Friday, December 31, 2010

Chicken, Spinach and Shitake Potstickers

It's New Year's Eve and instead of thinking about celebrating with champagne, I've been making Potstickers for New Year's Day. Potstickers are a lucky food because they look like the shape of Chinese gold ingots. I usually make Pork with Chinese Cabbage and Scallion dumplings  But, I decided to use spinach instead as any greens help bring in paper money like the American dollar - that's one of the main kinds of luck to try to bring in by eating special foods on New Year's Day. I have heard that in some countries chicken isn't considered a lucky food as chickens scratch backwards, but for the Chinese, it is one of the foods traditionally served - especially whole for Chinese New Year to symbolize family togetherness. I also wanted a less fatty meat than pork.  I often mix pork and chicken anyway so that it lowers the fat content of the dumplings. For these dumplings, I used minced chicken breast and Shitake mushrooms. It's a combination I often used for a stir fry as in the photo and it turned out to be a wonderful filling for dumplings. The only difficulty I had was having to make the dumpling wrappers from scratch as I haven't located an Asian market nearby yet - the recipe is included below and it actually easier and more fun to shape than the store bought ones. And, I had to chop the chicken myself as I couldn't find it already ground but with sharp German knives, I enjoyed that too. I am going to serve these dumplings pan fried, which symbolizes gold along with a whole fish and stir fried broccoli - fish is another lucky food for New Year. Dessert will be a big bowl of tangerines - also a lucky food. If you like, you can steam them or boil them and then they are considered Silver. I'm giving you my grandfather's secret method of making Potstickers - he used chicken broth to steam them and they are so much tastier than when you just use water. I've also included the traditional dipping sauce recipe although my sons love Thai Sweet Chili Sauce the most. These dumplings are great - I hope you try to make them. Chinese New Year is a chance to do it all again (Feb. 3rd) and the menu will be much more extensive. Happy New Year!

Chicken, Spinach and Shitake Potstickers

1 pound of spinach, stems removed, washed and chopped finely
1 large or 2 small chicken breasts ground or minced fine - about 1/2 pound
6 Shitake Mushrooms - rehydrated in a small amount of boiling water, stems removed and minced finely
1 small onion, minced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
2 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
14 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Oil and 1 cup Chicken Broth for cooking

In a small frying pan and using a small bit of oil, cook onions and garlic until onion is soft. Mix with chicken, spinach, mushrooms and seasonings together in a large bowl. Use 1 rounded teaspoon per wrapper. Place in center of a round Gyoza or Potsticker wrapper bought or made from scratch (see below). Wet around the edges if using the store bought kind. Pinch together in the middle (or you can seal all the way around and make flatter half moons if desired) and then pleat the edges on the side facing you - 3 times on each side to toward the middle make the Potsticker stand upright and curve inward. Place on a sheet of wax paper until all are filled.

In a large frying pan with a lid, heat 1 Tablespoon of oil, heat for a few minutes over medium heat and place Potstickers in - as many as possible without touching. Let the bottom brown and then pour in 1/4 cup chicken broth if using store bought wrappers and 1/2 cup of chicken broth if using homemade wrappers. Cover and steam. When the broth is mostly absorbed, take off lid and recrisp the bottoms. Remove to a serving plate and put in a warm (200 degree) oven until all the Potstickers are made. Serve with dipping sauce recipe (below).

Dumpling Dough

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup warm water

Mix salt with flour in a large bowl. Sprinkle in 1/3 cup of the the water and using your hands, mix water in adding more water if necessary until dough gather into a ball. Knead dough until it is shiny and holds together. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest of 1/2 hour.

Cut dough into 4 sections and roll into 6" logs. Cut each log into six equal pieces and cover them with a damp towel. Roll out one piece at a time with a rolling pin until you have about a 3 1/2 inch circle. Fill as directed above.

Dipping Sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
slivered fresh ginger and/or finely sliced green onions
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon chili garlic sauce or chili oil - optional

Five Element Analysis

The wheat in the dumpling wrappers brings in the Wood Element as does the chicken and spinach and rice wine vinegar in the dipping sauce. The onions, garlic and ginger or green onions add some Metal Element and the soy sauce and sesame oil represent a small bit of the Water Element with the Shitake mushrooms enhancing Water and also the Metal Element because of its' wonderful Umami flavor. The Fire Element is only found in the chili paste or chili oil or the Thai Sweet Chili Sauce if you use that, so Fire is an element that needs to be enhanced and an Earth food needs to be added to balance out the meal.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Linzer Cookies

I try to make one new cookie every year and one that I have never tried to make yet is Linzer Cookies. I wanted to make the cookies as close to the flavor of the real thing as possible. Most recipes I looked at made what appeared to be a rather simple sugar cookie or shortbread cookie with jam. I just knew they were missing something. When I checked out numerous recipes for Linzer Torte, I figured out what was missing. There is an extraordinary combination of spices in German and Austrian pastries - something I couldn't quite identify - like in Stollen. What I discovered was the combination of vanilla, lemon zest, cinnamon and cloves. When I added them to the Linzer Cookie dough, I knew I had hit the jackpot! They smelled just right.

Now traditional Linzer Torte dough is usually made with ground hazelnuts, but sometimes almonds or walnuts are used instead. I decided to use almonds, mostly because I had used hazelnuts in my Russian Tea Cakes and I wanted a different flavor in the cookie tin. I found a special cookie cutter for Linzer Cookies at a cookware store, which made things a lot easier. It had a special little lever that allowed for the bottoms to be cut and then when released cut the top cookie with a little cute tulip cutout in the middle. If you don't have this special kind of cookie cutter, just use a regular round one about 2" wide and then cut out the middles of half of the cookies with a tiny cookie cuter. When the top and bottom cookies are sandwiched with raspberry jam in the middle, it looks like a little stained glass window. They are now going to be a staple in my Christmas cookie repertoire. Merry Christmas!

Linzer Cookies

2/3 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extraact
1/8 teaspoon cloves
rind of one lemon, zested

1 jar seedless raspberry jam or jelly (you can use strawberry, blackberry or currant too) mixed with 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add ground almonds, the egg and vanilla and mix together until combined. Then add in flour mixture until just mixed through. Form dough into 2 balls and flatten on plastic wrap and chill the dough wrapped in plastic for one to two hours. When ready to cook, remove from the refrigerator and roll out dough between two sheets of wax paper until the dough is between 1/8" and 1/4". Using a round cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as you can. Place on ungreased cookie sheets about 1 " apart (parchment paper or Silpat is helpful). Use a smaller cutter to cut out the center of half the cookies. Add centers back to the remaining dough. Make more cookies from the rest of the dough.

In 350 degree oven, bake cookies for about 10 - 12 minutes or until just starting to get brown on the edges. Do not overbake. Transfer to a wire rack or a cool plate.

When cookie are cool, put about 1 teaspoon of jam on the solid cookie bottoms and place cutout cookie on top so that you can see the jam below. Sandwich all the cookies. Store covered in the refrigerator. Cookies are even better after the first day.

Makes about 2 dozen

Five Element Analysis

Once again it is obvious that sweet cookies belong to the Earth Element, but because these cookies are made with ground nuts, they have more Water Element in them than usual for a cookie. The wheat flour as always brings in the Wood Element and the little bit of lemon juice emphasizes this element even more. The raspberry jam adds some wonderful Fire as does the lemon zest and the spices and vanilla bring in the Metal Element. Who knew that these cookies would be so balanced?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ginger Crinkle Cookies

Every Christmas since I can remember, I have made Molasses Ginger Cookies. They are my absolute favorite. I include them in all of my give away cookie tins and it is usually the recipe most requested. This year I am in Germany and I couldn't find any molasses. I did find Zuckerrubensirup which is similar, but it is much lighter - more like dark corn syrup. I also couldn't find brown sugar, so I used just regular granulated sugar and the the cookies ended up being much lighter in color as well. I compensated by adding a lot more ginger. I also added just a pinch of white pepper to jazz things up. It's a common ingredient in Pfefferneuse cookies here in Europe. The good news is that they still crackled on the top with that wonderful sprinkle of sugar and they tasted heavenly. This is the one cookie that makes it smell like Christmas for me and this recipe variation is going to be a keeper.

Ginger Crinkle Cookies

12 Tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks or 160g)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup light flavored molasses or Zuckerrubensirup
2 3/4 cup flour
2 eggs
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon ground ginger (buy this one fresh for best flavor)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of white pepper - about 1/8 teaspoon
Extra sugar for rolling - about 1/3 cup in a small bowl

Cream butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs and molasses and continue to stir until evenly mixed. In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Add the flour mixture to the molasses mixture and stir until just mixed thoroughly with no dusty flour at the bottom or sides of the bowl.

Make balls with the palms of your hands about the size of walnuts or a generously rounded tablespoon. Roll in granulated sugar and place on an ungreased baking sheet (I used parchment paper and Silpat liners are even better). Bake at 350 degree for 8 - 10 minutes until the crackle on the tops are obvious and they are just barely beginning to set in the middle if you want them chewy. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before removing to a wire rack or plate.

Five Element Analysis

Cookies are always going to belong to the Earth Element as they are so sweet, but these cookies have a lot more Metal Element to them because of all the pungent spices. The Wood Element is represented by the wheat flour and the black pepper adds just a hint of fire. I think these cookies are best with a cup of tea, which would bring in even more Fire. There's not a lot of Water Element in this cookie so maybe they would be a good dessert after a big bowl of soup and then there would be room to eat a lot more of them....

Monday, December 20, 2010

Eggless Banana Cookies

I usually bake a lot of cookies for Christmas, but this year I find myself in Germany and I'm having a little trouble locating the right ingredients for my usual assortment of cookies. I buy gift tins and fill them with at least 5 or 6 kinds of cookies. I think it is much nicer to give personalized gifts like this. I only buy presents for birthdays. Maybe the grocery stores I have been going to haven't been big enough but so far I did find something resembling molasses, but can't find corn syrup or Cream of Tartar. My best source for baking supplies was in the Netherlands when I was visiting my friend there last month. So here's what I will be making: Russian teacakes (using ground hazelnuts instead of my usual walnuts as I don't have a food processor), Molasses Ginger Cookies, Chocolate Crinkles, Almond Butter Cookies (see previous post for the recipe) and Eggless Banana Cookies - today's recipe. I got this recipe from an incomplete set of recipe cards that my mother got at a garage sale. I don't even know what happened to the card as I memorized the recipe years ago. What I like about it most is that it doesn't use eggs, which means that you can eat the dough if you are so inclined. It always made my kids happy to have one cookie dough that they could lick the beaters. It's actually a rather homely cookie - a little more cakey than most. So for Christmas, I top it with multicolored sprinkles. This is my son Alex's favorite cookie and I have to admit I love it too. It's a great one for kids to make as it is so simple and it tastes like banana cake. It's good with chocolate sprinkles too. It also freezes well so you can always pull it out and make a few fresh cookies - I used to do this after the kids got home from school. Hope you enjoy this recipe too!

Eggless Banana Cookies

1 cup softened unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup mashed ripe banana
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Multi colored sprinkles

Cream together the butter and sugar (can be done by hand, with a hand mixer or a stand mixer or a food processor). Then add the mashed banana and vanilla extract until well blended. In a separate bowl - mix flour, baking powder and salt together. Then add to banana mixture, blending in 1/3 of flour mixture at a time.If you can't wait to eat the cookies, turn the oven on to 375 degrees and place rounded tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Press sprinkles onto cookie dough and place in oven.Bake for about 10 minutes or until the bottom edges become lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before removing to a wire rack and cooling completely.

If you want to save them for later, wrap in plastic wrap. The dough should be about 1 1/2 inches wide. Place in freezer and slice into 1/2 inch slices when ready to bake. No need to thaw them - just put slices in the oven. They actually turn out a little prettier this way.

Five Element Analysis

I will never claim that cookies are a balanced meal although they certainly make life a lot sweeter. Because they are so sweet, they obviously belong to the Earth Element and when made from a tropical fruit like bananas become even Earthier. The wheat flour brings in some Wood and the vanilla extract adds some Metal and the sprinkles give just a touch of Fire whimsy. When served with milk, you add more Metal and with hot chocolate, tea or coffee you bring in more Fire and clearly the other elements need to show up some other time and at a regular meal.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thai Salad Dressing

I promised in the last posting that I would give you the Thai Salad Dressing recipe. It's quite simple and very refreshing. It is a much requested and favorite pot luck dish and I usually serve it on a platter so you can see all the colorful ingredients. I use lettuce or Napa cabbage (sliced thin), sliced red pepper, slice raw carrot, sliced red onion or green onion (in thin shreds), lots and lots of mint which I think is the secret ingredient, along with some cilantro and usually some leftover sliced beef or chicken. There is no oil so it's very light and it's just so delicious. With all those colors - you just know it has to be good for you!

Thai Salad Dressing

½ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup Asian Fish Sauce
¼ cup light brown sugar + 2 Tablespoons more if limes are especially sour
2 large garlic cloves minced
1 small Serrano chili, deseeded and minced finely

Optional - 2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
A pinch of red chili flakes
1/4 - 1/3 cup chopped peanuts for garnish

For Salad:

3 - 4 cups of washed lettuce broken into small pieces or Napa Cabbage shredded
1 cucumber, peeled, halved with seeds scooped out and then sliced into half moons
1/2 cup mint leaves
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
thin slices of one peeled carrot
thin slices of one small red onion or 3 green onions in small shreds
1/2 red pepper - cut into strips
1 cup already cooked leftover roast beef or steak, pork or chicken sliced - can also use squid

Optional: precooked rice noodles (boiled 4 - 5 minutes, drained and rinsed in cold water) - about 1 cup

On large platter, lay down lettuce leaves and layer with cucumber and then add carrot and red pepper slices. On top of that, layer red and green onions. Put meat on top of that. Pour salad dressing all over the top and sprinkle with peanuts. Serve immediately.

Five Element Analysis

Salads are almost always part of the Fire Element and this one is no exceptions. Along with the lettuce and red pepper, there are also Serrano Chilies and red chili flake in the salad dressing, which all to the Fiery Nature of this dish. If you use Napa Cabbage, you are bringing in some of the Earth Element and this element is also included because of the cucumber, brown sugar, carrot, peanuts and beef (if you use it). The lime juice adds the Wood Element and chicken would add more. The mint and cilantro are somewhat Woody as they are leaves, but they are also considered part of the Metal Element because they are such pungent herbs. The Metal Element involves the raw garlic, red onion and green onion along with the rice noodles (if you use them. The Water Element is represented by the fish Sauce so this is the only element that needs enhancing. Using pork as the meat would help or seafood such as cooked squid. But unless you want to make this the whole meal, a soup would be a lovely accompaniment or cooking another Thai dish that embodies the Water Element would make it a balanced meal.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pad See Ew

Well, it's been one of those months. I haven't cooked much, mostly because I have been traveling and also because when I have cooked, I keep forgetting to take a picture. And, I think blog posts are so much more interesting with a picture. But, I did want to share some recipes I have been working on and this month I worked on Thai dishes but there aren't any pictures - sorry! I get into these modes where I want to perfect a dish or master certain dishes within a cuisine. I was inspired while in Mexico City visiting my friend Alicia and teaching our intensive program. She was missing the good Asian food in Seattle so I offered to cook. Her sons requested Thai so I obliged. Here's one of the better recipes I created. It's one of my son's favorites too and I started making it to save us from the high prices for take out when they were hungry teenage boys. It's really easy and really good.

Pad See Ew

1 package fresh rice noodles (or wide dried rice noodles – boil for 4-5 minutes and drain)
4 Tablespoons Kecap Manis (sweet soy sauce)
4 Tablespoons soy sauce
3 Tablespoons fish sauce
½ teaspoon white pepper
4 Tablespoons oil - divided
1 boneless chicken breast, sliced into small pieces or beef
2 cloves garlic minced
1 shallot, chopped or 1 small onion sliced
2 cups broccoli florets, lightly steamed or blanched for 4 minutes in boiling water
2 eggs lightly beaten

Put 2 Tablespoons oil in nonstick frying pan and put in noodles. Cook until dry and lightly browned. Remove to serving plate.
Mix Kecap manis, soy sauce, fish sauce and white pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
Heat a wok over high heat and add oil. Then add garlic and shallots (or onions). Stir fry for about 2 minutes. Add chicken breast and stir fry until no longer pink. Push chicken mixture to the side of the wok and add eggs. Scramble until set and stir in with chicken mixture. Add broccoli and sauce and noodles to the wok and stir until well combined and all the noodles are coated in the sauce. Put on serving platter and enjoy!

Five Element Analysis

Rice Noodles belong to the Metal Element and that's the basis for this dish and the garlic and onion add a little more Metal. The chicken adds the Wood Element and so does the broccoli. The soy sauce brings in the Water Element and so does the fish sauce. To balance this dish, serve an Earth Element dish that has some red chilis. I made a Thai Salad with lots of cucumber and slices of beef - both Earthy foods and a salad dressing that incorporates Serrano Chiles or Red Chili flakes - or both if you like things hot. See the next post for this recipe.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Capuns - Swiss Chard Packets

I went to visit a good friend who lives in the Alps in Switzerland a few months ago and was taken to her husband's family restaurant where I had my first taste of Capuns - savory Chard packets with a filling that is like spaetzle with bits of meat in it. It was simmered in a lovely cream sauce and it was wonderful. It is a Romanisch specialty of Switzerland. Ever since, I have been hungry for another taste so I explored a number of recipes and came up with my own version. Now, I don't know how accurate my recipe is and I will be sure to check with my friend one day and I definitely want to go back to the restaurant to have another taste of the real thing. But, feeling adventurous, I made one of my no fail Spaetzle doughs and add added herbs, cooked onions, bits of Landjaeger sausage and smoked ham. I used Rainbow Chard instead of the usual green leaves as I loved their color so much at the Saturday market in Lindau. I didn't use cream as I substituted whole Lactaid free milk instead so I needed to thicken up the sauce a bit once the Capuns were done. I have to say that it turned out really well. Actually, I loved it! Sorry there is no photo. I didn't realize that my camera stick was full so I will have to wait until the next time I make it to post one as we ate it all before I realized it. But you've got to try this dish - it's very special.


8 ounces of all purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
4 ounces of milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
Two Tablespoons of minced chives (or you can also use chopped parsley)
1 small onion minced
1 Tablespoon butter
1/4 cup of Landjaeger sausage or other air dried hard sausage (like salami) cut into small pieces
1/4 cup smoked ham or bacon chopped

10 large chard leaves or 20 small ones
Pot of lightly salted boiling water

2 Tablespoons butter
4 ounces chicken broth
4 ounces milk or heavy cream

4 additional strips bacon cut into small pieces
1 small onion sliced into thin rings
3 - 4 Tablespoons grated Parmesan Cheese

Mix together flour, eggs, milk and salt. Add in chopped chives. In frying pan, melt butter and add in onions and cook until translucent. Add in sausage and ham and cook until coated with butter for about 2 minutes. Add into flour mixture and stir to mix. Let rest for at least 15 minutes to 1/2 hour.

Cut stems off chard and put into boiling water until just wilted. Cut leaves from only thebottom part of the stems. Lay out leaves on the cutting board overlapping the cut section. Divide up dough and put about 2 Tablespoons into each leaf. Roll up into a little square.

Heat additional butter in large frying pan and add in packets, turning once after just a minute. Add milk or cream and stock and bring to a boil. Simmer gently covered for 15 minutes. Taste sauce and add salt and pepper. If sauce is too thin, remove Capuns to a plate and turn heat up and cook down sauce for an additional 10 minutes to thicken or you can use 2 teaspoons of cornstarch with just enough water to make a slurry and add to sauce - stirring until thickened.

Meanwhile, cook extra bacon with onions until crisp and onions are browned and drain on paper towels. When ready to serve, put 3-4 into each bowl and sprinkle bacon, onions and Parmesan Cheese on top of each dish.

Five Element Analysis

As chard is one of the leafy green vegetables, it is clearly part of the Wood Element and the Spaetzle dough, since it is made of wheat flour adds even more of that element. The cured sausage, ham and bacon are all salty pork products and bring in the Water Element. The chicken stock adds additional Wood whereas the milk or cream, onions and chives add in the Metal Element. Parmesan Cheese gives an extra little shot of the Metal Umami flavor. Earth is given just a bit of an entrance in the caramelized onions but this meal needs a bit more earth for balance and the Fire Element is missing unless you count the bit of red in the stems of the Chard. A Fire meat course or a salad and a sweet dessert would round things off well.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Salad

I'm here in Switzerland and haven't had much time to cook since I've been teaching. But, last night I returned to my friend's house and I really needed to cook. I decided to make potato salad since we had just visited the Metzgerei and stocked up on sausages. Now that may seem risky since German Potato Salad is very different from my favorite recipe - it usually involves bacon and vinegar - but in the interest of cross cultural sharing, I made my grandmother's Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Salad, which was one of my father's favorite foods. It felt a little strange to bring a once German food back to a German. In case you were worried, he loved it!

Now, I made this salad this summer for a friend and he loved it, but he had to tell me that his mother's was the best and mine was second best, which I actually took to be a great compliment. After all, Mom's food (unless she is a terrible cook) is usually something you crave all your life. The strange thing is that one of my sons loves my potato salad - the other one still thinks anything made with mayonnaise is unappealing. He did say, however, that if he liked potato salad, he was sure that mine was the best! Oh well, maybe someday he will come to appreciate it.

Meanwhile, I had to contend with brands of mayonnaise and mustard and pickles that I had never tasted, which involved quite a lot of doctoring to make it all taste right. I could only find Thomy Mayonnaise and Lowensenf Mustard from Dusseldorf - it was a nice sharp mustard. And, the pickles weren't what I was used to either - I ended up using Cornichons and a bit of sugar to sweeten them up. You need to know that Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Salad is tangy - not really sweet and not really sour, but instead a wonderful combination of both. But then they love things that include both sweet and sour tastes on the table - usually 7 and this one combines both in one dish as it uses both dill pickles and pickle relish (or sweet pickle juice). Usually I am fond of Best Foods Mayonnaise, Grey Poupon Mustard, Clausen Mini Dill Pickles, and Del Monte Pickle Relish. But of course other brands can do in a pinch - I used to use French's Mustard for example.

What's unusual about this particular potato salad and the way that I've changed it is that I include meat - usually leftover roast beef instead of the usual hardboiled eggs, but sometimes I make it with just eggs to make it more traditional. Any meat will do, but my oldest son is particularly fond of the beef version. When you add chunks of meat, it becomes somewhat like the German Fleishsalat, but to me it is like having little nuggets of a chewy texture that plays off the smooth potatoes and crisp pickle chunks really well. Anyway, this is my grandmother Annie Eishenhower's recipe with my modifications. I hope you enjoy it!

Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Salad

4 Medium Potatoes washed
1 small onion minced
1/2 cup warm water with 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of meat cut in chunks - roast beef, or pork roast, ham or bacon or 4 hardboiled eggs
2 large dill pickles or 4 small, cut in small chunks
2 Tablespoons of Pickle Relish or sweet pickle juice or sugar if you don't have either one
1 Heaping Tablespoon Mustard
1/2 cup Mayonnaise or more
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Paprika to cover

Boil potatoes in the skin until you can pierce them with a knife - usually 1/2 hour to 45 minutes. Meanwhile, put cut onions in the warm salted water to make them less sharp. Peel as quickly as you can as the potato salad is better when dressed while the potatoes are still warm. up potatoes into 1/2 inch chunks. Place in a large bowl and add in onions and meat or eggs. In a separate bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, pickle relish and pickles. Stir and taste - adding more of any of the previous ingredients to taste. Then season with salt and pepper. Stir into potato and meat mixture. Stir to coat, but being careful not to mash the potatoes. Add a few tablespoons more of mayonnaise if necessary to achieve desired consistency. Smooth top and wipe the sides of the bowl with a paper towel. Sprinkle with Paprika and place in refrigerator to meld flavors for at least 1/2 hour. Best after cooling completely.

Five Element Analysis

Potatoes are clearly from the Earth Element, but the pickles add the Wood Element. Onions, mayonnaise and mustard bring in quite a bit of the Metal Element. Beef adds more Earth, so pork is probably a better choice as it brings in the Water Element and so do eggs. This dish needs the addition of the Water Element can also be added as the main course with sausages like I did or a pork roast as a traditional combination or you could serve a Water dessert with some dark berries. The paprika adds just a bit of fire and that element needs some support so perhaps serving it with a Fiery salad that includes tomatoes would also make it a balanced meal.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Salt and Pepper Tofu

One of the joys of cooking is making things for the people you love. This often involves trying to replicate a restaurant recipe and more often than not, it doesn't work out as well as the restaurant makes it. It usually takes some trial and error and I have to admit that sometimes I just give up. But tonight, I did it just right!

My sons adore Salt and Pepper Tofu - actually they like salt and pepper anything - pork chops, fish, shrimp.... One of our local Chinese restaurants makes this dish very well and it's something we order a lot. So, I got inspired to try doing it myself because I had a carton of tofu about ready to expire. And having just returned from traveling, I was craving tofu. Guess that's because of my Chinese genes. My biggest dilemma was to decide what to coat the tofu in to get that crispy exterior. I knew that the tofu pieces had to be dusted with either cornstarch or rice flour. I only had cornstarch so that answered that question. I also didn't want it to be too greasy so I was determined not to deep fry it, only pan fry it with a minimum amount of oil. I also knew that the tofu needed a lot of flavor so I increased the amount of garlic, ginger and green onions. These are the trinity in Chinese cooking and can make almost anything taste good! I often use these three ingredients with tofu that I stir fry with soy sauce and sesame oil - it's really good on rice. Salt and Pepper dishes classically have slices of hot chiles added in also, but I had only a shriveled Serrano and I wasn't actually in the mood for hot food so I left it out. I think it would actually be prettier with some of those beautiful red Thai Bird chiles if you want it spicy.

I cut up the tofu into 1 inch squares and sprinkled them with salt and pepper. Then I rolled them in cornstarch and pan fried them one side at a time until just barely crispy. I took the tofu out before I sauteed the garlic, ginger and green onions until soft and then I added the tofu back in and waited until they got a bit browner. Then I sprinkled the dish with a little more salt and pepper. It was so good! The tofu was crunchy and the green onions, garlic and ginger were wonderfully savory. The interior of the tofu squares was soft and pillowy which was a great contrast. Even if you don't think you like tofu, you may be surprised by how much like this dish if you are brave enough to make it. If you already like tofu - you have to try it!

Salt and Pepper Tofu

1 14 oz carton Firm Tofu, drained
1/2 cup cornstarch
4 - 5 Tablespoons vegetable oil (I used High Heat Safflower)
4 - 5 green onions, washed and trimmed
1 large garlic clove
1 Serrano Chili or several Thai Bird Chiles (optional)
1/2 inch slice of ginger, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper

Cut tofu cubes into 1 inch squares and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper on one side, turn over and season other side as well. Be sure to reserve some salt and pepper for the plating. Let the tofu sit for 10 minutes while you get other ingredients ready. Slice green onions and chiles into 1/8 inch rings and mince ginger and garlic. In a large frying pan, heat the oil until it is smoking. Place cornstarch in a bowl and roll each piece of tofu in cornstarch until coated on all sides. Add the tofu carefully to the hot oil. Using tongs, turn each piece over when lightly browned. Then turn on sides until browned all over - about 5 - 7 minutes. Remove to a plate and press lightly with a paper towel to remove excess oil. Add extra tablespoon of oil if needed. Put garlic, ginger and green onions in the pan and stir until the green onions are soft and the garlic is just beginning to brown. Add tofu back in and stir until tofu gets darker brown. Be careful not to burn the green onions. Sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper and serve immediately or it can be placed in a warm oven while other dishes are being prepared.

Five Element Analysis

This dish is very Metallic and therefore very useful when you need to add the Metal Element to a larger Asian meal. However, it is not balanced by itself! The tofu is from the Metal Element as are the garlic and green onions. The salt brings in a small amount of the Water Element, the Pepper a bit of the Fire Element and the chiles do too (if you use them). The ginger adds a smidgen of the Earth Element, but this dish obviously needs some help to round out the elements. I served it with stir fried broccoli and red pepper to bring in the Wood and Fire Elements and some cucumber salad that added the Earth Element. I dressed it with sesame oil and sesame seeds from the Water Element to bring some balance to the dinner.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


One of Stephen's favorite foods is usually something Greek so we made Moussaka. Now, no one knows why he loves Greek food so much, but then so did his beloved grandfather, "Poppy." So, I just consider it one of his genetic traits. It's because of him that I learned how to make Greek food at all because he asked me to as my repertoire for many years consisted of mostly Chinese or Pennsylvania Dutch food from my heritage. Anyway, I decided this time that he should learn how to make Moussaka with me since he is now living on his own and he became my Sous Chef. I think he actually has quite a talent for cooking! Or at the very leas,t he is very good with a sharp knife and he cut up lots of vegetables! We made Moussaka with lamb, eggplant, zucchini and potato. It's really quite a light dish even with the cream topping and we all ate too much. We served it with a Greek olives as an appetizer and a salad that included chopped cabbage, yellow peppers, tomatoes, red onions and cucumbers in a lemon, olive oil and honey dressing. It was a crisp and refreshing counterbalance to the creamy, soft textures of the Moussaka. We had fresh figs for desert and were all stuffed, but happy. Here's our recipes:


Meat Sauce:

2 pounds lean ground lamb
3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large or 2 small onions chopped
2 garlic cloves minced
3/4 cup white wine
2 1/2 cups tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Heat oil in a large pot and add garlic and onions. Cook until onions become translucent and add ground lamb. Stir and cook until no longer pink. Drain fat if necessary. Add wine, tomato sauce, sugar and herbs. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook covered for 30 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Stir in bread crumbs and let cool. (Can be made ahead and refrigerated.)

Cream Sauce:

5 Tablespoons butter
5 Tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1 bay leaf
1 cup Parmesan Cheese (reserve 1/2 for topping)
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Melt Butter in a large frying pan and add in flour. Whisk until mixed and pour in milk. Continue to whisk until blended. Add the bay leaf and stir until thickened. Take off heat and add 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and remove the bay leaf. Leave to cool until ready to assemble the Moussaka (can be made ahead and refrigerated)

1 pound of Eggplant (I used 2)
1 teaspoon salt
2 medium zucchini
2 medium potatoes boiled in their skin and cooled
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (or more)

Cut off top stem and the very bottom of the eggplants. With a peeler, slice some of the peel off the eggplants about every inch around in stripes. Cut into 1/3 inch round slices. Place eggplant slices in a colander in the sink and sprinkle both sides with salt. Leave for 20 minutes then rinse and place on paper towels until ready to cook. Cut off tops and bottoms of zucchini and cut into 1/3 inch slices. Cut potato into 1/3 inch slices and remove peel.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large frying pan. Add in zucchini and cook until one side is lightly browned. Turn and brown the other side. Remove to a plate. Then add additional 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and put in potato pieces. Brown lightly on both sides and remove to a plate. Add remaining oil and panfry eggplant until lightly browned. You may need to add a little extra oil if you are frying in two batches as eggplants soak up a lot of oil. Then remove to a plate.

Butter a 9 x 12 " baking dish or two 8x8 glass baking dishes. Lay eggplant slices on the bottom of the pan - squish them until they fit together. Cover with 1/2 of the Meat Sauce. Lay out zucchini and potato alternately over the meat sauce below then cover with the rest of the meat sauce. Very carefully cover the meat sauce with the cream sauce and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of reserved Parmesan Cheese. Sprinkle nutmeg lightly over the top.

Put into a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbling. Cool for 15 minutes. Cut into squares and serve with a wide spatula.

Five Element Analysis

Eggplant is such a lovely dark purple color with lots of little seeds inside so you know it has to be from the Water Element. Lamb is a Fire Food and so is the tomato sauce. The zucchini and potato add the Earth Element and the herbs and cream sauce and Parmesan Cheese with it's wonderful Umami flavor bring in the Metal Element. It looks like the Wood Element might be deficient but all that wonderful olive oil contributes that element. Moussaka ends up being a very balanced dish! Then the Chopped Greek Salad certainly added Earth from the cabbage and cucumbers, Fire from the tomatoes and peppers, Metal from the red onion and Wood from the olive oil and lemon juice. The only thing missing was the Water Element and the figs for dessert brought that element in. This turned out to be a doubly balanced Five Element meal!