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 
2 cups Red Wine
1 14 oz can chopped Tomatoes
2 14 oz cans of Beef Broth
2 or more cups Water
1 Bay Leaf
1 teaspoon dried 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 the Oil in large pot and add in the Onions and cook them stirring until stay soften. Add in the Beef and brown on one side, turn the pieces over and Brown on other side. Be sure not to burn the Onions. Pour in the Wine and bring to a  boil. Add in the Beef Broth and the Water to cover the 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 it reaches the desired consistency.

Then add in the Potatoes and the Carrots and cook for 30 minutes more or until the vegetables are tender. Add in the Peas and cook for an additional five minutes.

If the sauce is too thin, mix 2 teaspoons of Cornstarch with 4 teaspoon of cold Water and stir in. Cook until the Stew thickens. Serve with Baguettes - Gluten Free or Regular. 

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 - slow and long - increases the Earth Element. The Potatoes, Carrots and cooked Onions makes it even Earthier. Red wine and Tomatoes bring in the Fire Element. The Peas belong to the Wood Element and the Bay leaf and Thyme add just a little bit of the Metal Element. Serving it with Baguettes brings in the Metal Element if you use a Gluten Free brand and the Wood Element if you use a regular brand.

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

1/2 cup Butter at room temperature
1/2 cup Sugar
2 Eggs
1 cup Wheat Flour or Gluten Free Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Cnnamon
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 or Pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan

Cream the Butter and Sugar together, then add in the Eggs. Mix the Flour, Baking Powder, Salt and Cinamon together in another bowl. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture. Mash the Bnanas and stir in along with the Milk. Then mix in the oats. Add the Nuts,  if using and stir to combine.

Turn the mixture into a loaf pan or make into muffins. Bake the loaf for 60 minutes and muffins for about 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and the top(s) are golden brown.

Five Element Analysis

Tropical fruit, like Bananas are so sweet that they has to be considered part of the Earth Element. Oats add even more of the Earth Element as does the Sugar. If you use Wheat Flour, you are adding in the Wood Element, But if you use, Gluten Free Flour, it is made mostly of Rice Flour, which is part of the Metal Element and the Cinnamon and Milk add a bit more. If you end up using the Walnuts or Pecans, you bring in the Water Element. That's why you need to make some coffee or tea to go along with the banana bread and enjoy! There's no Fire Element so be sure to serve this with Coffee or Tea!  

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. 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 Vegetable 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 Vegetable Oil. Take off stove and cool slightly. In frying pan, heat remaining 2 Tablespoons of Vegetable Oil, put in the Green Onions, Chinese Sausage and Shitake Mushrooms. Stir fry for 2 minutes and add to the Radishes in the pot. Stir in the Rice Flour and season with Salt and Pepper. Put into an oiled 8 x 8 inch glass baking dish and set above a wok filled with several inches of Water. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bring the Water to a boil. Turn the heat down and steam for 1 hour. Take out and let cool completely.

To serve, remove the entire Radish Cake from the pan and slice into 1/4" by 2" slices. Heat a frying pan with 1 Tablespoon of Vegetable Oil and fry each slice until browned on one side and then turn to brown the other side. Remove to a plate when done. Add in more Oil, if necessary for each batch until all the Radish Cake slices are browned. Mix the Oyster Sauce with the hot Water and drizzle over the Radish slices. Sprinkle with Sesame Seeds and Cilantro before serving.

Five Element Analysis:

As for the Five 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 belongs to the Water Element and so does the Oyster Sauce and Sesame Seeds. The Cilantro, as a leafy green herb, 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.