Friday, May 24, 2013

Steamed Clams with Thai Basil

Steamed Clams are a great treat here in the Northwest and they make an appearance on my dinner table whenever I go to my favorite market, Uwajimaya's or Pike Place Market.  I usually steam them with white wine and garlic, but this time I decided to go Asian as I also bought a big bunch of Thai Basil too. Clams are incredibly easy to make and take a total of about 5 minutes to steam and they are really good for you too.  The Chinese believe that clams cleanse the liver and who doesn't need that?  Of course, you want to get a good source of clams and I personally am a big fan of cold water shellfish so I rarely order them or cook them except when I am home in Seattle. 

This version of steamed clams absolutely delighted me - partially because love the aroma and taste of Thai Basil and also because it is good to change things up and try something you love in a new way. I'm sure that you could use regular Basil too if you can't find the Thai variety. A more traditional version uses a Thai Chili paste, but that contains dried shrimp, which I definitely can't do that, so I used Chili Oil instead and it gave just the right amount of heat.  Of course, you could also cut up some little red Thai Chiles if you want even more heat. This recipe is definitely a keeper and you know it is good when everyone drinks the broth out of the shells!

Steamed Clams with Thai Basil

2 pound Manilla clams

1 Tablespoon Safflower Oil
1 shallot chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon Thai Fish Sauce
1 teaspoon Chili Oil
1/2 cup Chicken Broth
1 big handful of Thai Basil Leaves
Black Pepper to taste

In a large frying pan with a lid, put in the oil and heat. Then add in the shallot, green onions and garlic. Cook, stirring until the shallots become translucent. Add in the clams, the Fish Sauce, the Chili Oil, Black Pepper, Thai Basil and the Chicken Broth. Cover and steam for 5 minutes. Discard any unopened shells and serve immediately.

Five Element Analysis

Clams belong to the Water Element and steaming is a Watery way of cooking so that element is fully covered.  The Thai Basil is both the Wood Element because it is green and leafy leaves, but it is also Metallic because it is so pungent and aromatic. The Chicken Broth adds more Wood and the garlic, onions and shallots contribute the Metal Element. The Fire Element is represented by the Chili Oil and Black Pepper. Only the Earth Element is missing so be sure to serve it with something Earthy like a Thai salad using cabbage or something sweet like a dish made with Coconut Milk.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Blueberry Streusel Coffee Cake

My son's girlfriend loves cakes with fruit in them so I pulled out an old recipe for Blueberry Streusel Coffee Cake that I used to make a lot.  It's a quick cake to make and smells wonderful when it is cooking thanks to the cinnamon sugar topping. The blueberries melt into the batter and give the cake a lot of moistness. In the interest of health, blueberries have amazing health benefits and there are a lot of them in this cake. They are full of vitamins and antioxidants , but more important, they reduce inflammation and cholesterol and are actually a good source of fiber. The Chinese believe they are good for the brain and kidneys. So in case you feel guilty about eating a cake, remember how good the blueberries are for you. And the cinnamon is amazing for regulating blood sugar! I think this is the perfect cake to go with an afternoon cup of coffee or in my case - tea!

Blueberry Streusel Coffee Cake

2 cups fresh blueberries, washed and stem picked off
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk


1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into small chunks

In a small bowl, mix together the topping ingredients with your fingers until well blended.  Set aside until needed.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and 9 x 9 inch baking pan. Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. 

In the Cuisinart or electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until blended.  Beat in the egg and milk and mix until fluffy.  Add in the flour mixture alternately with the milk until just blended.  Pour mixture into the baking pan and smooth the top.  Put the blueberries on top and press into the batter.  Sprinkle the topping over the cake and place into the oven.

Bake for 45 - 50 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and cake tester comes out clean.

Five Element Analysis

Blueberries belong to the Water Element so that element is fully covered and the eggs add more. The wheat flour contributes the Wood Element and the sugar brings in plenty of the Earth Element. The vanilla extract and cinnamon make sure that the Metal Element is represented. Only the Fire Element is missing and serving this with coffee or tea makes this a balanced treat!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Bang Bang Chicken

When I was a child and I was allowed to order something from the menu of a Chinese restaurant, my sisters and I took great joy in ordering Bang Bang Chicken. To us, it was a really funny name and luckily, it also tasted really good!  We had to order it not too spicy as it is a Szechuan salad dish, but the real pleasure in the dish for us was experiencing the strange feeling of tingling and numbness in our lips that the Szechuan peppercorns gave us.  

Szechuan peppercorns are not related to black peppers or chiles at all; they are actually the seed of a kind of citrus tree and should only be eaten in small quantities. They are usually ground and mixed with salt for dipping foods into and are a standard ingredient in many Szechuan dishes. There was a ban on them for many years and I really missed them once I used up the stores in my cupboard and was delighted to find them available again about 8 years ago. Szechuan food is some of the hottest in China.  They make liberal use of hot chili oil and both fresh and dried chiles.  I couldn't take the heat when I was young, but I am enjoying that special spiciness more and more now.  It's a dish that I sometimes make for Chinese New Year too. 

Bang Bang Chicken is a dish that I have enjoyed bringing to potlucks and serving as one of the salads in a buffet Asian style dinner because it is so easy to make ahead.  It is composed of shredded poached chicken - the dish gets its' name from the sound of cutting up the chicken into shreds - and slices of cucumber, carrot and green onion.  It has a sprinkling of peanuts and cilantro on top, but the special part of this dish is the sauce, which is made up of Chinese sesame paste (roasted Tahini is a good substitute), soy sauce or Tamari, hot chicken broth, chili oil, sesame oil, Chinese black vinegar and sugar along with the Szechuan peppercorns toasted lightly and ground up with a bit of salt.  Some people use peanut butter as a substitute for the sesame paste, but I find it to be too strong for this dish as the sesame paste is just so much subtler and allows the other flavors to shine through. It can be served on top of lettuce leaves or even tossed with noodles if you want to make it a heartier dish. This dish may require a special trip to an Asian market for some of the ingredients, but it is worth it!

Bang Bang Chicken

1 pound Chicken Breast Tenders (or Chicken Breasts)
1 large cucumber, peeled, cut in half, seeds scraped out and cut into  2" thin strips         
1 large (or 2 smaller) carrots, peeled and julienned into small strips about 2" long
3 green onions, stem end removed, cut into 2 inch thin strips
1/3 cup Sesame Paste (or you can use Roasted Tahini)
1/4 cup (about) hot chicken broth (you can use the poaching liquid)
1 Tablespoon Tamari (or Soy Sauce)
1 Tablespoon Chili Oil
1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil (the dark brown kind)
1 Tablespoon Chinese Black Vinegar (can substitute Rice Wine Vinegar)
1 Tablespoon  Sugar
1/4 teaspoon Szechuan Peppercorns, toasted lightly in a pan and ground with 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup raw peanuts, toasted in a pan and then chopped up (or use already roasted peanuts)
1/4 cup Cilantro Leaves

In a medium pot, put in chicken breast tenders and just cover with water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes (20 minutes for whole breasts).  Take out and cool and then shred with a knife.  Reserve the cooking broth.

Place the carrots into a small bowl and cover with a small amount of the cooking broth. Leave for 5 minutes and drain.  Put the cucumbers on a large platter, cover with the carrots and the shredded chicken.  Put the green onion slivers on top of that.  

Mix together the Sesame Paste, Tamari, Chili Oil, Sesame Oil, Vinegar and Sugar.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Add in the Szechuan Peppercorns and enough of the reserved broth to make a medium thin sauce (it should continue to coat the spoon well (about the consistency of whole cream).  Pour over the salad.  Sprinkle with peanuts and cilantro before serving.

Five Element Analysis

Chicken belongs to the Wood Element and the vinegar adds even more. The cucumber, carrots, peanuts and sugar add the Earth Element and the hot Chili Oil and Szechuan Peppercorns contribute the Fire Element. The green onions and cilantro bring in the Metal Element and the Tamari and Sesame Oil and Sesame Paste contribute the Water Element.  All five elements are present so this is a balanced dish all by itself!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sausage, Tomato and Arugula Pasta Sauce

One of the great things I learned eating my way through Italy when I was younger was how little sauce Italian chefs actually used on their pasta.  So many of the sauces are really very light. That was a great revelation to me as I had been used to American style pasta sauces, which were thick, long cooked with canned tomatoes and heavy on the oregano.  And while that style of Italian cooking has a place in my heart, I love using fresh tomatoes instead of canned when I make pasta.  The other thing I learned was that you didn't serve the pasta with the sauce spooned on top, you actually tossed the pasta in the sauce. So when I am in the mood for pasta and tomatoes are not in season, of course I will turn to San Marzano tomatoes. But today when I went to the grocery store, I found some really ripe Roma tomatoes, which instantly got me in the mood for pasta. I grabbed some Italian Sausage (I am fond of the Iserno brand here in Seattle) and a bag of arugula.  When I took it all home, I cooked the sausage with some garlic and onion and then added some white wine and some pepper flakes before adding in the tomatoes. I cooked those only lightly enough to make a thin sauce and added in the arugula to wilt at the end. I served it with some al dente Buccatini from Italy (long hollow spaghetti like tubes) - rice pasta for me - and the sauce barely coated each strand. I served it sprinkled on top with a sprinkling of Pecorino Romano cheese. It was delightfully fresh and savory - full of the Umami flavor with a wonderful surprising bite from the arugula. It also can be made in the time that the pasta cooks.  I loved this pasta sauce and hope you will too.

Sausage, Tomato and Arugula Pasta Sauce

1 pound Italian Sausage (removed from the casings)

8 Roma Tomatoes, stem piece removed and diced
3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large garlic clove minced
1/2 onion, chopped fine
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 teaspoon Red Pepper flakes
2 cups Arugula 
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 pound cooked Italian pasta of your choice

For serving:  fresh grated Pecorino-Romano Cheese (or Parmesan)

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add pasta when the water boils. Cook following the package instructions to just al dente (most pastas will take 10 minutes once the water is boiling). Drain and add to sauce.

In a large frying pan, put in the olive oil and add the garlic and onions.  Cook until the onions become translucent. Put in the Italian Sausage and cook, breaking the sausage down into small pieces until it is no longer pink. Add in the Tomatoes and cook until they just start to break down into a sauce. Then add in the arugula until it wilts.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Toss with the cooked pasta and serve with Pecorino-Romano Cheese grated on top.

Five Element Analysis

Italian Sausage is made with pork so it belongs to the Water Element.  The tomatoes contribute the Fire Element and the white wine and red pepper flakes add even more. The Arugula and pasta bring in the Wood Element and the garlic and onion add the Metal Element.  Only the Earth Element is missing so add a sweet dessert and you have a balanced meal!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Zucchini and Carrot Ribbon Salad

As the weather is warming, I am turning more to salads and I had a pitifully bare vegetable bin when I got home from traveling.  But I found one zucchini, two carrots and a red onion and a salad was created that I really liked. I used a vegetable peeler to make long ribbons that I cut into half and sliced the onion very fine. I dressed the salad with a dressing made with apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt, honey and pepper.  It turned out beautifully!  My only caution is to wait to toss on the dressing until right before serving as it wilts fast.  I will definitely make this salad again.

Zucchini and Carrot Ribbon Salad

1 large zucchini, ends cut off

2 large carrots, peeled and stem and ends cut off
1/2 red onion, sliced into thin slices
2 Tablespoons Cider Vinegar
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Honey
Salt and Pepper to taste
Pinch of Cayenne Pepper

Using a vegetable peeler, make long strokes to make zucchini ribbons until you get to the seeds. Then turn one quarter turn and peel more ribbons of zucchini.  Repeat on the remaining two sides (discard the seed section)  Then make long peels of carrot.  Cut all the zucchini and carrot ribbons in half, put in a serving bowl with the red onion.  Toss with the dressing and serve immediately.

Five Element Analysis

Zucchini and Carrots both belong to the Earth Element so this is an Earthy vegetable salad overall.  However, the red onion brings in the Metal Element and the Olive Oil and Cider Vinegar add the Wood Element.  There's just a tiny bit of both Water  from the Salt and a little bit of Fire from the two Peppers, but not enough to create a balance.  So, serve this with a Water main dish like fish or pork and perhaps make a dessert of Fiery berries.