Monday, February 22, 2010

Papa's Beef Stew

I started cooking at a very young age and I'm clearly obsessed with cooking. In fact, the hardest thing about traveling so much is that I can't cook. And, my suitcase is always full of condiments that I bring back from my journeys, which causes problems with Customs and more than a few jars have broken on the way home. My oldest son calls me the "Condiment Queen!"

I was very fortunate to be raised with some fabulous cooks in my family. My father didn't cook, but he loved food. He thoroughly enjoyed the Chinese food my mother made yet he would often crave the foods of his childhood so I learned to make them. I made him Chicken and Dumplings, Pot Pie, Stews and Soups, Meatloaf stuffed with Hard Boiled Eggs and lots of cookies and pies. I once even tried to make Scrapple and Sweet and Sour Pickles while still quite young! I was an ambitious cook from the beginning. Most of my recipes back then came from cookbooks that I would check out from the library. The others I copied from Redbook Magazine at my Aunt's house or even at the doctor's office. I cooked from scraps of paper that I still have and I laugh at the childish handwriting and the food stains. I was clearly not a neat cook then or now! I didn't even own a cookbook until my Mother bought me Betty Crocker's Children's version and I cooked every recipe that wasn't too simple or too sweet. My father ended up giving me what I considered to be my first real cookbook, which was Glorious Stews by Dorothy Ivens. I cooked my way through every recipe and my father loved them except for the one served in a cooked pumpkin. The inscription says:

"Lillian - I hope you become an outstanding cook like your mother is, because the better cook you are, the more enjoyable my life will be. Papa"

He unfortunately didn't live that many more years. As I've become a better and better cook, I often stop and think about how much he would have enjoyed something I've made. The other night, I made beef stew at the request of my younger son whose tastes are remarkably like the grandfather he never even got to meet. I no longer use that cookbook to make stew although it is still on my bookshelf. I've made stew so many times I could probably do it in my sleep. My father liked his stew with tomatoes and he didn't want it to be too thick as he loved to dunk bread in the sauce. So, this is the recipe I came up with many years ago that became his favorite and I dedicate it to my beloved Papa.

Papa's Beef Stew

3 pounds Beef (Chuck Roast) cut into 1" cubes
1 large onion or 2 small onions chopped
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I use extra light olive oil)
2 cups red wine
1 14 oz can chopped tomatoes
2 14 oz cans beef broth
2 or more cups water
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon thyme
2 large or 4 small potatoes, cut into 1" cubes
2 large or 3 medium carrots cut into 1' pieces
1/2 - 3/4 cup of frozen peas
Salt and pepper to taste

Pat beef dry with a paper towel. Heat oil in large pot and add onions, cooking until soft. Add in beef and brown on one side, turn over and brown on other side. Be sure not to burn onions. Pour in the red wine and bring to boil. Add beef broth and water to cover beef by at least one inch. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 3 hours stirring occasionally. Taste and season with salt and pepper. If the sauce is too thick, add a little hot water until the desired consistency.

Then add pototoes and carrots and cook for 30 minutes more or until vegetables are tender. Add peas and cook for an additional five minutes.

If the sauce is too thin, mix 2 teaspoons cornstarch with 4 teaspoons cold water and stir in 1/2 until stew until thickened. Add remainder if you want it even thicker. Serve with lots of crusty bread. If you want to make it into a pot pie, cool stew in refrigerator and then put into a 9x11" pan. Cover with rolled out puff pastry and cut vent holes in top. Bake in 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until nice and browned.

Five Element Analysis

This is an almost one dish meal and is very colorful, so it is easy to see that it already has some elemental balance. Beef is an earth food and the method of cooking stew - slow and long - increases the earth element. If you also include the potatoes, carrots and cooked onions, stew is clearly very earthy. Red wine and tomatoes add fire and the bay leaf and thyme add just a little bit of the metal element, but this and the wood element are lacking. Serving the stew with bread, especially sourdough brings in the wood element. To make this meal more balanced, some metal food needs to be added to round it out. Perhaps a salad that includes radishes or a desert that includes mint (ice cream or cookies) would help make a balanced five element meal.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Banana Oat Bread

Bananas are a special comfort food for me. As a young child in Japan, I was badly burned by boiling water from an overturned teapot. It was an accident of course, but I did have to go to the hospital and my hands were wrapped in bandages and restrained. I apparently went on a hunger strike and refused to eat anything except the bananas my mother smuggled in and fed me. To this day, bananas make me feel safe and I have them around most of the time. The only problem is I like them on the green side and they don't stay that way very long. So, I'm always looking for yet another way to use overipe bananas. Consequently, I have tried every banana bread recipe I can find and yet I always return to an old standby that I have been making for over 30 years! I like the denseness of the bread and it is just perfect with a cup of tea.

The origins of this recipe are a little murky, but I believe it was once clipped from the LA Times. Over the years I have adapted and changed it to suit my various dietary experiments - sugar free, gluten free, dairy free, etc. I have used unrefined sugar instead of refined, almond flour instead of wheat, applesauce instead of butter and eggs, apple juice, soy or rice milk instead of regular milk. It has alway worked worked no matter what I have added or substituted. So, I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I have.

Banana Oat Bread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan
1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup unsifted flour (can also use Cup4Cup Gluten Free Flour)
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cup bananas mashed (about 3 large or 4 small)
1/4 cup milk
1 cup oats
Optional - 1/2 cup of walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, almonds, raisins or shredded coconut

Cream butter and sugar together, then add eggs. Mix flour, soda, salt and cinamon. Add to creamed mixture. Mash bananas and add bananas to milk. Stir into mixture, then mix in oats. Add nuts or fruit last and stir to combine.

Turn into a loaf pan or into 18 muffin tins filled with 1/4 cup batter each. Bake the loaf for 60 minutes and muffins for about 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Five Element Analysis

Tropical fruit is so sweet that it has to be considered part of the earth element and bananas being yellow and having a soft mushy texture make it even more so. Oats add even more earth element so banana bread is very grounding and using either almonds or coconuts would make it extremely earthy. Using wheat flour adds the wood element, walnuts or pecans add the water element and cinnamon gives just a hint of metal so that the only thing missing is fire. That's why you need to make some coffee or tea to go along with the banana bread and enjoy!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Radish Cakes

Happy Year of the Golden Tiger!

I had a party for Chinese New Year's Eve that was much bigger than I expected. I cooked and served as many of the Chinese lucky foods as I could to ensure that this year would bring more wealth, health and happiness. Most of the lucky foods are either the color of wealth such as gold (including orange) or silver or look like a lucky object such as potstickers that resemble ancient Ming Dynasty ingots, or they sound like lucky Chinese words. I'm half Chinese and I just can't seem to get away from these beliefs and I figure it is better to be safe than sorry as the Tiger year isn't an easy one for me (see my website for the yearly forecast). The lucky foods I incorporated in my menu included:

Bamboo Shoots for Wealth and Happiness
Chicken for Happiness in Marriage
Dried Bean Curd for Happiness
Eggs for Fertility and Creativity
Greens for Abundance
Potstickers and Egg Rolls for Weath
Lotus Root for Continuing Wealth
Lychees for Close Family Ties
Meatballs for Reunions
Noodles for Long Life
Rice for Abundance
Tangerines/Oranges for Luck and Wealth
Peanuts for Long Life
Chinese Turnip or Daikon Radish for Good Omens
Watermelon Seeds for Having lots of Children

The only thing I didn't include was a whole fish and I still feel guilty about it, but I shopped too early for it to stay fresh and ran out of time to go and get one before the party. Next year I have promised myself that I will include it. What I did make was:
  • Chicken and Pork Potstickers with Napa Cabbage and Green Onions

  • Vegetable Dumplings with Dried Tofu, Baby Bok Choy and Green Onions

  • Red Cooked Pork Belly with Hard Boiled Eggs

  • Buddha's Delight with Dried Tofu, Five Spice Tofu, Fried Tofu, Lotus Root, Bamboo Shoots, Water Chestnuts, Shitake Mushrooms and Wood Ears
  • Radish Cakes with Chinese Sausage, Mushrooms and Green Onions served with oyster sauce

  • Long Life Noodle Salad with Cucumbers, Red Pepper and Green Onions

  • Coconut Curry Chicken

  • Pearl Balls (Pork Meatballs covered in Rice and steamed)

  • Almond Jello with Lychees, Mandarin Oranges and Pineapple

  • Steamed White Rice
I put out bowls of Chinese peanuts and watermelon seeds and also passed around Fortune Cookies at the end of the evening.

Radish Cake

2 lbs Daikon Radish, peeled and shredded
1 cup water
2 cups rice flour
4 Chinese Sausages diced
6 dried Shitake mushrooms, rehydrated in hot water and soaked for at least 20 min and chopped
3 green onions, sliced thin
3 Tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp pepper


3 Tablespoons Oyster Sauce
3 Tablespoons Boiling Water

To Serve:

2 Tablespoons chopped Cilantro
1 Tablespoon of toasted Sesame Seeds

Put shredded radish in a small pot and add water. Cook over low heat for 45 minutes or until very tender. Stir in 1 Tablespoon of oil. Take off stove and cool slightly. In frying pan, heat remaining 2 Tablespoons of oil, put in green onions, sausage and Shitake mushrooms. Stir fry for 2 minutes and add to radishes in pot. Stir in rice flour and season with salt and pepper. Put into oiled 8 x 8 inch glass baking dish and set above wok with several inches of water. Cover with aluminum foil and bring water to a boil. Turn heat down and steam for 1 hour. Take out and let cool completely.

To serve, remove Radish Cake from pan and slice into 1/4" by 2" slices. Heat frying pan with 1 Tablespoon oil and fry until browned on one side and turn to brown other side. Remove to plate. Add more oil if necessary for each batch until all are browned. Mix oyster sauce with hot water and drizzle over browned slices. Sprinkle with Sesame Seeds and Cilantro.

Five Element Analysis:

As for the 5 Elements of this dish, the Rice Flour is part of the Metal Element and so are the Scallions. The Chinese Sausage is made of pork, which is the Water Element and so is the Oyster Sauce and Sesame Seeds. The Cilantro is part of the Wood Element and the Mushrooms are the Earth Element, as is the sticky texture of the cake. The sweetness of the Chinese Sausage also emphasizes this element. The only element missing is the Fire Element so it is suggested that you serve it with something spicy hot with chilis or bitter, like a side dish of greens and/or wine.