Monday, July 18, 2011

Chicken Lo Mein

Life is crazy for me lately as I have been moving out of my house and staying at my son's apartment in the meantime. And when I get stressed, I go for comfort foods, which for me means the food of my childhood. I mostly ate Chinese food and one of my perennial favorites is fried noodles of any kind. Some days I am partial to pan fried noodles that are crispy to soak up the sauce, but that's for another day. Today, I wanted chewier, softer noodles that are stir fried with vegetables and just a bit of meat - chicken is my favorite. It can also easily become vegetarian if you leave out the meat and oyster sauce and use more soy sauce and a little bit of toasted sesame oil.

Lo Mein is really quite easy to make and as with all Chinese food, the cutting and prepping of the ingredients takes the longest time. Cooking itself is actually really fast and you can do it ahead of time. For Lo Mein, you can use any kind of meat and any kind of vegetables. It's always easier to slice the meat if it is partially frozen. Remember to slice everything just about the same size. I had a large boneless chicken breast, some red pepper, a carrot, some dried Shitake mushrooms and green and yellow onions. As you can see, it turns out to be a colorful dish, which implies a five element balance and the ratio of meat to vegetables makes it a wonderful light summer meal.

Chicken Lo Mein

2 small or 1 large boneless chicken breast, sliced into thin slices about 1/2 inch wide and 1 inch long (easier if partially frozen) - can also use beef or pork
1 Tablespoon Shaoshing Rice Wine
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Handful of Pea Pods, strings removed, blanched in boiling water for 4 minutes and drained
1 carrot, slice thin on the diagonal blanched for 4 minutes with pea pods
1/2 cup dried Shitake Mushrooms soaked in hot water, stems cut and sliced thin
1 small yellow onion, sliced thin
1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced thin

Optional: 2 shredded green onions (cut about the same length as pea pods)
Optional: 2 cups Napa Cabbage cut in small pieces
Optional: 2 stalks celery sliced thin
Optional: 1 cup fresh bean sprouts

3 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil (I use high heat Safflower)

1/4 cup chicken broth
1 Tablespoons Oyster Sauce
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

16 oz. package fresh Chinese egg noodles (you can also substitute spaghetti) cooked al dente according to package directions and drained thoroughly.

In a small bowl, stir together, chicken broth, oyster sauce, soy sauce and pepper

Heat a wok (I prefer a flat bottomed wok or you can use a large frying pan) on high heat and add in 2 Tablespoons of oil and heat until a drop of water sizzles. Put in onion pieces and red pepper slices. Stir fry until softened slightly and then add in chicken. Cook chicken without stirring until slightly browned and then turn and stir fry. Then add in pea pods, carrots and mushrooms (and any other vegetable you are using). Stir fry until all vegetables are hot and remove to a platter. (This will not take very long).

Add an additional 1 Tablespoon oil to the wok. Heat until a drop of water sizzles. Put in noodles and stir fry for about 1 - 2 minutes. Add in chicken and vegetable mixture. Pour in sauce mixture over the top and stir fry to coat everything evenly. Add in green onion shreds and remove to a serving platter.

Five Element Analysis

Since this is a one dish meal composed of a protein, carbohydrates and vegetables, so you can be pretty sure that it has an intrinsic balance. But to break it down: the wheat noodles add the Wood Element and so do the chicken and pea pods. The carrot adds the Earth Element. The Shitake Mushrooms, soy sauce and oyster sauce contribute the Water Element. The Shaoshing Rice Wine and Red Pepper bring in the Fire Element and the yellow and green onions cover the Metal Element. So you can see, this is a very balanced meal indeed.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Stephen's Salsa with Cabbage

My kids and I love Mexican food - most likely because I was raised in LA and so were they for their early years. We developed a good palate for authentic Mexican food as I love the little family run restaurants that serve meals that taste like they are straight from Mexico. It's also why I love visiting Mexico City so much and the Southwest of the US. The first time I took an extended trip to Europe, the thing I craved most was Salsa and that was one of the things I ate immediately after I returned. As I recall, I had it with Chorizo and Eggs. But, I'm not a fan of jarred or canned salsas. The only exception I make is occasionally resorting to opening a can of Herdez Salsa Casera in an emergency, meaning that I don't currently have tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime and Serrano chiles on hand, which is rare. I like the flavor of Serrano chiles much better than Jalapenos, but they can certainly be substituted easily. Together, they make Pico de Gallo which is good on everything, but I am particularly partial to eating it with scrambled eggs and of course tacos and burritos. 

A restaurant that we used to go to always had cabbage in their salsa and since that restaurant has now moved away, my son Stephen took the initiative to experiment and recreate that salsa. We served it with Carnitas Tacos and it was wonderful! I found out that this is a common version of salsa served in the Yucatan Peninsula. It's also even healthier as cabbage is so nutritious. It's easy to make and the only thing hard about it is waiting a little while for the flavors to meld before you serve it, otherwise the cabbage won't have absorbed the flavors. It's great with chips and a good way of getting kids to eat more vegetables!

Stephen's Salsa con la Col

1/2 small green cabbage, chopped finely
1/2 sweet onion, minced (can also substitute red onion)
8 Roma Tomatoes, diced
1 large Serrano chile minced finely, de-seeded if desire to make it less hot
handful of cilantro leaves, chopped
3 limes, juice squeezed out
1 small garlic clove minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Chili Powder (we like McCormick and Schmick's)
Sugar to taste - we used about 2 teaspoons as the limes were very sour)

Mix all ingredients together and let sit for one hour before serving with tortilla chips. Can be kept refrigerated for several days.

Five Element Analysis

Salsa is a Fire Food as it's main ingredients are tomatoes and Serrano Peppers. The limes add the Wood Element, while the garlic, onions and cilantro bring in the Metal Element. Serving it with tortilla chips or corn tortillas brings in the needed Earth Element and having a main dish like eggs, pork or fish adds the Water Element that is also missing. So, try this on Fish Tacos, Carnitas or Scrambled Eggs sometime soon!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Japanese Potato Salad

I have a thing for potato salad and also for cucumbers so what could be better than a potato salad that includes both of them? I recently bought a container of Japanese Kewpie Mayonnaise (ranked as one of the top 100 foods in last year's Saveur Magazine) and needed to use it. I wasn't in the mood to make Sushi as this brand of mayonnaise mixed with either chili oil or Sriracha makes the best spicy tuna sauce. So, I decided to replicate the Japanese Potato Salad that I sometimes get in restaurants. I called a Japanese friend and asked her how to make it, but like many good home cooks, her response included phrases like - "you add in enough Kewpie mayonnaise to make it moist." However, I did discover the secrets of Japanese Potato Salad. First, the potatoes need to be cooked until they can be easily mashed and the thinly sliced onions and cucumbers need to be presalted and drained. The carrot, that adds such pretty color, needs to be boiled and sliced and the dressing is simply Kewpie Mayonnaise, salt, pepper and a bit of sugar. We served it with Terriyaki Baked Chicken. It was so good that I had to make a second batch as my son and his girlfriend and I devoured it in one sitting! The contrast of the cucumbers to the mashed potatoes was wonderful. Just for the record, the second batch, which got to sit in the fridge over night was probably even better, but it's unlikely that we will wait that long. So, if you like potato salad, you need to try this recipe!

Japanese Potato Salad

2 large Russet Potatoes or 4 regular potatoes, washed with peels left on
1 Japanese Cucumber or 2 pickling cucumbers or 1/3 of a large hothouse cucumber thinly sliced - cut pieces in half if the cucumber is very fat
1/3 cup of thinly sliced red onion (cut into small pieces about the same length as cucumbers)
1 carrot, peeled and left whole
1 cup of Kewpie Mayonnaise (can also used Best Foods or Hellman's)
1 1/2 teaspoon Salt - 1/2 teaspoon for salting cucumbers and onions, 1 teaspoon for salad
1/4 teaspoon of Pepper
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon of sugar to taste, depending on kind of mayonnaise

In a large pot, put in potatoes and cover with water about 1" over the potatoes. Bring to a boil and add carrot - cook carrot for about 15 minutes and remove. Cut into thin rings. Continue to cook potatoes until they can be pieced easily with a fork (this takes less time with smaller potatoes - about 20 - 30 minutes or up to 45 minutes for larger potatoes). Meanwhile, put cucumbers and onion into a small bowl and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Leave until potatoes are done.

When potatoes are done, drain water, peel potatoes and cut into a very small dice. Put in a large bowl. Squeeze juice out of cucumbers and onions and rinse with a little fresh water and drain. Put them in with the potatoes and add carrots. In another small bowl, mix together mayonnaise, salt, pepper and sugar. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Mix in with potato mixture and stir. It is okay if the potato mashes, that is part of the texture of this kind of potato salad. Smooth top and place in refrigerator and chill until cold.

Five Element Analysis

Potatoes are very Earthy so Potato Salad is clearly an Earth Food. The carrot enhances that and so does the cucumber. The mayonnaise and red onion bring in the Metal Element. This dish therefore needs to be served with other dishes. We added a spicy Terriyaki Chicken which added the Water Element from the soy sauce, the Fire Element from the Red Chilis and the Wood Element from the chicken. Then, this became a balanced meal.