Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chicken with Black Bean Sauce

I am down in Los Angeles visiting my mother and I want to cook her favorite foods for her and one of them is Chicken with Black Bean Sauce. Actually she likes anything cooked with Black Bean Sauce. Most people I know use the jarred sauce that you can buy at almost any grocery store that has an international section. And although it is pretty good, it is nowhere near as good as using the whole salted black beans themselves. Now you will probably have to buy them at a Chinese grocery store, but if you can't find them, they are available for sale on the internet. They come in a bag and keep in a jar in the refrigerator for a long time. The taste of these salted black beans is so much more savory and complex when cooked than the premixed sauce that it is worth searching them out. But a little bit goes a long way as it is very pungent in large doses! I used Chicken Breasts because my Mom doesn't like the dark meat, but I actually prefer it because it is juicier. You can also use tofu, beef, pork, scallops, a firm white fish, shrimp or clams. I like to use multiple colors of peppers because it is so pretty, but any will do. I served this dish with some Pea Leaf vegetables, another beef and tofu dish and steamed rice. Black Bean Sauce is a classic in Chinese cooking and is amazingly easy to make at home. So try it soon!

Chicken with Black Bean Sauce
1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or thighs) cut into1/2” chunks
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoons Shaoshing Rice Wine
1 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons fermented black beans, mashed with 1 Tablespoon Hot Water
1 large garlic clove, minced
1” slice of ginger minced
One half of a red, yellow and green pepper cut into ½ chunks (or 1 1/2 pepper of any color)
1 small red onion cut in ½ pieces
1/3 cup chicken broth
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
½ teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3 Tablespoons Peanut Oil

In a small bowl, put in chicken breast, cornstarch, rice wine and soy sauce. In another small bowl, stir together chicken broth, additional soy sauce and sesame oil. Place a wok or large frying pan on the stove on high heat. Add 2 Tablespoons of Peanut Oil and heat until smoking. Put in onion and stir fry until translucent. Then add in garlic, ginger and peppers.

Cook until softened and then put all the vegetables on a plate to the side. Add the additional 1 Tablespoon Oil and heat. Put in chicken and let cook without stirring until it browns slightly. Then turn over and brown the other side. Add black beans and chili flakes and return vegetables to the pan. Add in chicken broth mixture and stir, cooking it until it boils. Pour into a serving bowl and serve with steamed white rice.

Five Element Analysis
Fermented Black Beans are salty (and black) so they belong to the Water Element and so does the soy sauce and sesame oil. The chicken contributes the Wood Element, while the peppers and chili flakes bring in the Fire Element. The onion and rice that you serve it add the Metal Element. But, the Earth Element is missing except for the little bit of cornstarch, so serving another dish made of beef or cabbage or cucumbers would be a good addition to balance out the meal. If you want to make this a one dish meal, then serve it with a sweet fruit dessert instead.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cabbage Salad with Lime Vinaigrette

I love salad any time of the year. There is something so refreshing about them and they just taste so good to me. Plus, eating a salad also make me feel like I am being really healthy. But, I'm picky about salad dressings. I don't like bottled dressings except for Kraft Seven Seas Red Wine Vinegrette or Masa's Asian Dressings or Annie's Lemon and Chive Dressing. So, I usually make my own. It took me a really long time as a cook to master salad dressings that suited me and one of the most important reasons why is that I didn't use very good olive oil or vinegar and switching to the better brands has made a lot of difference. I also had to learn that using a little mustard emulsified the oil and vinegar or in this case lime juice. I also like my citrus dressings not very tart so I always add sugar or honey to sweeten them up, but not too much.

I have been baking a lot of cookies so I've ingested more butter and sugar than I need to eat for a while. So, to cleanse my palate (and my liver), I made a cabbage salad with fresh lime juice tonight. To make the salad more interesting, I added some red bell pepper and green onions. The crunchy cabbage combined with the tart dressing, sweet peppers and pungent green onions really hit the spot. It's a lovely light salad that has great contrast in color and taste, so you know it has to be good for you too!

Cabbage Salad with Lime Vinaigrette

1 head of cabbage, cut in quarters with the core cut off and chopped into small pieces
1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into small pieces
3 slender green onions, ends removed and cut into small pieces
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup light tasting olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 garlic clove minced
2 - 3 teaspoons sugar (depending on the sourness of the limes)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

In a large bowl, add the cabbage, red pepper and green onions together. In a separate smaller bowl, mix together the lime juice, olive oil, mustard, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. Whisk to mix and taste. Add more sugar if necessary. Pour over vegetables and toss to coat. Let sit with dressing for at least 15 minutes up to overnight in the refrigerator before serving.

Five Element Analysis

Cabbage belongs to the Earth Element and that is the dominant element of this salad. However, the red pepper and bit of black pepper brings in the Fire Element, the lime juice contributes the Wood Element and the green onion, garlic and mustard add the Metal Element. Only the Water Element is a little deficient as the small amount of salt isn't enough. So this would be a good salad to serve as a side to fish or you could sprinkle some toasted sunflower or sesame seeds on top to give it more balance.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Easy Almond Graham Cookies

I haven't started my Christmas baking yet and I will soon. I plan on making about 8 different kinds of cookies, but I have to gear myself up for the cooking marathon. And, I had a friend who was coming over today for tea and I didn't have time to go to the bakery and get something sweet for her as she a big sweet tooth. I didn't have that much time to whip something up, so I pulled out a recipe that my friend's Swedish mother gave me a few years ago that uses graham crackers that you pour a sugar syrup over and sprinkle with almonds. Of course I have eaten these kinds of cookies - that's why I asked for the recipe and they were simply wonderful with a cup of tea. I had no idea they were so easy when I tasted them and I think you will be delightfully surprised too. They are buttery and crispy and delicious. If you are pressed for time and want to make something sweet, these are the ticket!

Easy Almond Graham Cookies

1 box Graham Crackers (I used Honey Maid)

2 Cookie Pan – large jelly roll size with edges
32 graham crackers
1 cup sliced almonds
2 sticks butter (2 sticks)
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or use almond)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place 16 graham crackers on each cookie sheet and then carefully break into halves. Squeeze them together tightly in the pan. Sprinkle 1/2 cup sliced almonds over each pan, distributing them so that each piece is covered with almonds.

In a small saucepan, heat 1 stick of butter with 1/4 cup sugar until it begins to boil. Reduce heat and boil for about 2 minutes. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Ladle the sugar mixture over one pan of graham crackers. Repeat with the butter, sugar and vanilla for the second pan.

Place pans in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Let cool and remove from pan. Use a sharp knife to separate pieces if necessary.

Five Element Analysis

Now you know as a a sweet cookie that this won't be a completely balanced dish by itself. Elementally, these cookies belong primarily to the Earth Element because of the sugar and the almonds. But the wheat in the graham crackers brings in some of the Wood Element and the vanilla extract and butter add some Metal. The Water and Fire Elements are missing so to create a little more balance, serve with a Fiery beverage like tea or coffee.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pork Carnitas with Salsa

One of the things I crave most when traveling in Europe or Asia is Mexican food. It is one of those hearty, homey cuisines that I can't live without. In fact, the very first time I took a trip to Europe, I really missed salsa for my morning eggs. So, now that I am back home for a while, I get to indulge in my other favorite pastime besides teaching - cooking! And one of my favorite Mexican dishes is Pork Carnitas in soft tacos. Yum!

Now I know that there are several ways of making Carnitas - the most traditional being to cook the pork in its own fat - kind of like a confit and then until it is crisp. But, I don't like all that fat so I simmer the pork in water with onion and garlic, cumin and oregano for several hours until it is tender. I save the broth and some of the meat for Pozole Soup (recipe coming soon). Then I shred the pork and brown it in a frying pan. Served with steamed or lightly browned (my favorite) corn tortillas and fresh salsa, and a little grated cheese, it is just divine. It's really easy to make and great for serving a crowd if you double or even triple the recipe.

Pork Carnitas

3 pounds of boneless Pork Shoulder, cut in large chunks
1 onion, cut up in large pieces
3 garlic cloves sliced in half
2 teaspoons dried Mexican Oregano
1 teaspoon ground Cumin
Water to cover (about 6 cups)
2 - 3 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil

For Serving:

8 Corn Tortillas, steamed or lightly browned in a frying pan with a small amount of oil.
Chopped Sweet Onion
1 cup of Cilantro Leaves

Put pork chunks, onions, garlic, oregano and cumin in a large pot. Pour water over to cover pork by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 2 hours and test for tenderness. Pork should shred easily. Cook longer if necessary, but if done, take off the heat and let cool. Take pork out of the broth and shred what you need. Strain and reserve broth and extra pork for later use and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

Heat a large frying pan and add oil. Put in the shredded pork and stir occasionally until pork is crisp. Heat tortillas in a steamer for 5 minutes or in the microwave on a plate covered with a wet paper towel for about 2 - 3 minutes. Or, you can crisp tortillas on one side in another frying pan with a small amount of oil.

Fill tortillas with Carnitas and serve with fresh salsa and top with additional chopped onions and cilantro leaves.


4 - 6 tomatoes, chopped
1 small white onion chopped
1 small Serrano chili (use half if large), seeds removed and minced fine
Juice of 1 small lime
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cilantro leaves

Mix together and let flavors mix for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Five Element Analysis

Pork belongs to the Water Element so that element is covered. Corn tortillas add the Earth Element. The Fire Element is represented by the Tomatoes and Serrano Chile whereas the herbs and spices, onion, garlic and cheese all contribute the Metal Element. Finally the lime juice brings in the Wood Element. To me, it's a balanced meal - all you need is some Cerveza! Or, for me, I like to drink a refreshing Mexican style limeade.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Five Spice Boiled Peanuts

I'm back from my Asia tour and I am seriously jetlagged yet again.... And, all I wanted to do (besides sleep) was fill up the pantry and start cooking. So my son lovingly drove me to the closest 99 Ranch Market - it's a Chinese market for those of you who don't know - and I bought a lot of food! Besides the Roast Duck and Char Siu BBQ pork, I was delighted to find raw peanuts in the shell, as one of my favorite snacks is Five Spice Boiled Peanuts. They are incredibly easy to make - they just require salt, water, Five Spice Powder and a lot of time - meaning hours. When they are done and you bite into the softened shell, you get a squirt of salty, lightly spiced juice and you get to eat the peanuts that have the consistency of cooked chickpeas, but with a wondeful peanutty flavor. I love them!

Now people from the Southern part of the US also loved boiled peanuts and you can find them cooked at road side stands. My father was from Virginia - that's peanut country and he loved boiled peanuts too, but plain with just salt. So, if you want to make them American style, just leave out the spice. They are great as a cocktail snack, but my favorite way to eat them is to shell them and put them in Rice Congee as shown in the photo above. Congee is just rice (usually left over from dinner) and lots of water cooked until thick. To serve the Congee, I also put in lettuce pickles (sweet and sour crunchy stems sold in jars), chopped green onion tops and a bit of soy sauce and sesame oil - it's an amazing breakfast. Congee with peanuts and lettuce pickles was served at all the hotels I stayed at in Asia and got me craving it all again. After all, with a Chinese mother, this was my most common childhood breakfast. And for me, it is incredibly comforting food.

So, if you want to make this recipe, you will have to find some fresh, uncooked "green" peanuts, even though they don't look green. When you can't find any locally, you can order them online from Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina or Mississippi. You can also buy them precooked at a Chinese market. And if you love peanuts, you'll just have to try them boiled!

Five Spiced Boiled Peanuts

1 pound raw (green) peanuts in the shell
1/4 - 1/3 cup salt
4 - 5 cups water (to cover the peanuts by about 1")
1 teaspoon Five Spice Powder

Put all the ingredients into a large pot and taste the brine to see if it is salty enough for your taste. Bring the water to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook for 2 - 3 hours (or more depending on how soft you like them). Test at 2 hours to see if peanuts are soft enough and continue boiling if necessary. Cool slightly and serve. They can also be served cold or reheated.

Five Element Analysis

Well, this is certainly not going to be a very balanced snack as it only contains one ingredient - peanuts - that you eat. Peanuts belong to the Earth Element so that element is thoroughly covered. The Five Spice Powder adds in just a touch of the Metal Element and the Salt and way of cooking in water bring in some of the Water Element too. These peanuts are very good served with tea and beer and either of these drinks would bring in the Fire Element. The Wood Element then is completely missing so try to eat something before, during or after that belongs to that element like something pickled or sour or made of wheat and when served as I did with soupy Congee and green onions, it becomes a balanced breakfast.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Butternut Sqaush Cake

Steamed pumpkin pudding was such a big hit for Thanksgiving with my son's friend that she asked me to make something else with pumpkin. My son told her about Pumpkin Bread, which is the only way he really likes pumpkin. I didn't like the pumpkin we saw at the market, but the Butternut Squash looked really good. Since my son doesn't have an oven, we went over to another friend's house to bake it and since we didn't have a loaf pan, we borrowed a Springform pan. And, since it was clear I was going to be making a cake instead of a bread, I adjusted the amount of liquids. The original recipe comes from Epicurious.com and made two wonderful loaves of Spiced Pumpkin Bread. I also tweaked the spice ratio as I don't like the taste of cloves to be too strong and I love the flavor of cinnamon. I used 1/2 of a small butternut squash that I peeled, cut into chunks and steamed for 15 minutes. Then I mashed it and mixed it in to the rest of the ingredients. One hour later, a delightfully moist cake was ready to be devoured. Topped with whipped cream, it was divine! And, I liked it better than the Pumpkin Bread I used to make. I think the fresh squash gave it a much better taste than canned pumpkin so I will be making it this way from now on!

Butternut Squash Cake

1 cup cooked Butternut Squash
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (fresh grated is best)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Turn oven on to 350 degrees and butter a Springform pan thoroughly. In a large bowl, mix together the squash, sugar, eggs and oil. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, spices, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Then pour the flour mixture into the squash mixture. Stir until just combined and pour into pan. Place in the center of the oven and cook for 1 hour. Test with a knife inserted into the center. If it is clean, take it out and if cake batter sticks, cook for an additional 5 - 10 minutes. Wait 10 minutes, remove the side of the Springform pan and slice into wedges. Serve with sweetened whipped cream.

Five Element Analysis

All squashes belong to the Earth Element and the amount of sugar definitely makes this a mostly Earth food. The eggs and oil add in the Water Element (I used sunflower oil made from sunflower seeds). The wheat flour contributes the Wood Element and the spices and whipped cream bring in the Metal Element. Only the Fire Element is missing. So serve this cake with tea or coffee for a balanced dessert. And, it's perfect for tea time.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fried Bologna with Onions

It's funny the things that you crave from your childhood. My mother didn't know what to pack for my school lunches when we moved from Japan to America and so she made things like rice wrapped in seaweed, which I loved, but I got teased about it. So, she went to the neighbors and asked what to make. They recommended ham or bologna sandwiches, potato chips and usually a fruit pie or cookies. She thought bologna was one of the strangest things she had ever seen. And, she refused to put mayonnaise on the sandwiches. Her solution was to make the bologna taste better by browning it in a frying pan. It became my favorite sandwich.

When I had kids and wanted to start packing them lunches, I wanted to give them the healthiest foods possible. What I discovered was that my kids liked pretty much the same things that I did despite my best efforts to give them hummus with carrots. Ranch dressing with carrots was more appreciated, but they still wanted the sandwich and chips. They asked me what I ate at school and then asked me to make that for them. Guess what? The fried bologna sandwich won the day. So, I decided to buy the best quality bologna that I could (is bologna ever really that healthy?) While I could buy Chicken Bologna at the health food store, it simply didn't taste as good as the one from the Polish deli and since my sons' father was half Polish, he insisted that we fry the bologna with onions the way his grandmother did. This became the dinner we made when there was no time for anything fancy and the kids started wanting the browned onions on their sandwich too.

Well, it's been a long time since I've made a fried bologna sandwich and while visiting my son in Singapore, it became a request. Ring bologna wasn't all that hard to find and we had a feast! We both thought it tasted so good.... While I won't serve this too often anymore, it's really wonderful once in a while. Serve this dish with a good, hot mustard - we used Dijon - and it goes wonderfully with toasted Rye Bread. And, then don't forget to serve some vegetables too.

Fried Bologna with Onions

1 ring of bologna (about 1 pound), sliced in half and into thin rings
1 medium onion, cut in half and sliced into thin pieces
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

In a large frying pan, heat the oil and add the onions. Cook until they just begin to brown and then add bologna. Cook until bologna and onions are browned. Serve with toasted Rye Bread and mustard.

Five Element Analysis

I would never claim that this is a balanced meal by itself, but it does taste good! The bologna is a cured pork product so it belongs to the Water Element. The browned onions are sweet and caramelized so they represent the Earth Element. Rye bread brings in the Wood Element and the Mustard adds the Metal Element. Only the fire element is missing so my best suggestion is to serve it with a salad to round out the meal and make it a lot more balanced nutritionally.