would just combine the pineapple sauce with the white wine and marinade the chops for like, 2-3 hours each side.

The brussels sprouts salad is nice because it seems fancy but is the most ridiculously simple dish. I don't know why everybody hates on brussels sprouts when they are adorable and delicious! Anyhow, I quartered brussels sprouts and cooked them until they were at the cusp of tender (but still crispy) in olive oil. Then I tossed in feta cheese, chopped walnuts, and slices of cherries (if cherries are out of season, dried cranberries would work too).

Unfortunately the second causality of the night was the whipped cauliflower. The point is to cook the cauliflower and garlic in olive oil until brown and then whip it in a blender/food processor. It comes out the consistency of mashed potatoes and the cauliflower has a natural buttery taste that melta in your mouth. I've done this side dish a few times but this time it was a disappointment because I was feeling the time crunch and didn't cook the cauliflower long enough. As a result it did not whip/blend well and instead caused Andrew to battle with the blender for a while (I really need a quality food processor). Anyway, lesson learned with the cauliflower -- got to make sure it is cooked thoroughly.

Ultimately I was thrilled with the dinner party -- we ate well and then sat around talking and sharing stories. Natalie cracked us up with some hilarious tales and Kari awed us with the most delicious homemade cheesecake I have ever tasted (truly comparable to the cheesecake at Cafe Fiorello). Seriously. It was everything a cheesecake should be (creamy, cheesy, sweet, perfect graham cracker crust) and I am in awe of the Cheesecake Queen because as much as I like cooking, I'm a mediocre baker. Jan kind of just stayed quiet (suddenly shy?) and Andrew revealed some embarrassing secrets about me. It was truly good company and they were all great sports about not having a large table to sit at or an air conditioning unit to keep us from melting under the hot halogen track lighting in my living room. It was honestly one of those nights where I felt like the luckiest girl in the world and my house was truly warmed by friends, food, and the stove. Now, if only the cauliflower had been fluffier...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Kale over Chinese style noodles topped with a fried egg

The other night, my mom and my sister came to visit me in Harlem. My sister -- who is also my best friend -- is about to move to Ann Arbor to get her Ph.D at the University of Michigan. We are so proud of her and this was our last gathering as the Kang women for a while and of course, I wanted to feed them. I decided to go with a dish that my mother taught me when I first started cooking -- kale sauteed with onions, garlic, and soy sauce served over Chinese style noodles, topped with a fried egg.

I chose this dish because it is a comfort food, both in the sense that it always makes me happy and also in the sense that it is a safe dish for me -- I’ve made it more times than I can count. But mostly, the kale and noodles remind me of my mother’s love and evenings spent around our round kitchen table in the house of my childhood. What better dinner to make on my last night with my sister?

I started out by opening a Corona with lime for me and my sister. Then I set a large pot of salted water to boil for the noodles. I also set some low-sodium organic chicken broth to heat. I cut the kale into sizeable strips, chopped half a bulb of garlic, and minced 1/3 of a red onion.

I then sliced some organic beef round eye steaks into thin (though not thin enough to my mother’s standards -- her one complaint!) strips and marinated it in soy sauce paste with half of the chopped garlic. I set that aside to marinate for a little.

To prepare enough broth for three, I chopped three stalks of green onion and put that at the bottom of the bowl. I added a sizeable glob of soy sauce paste, two capfuls of Marukan rice vinegar, a generous dash of sesame oil, and white pepper.

To cook the kale, I heated olive oil and when it was hot, threw in the onions. After a minute or two I then added the garlic. When the air was heavy with the intoxicating smell of onions and garlic, I added the beef along with its marinade. After cooking that for about three minutes, I added the kale. Kale reduces greatly so it’s always a battle of leaves spilling out of the pan and it seeming like you’re going to have way too much and then being disappointed with how scant it seems in the end. A lid was placed over the kale to let it reduce in size and then sauteed. I added some soy sauce (not paste) and a pinch of white pepper.

At this point the water is boiling so the noodles can be prepared while the kale is cooking. I haven’t advanced to handmade noodles yet so I just follow the instructions on the box. Thankfully, Leanne (my sister) was helping me out so she took care of the noodles. When the noodles are done, I usually toss them in sesame oil for flavor and to make sure they don’t stick. The broth was hot at this point too so I asked Leanne to pour that into the bowls and then add the noodles. Hot water is added to the bowls to reduce the heaviness of the broth, especially if the broth is not low-sodium (it happens).

While this was occurring, I fried three eggs in olive oil and dribbled soy sauce on top. The point is to break the yolk over the noodles so I didn’t fry them for long. When the eggs were done, I placed one over the noodles in each bowl. The kale was served in a bowl so that one can help herself and put them on top of the noodles as well. Of course this is eaten with chopsticks and Chinese soup spoons.

Thankfully the hot weather that had been plaguing New York for a few weeks had broken and there was a cool rain and wind in the air so the broth and noodles didn’t make us uncomfortably hot. The effect was exactly what I wanted -- sitting around a table with my mother and sister eating something familiar and nutritious while we talked about our lives, hopes, dreams, and struggles. At the same time, this was something I hadn't made for my mother before so she was thrilled to see how it was translated down to her daughter. We laughed and chatted and slurped down our noodles and ate till our bellies were warm and full. This was comfort and it was delicious.

Monday, August 16, 2010

An introduction

Life is, inexplicably, about food. I learned this the most when I lived for two years in a small village in the bush of Senegal. When we woke, we ate breakfast so that we could have energy to go to the fields to grow millet and peanuts. We ate lunch so that we could then spend the afternoon pounding the millet and shelling the peanuts. We ate dinner at the end of the day because we were ravenous from all the day’s labor. The women talked about dinner as they ate breakfast and meal preparation was a favorite topic of conversation.

Of course in America, our society has developed to be a little different -- most of us work all day not in fields but in offices and our harvest is not grains, but numbers that represent money. This then goes to buying food but we also have the added complexities of art, music, sports, and all kinds of extraneous entertainments to entertain ourselves with. But at every turn and corner, food and drink is still involved. Museums boast cafes. Concerts sell hot dogs. Go to the theater and before curtain call, you can buy wine and candies. Football games without tailgating?

In the past I have had a twisted relationship with food. I was once one of those skinny girls who could eat anything without gaining a pound but when I hit college, my eating habits began to catch up with me. I loved food and eating it, but there was -- of course -- a strong urge to be thin and pretty, which in the end, resulted in many solitary nights gorging on food and spending the next daylight hours eating nothing to make up for it.

Horrified at the path I was following, I made some changes and began working out, made changes to my diet, became more aware about nutrition. Most importantly, I began making food and discovered that I loved creating food. I love the process -- shopping for groceries and lovingly selecting beautiful vegetables, cutting and chopping and mincing, and then combining everything at different temperatures and times and rates with glorious results that please taste, smell, sight, and touch.

I also really love the eating experience. I think eating should be a social activity. Solitary eating still leads me to occasional bouts of gorging and subsequent guilt where there is nobody to keep me accountable and I find it a dangerous activity. When I eat by myself I tend to keep it simple to avoid eating 8 double chocolate chip cookies or a bag of chips as an excuse for dinner. But when I eat with others, I have no fear of fat or carbs or sugar. When I eat with others, I want to have the full experience of fellowship at the table. I think that life is mainly experienced through food and I have always believed that my ultimate expression of love is feeding those I care about. Nothing makes me happier than feeding, good, beautiful, and nutritious (or at least wholesome, sometimes you just need a lot of butter) food.

I’m starting this blog to write about food -- making it, consuming it, purchasing it, hating it, loving it, and most importantly, experiencing it. I’ve never been very good with measurements but I like sharing how I make my food -- I don’t believe in secret recipes and I don’t believe anybody can make the same dish the same way, so one should always share his or her methods without fear that it will be “stolen.” Plus, true cooks give credit where it is due.

I hope you will try out my ideas and share yours as well as suggestions to my little creations. Mostly, I hope you will actually let me feed you someday at a dinner party, an taste-test night, drunk brunch (my favorite!), or a meal out so that we can eat and drink life together! Welcome to my table.